updated 10:10 am EST, Tue February 4, 2014
Could change use based on devices' orientations
The US Patent and Trademark Office has awarded Apple a patent on an inductive charging pad that would also change functions based on how mobile devices are aligned on it. The pad, described as a "smart dock," would feature its own processor and power supply, and multiple I/O connections. Making it unique though would be the sensors determining how objects are aligned.
If a person placed a device face-down, for example, the dock might limit itself to charging. Keeping a device face-up would allow both data sync and charging; the patent mentions that the dock could include its own means of shuttling data between a mobile device and a computer, whether via wired or wireless connections.
An unusual aspect of the patent is the suggestion that a charging pad could be built into something like a laptop, something that hasn't been attempted before. In any case Apple suggests a design with enough space to charge multiple devices simultaneously, or even sync data between them. The latter could be triggered by orienting devices the right way. When syncing with a computer, device position could be used to decide which app opens up, such as iPhoto or iTunes.
Apple first applied for the patent in 2011. Wireless charging has been slow to take off, but began gathering momentum in 2013 with the launch of more phones with support built in, such as the Nexus 5 and some Nokia models. The Apple iPhone only supports wireless charging via third-party cases.