The magnetic MagSafe connectors Apple uses on its MacBook laptops was first introduced in 2006 and it has become a signature design element used across all Apple notebooks, but MagSafe technology is about much more than just aesthetics, of course. Rather than using cable and port combinations with male and female connectors that can wear down or pull a notebook computer off a desk when a cable is accidentally stepped on, Apple’s solution marries the power cable and MacBook charger port using small magnets that hold the connector in place. New patents uncovered by Patently Apple reveal that Apple is working on expanding its use of magnets across several product lines, and we may soon be introduced to a variety of new magnet-driven features in Apple’s upcoming MacBook and iOS device lines. Read on for more.
Newly published documentation surrounding multiple Apple patents describes a variety of functionality involving coded magnets that Apple is currently investigating. An example of one solution covered by Apple’s patent applications is a connector that might replace the company’s current 30-pin dock connector.
Connections would be made just as they are now with Apple’s MagSafe cable, but the magnets contained in both cables and in devices would be coded with information that could be transmitted when the magnets come in contact with one another. This would allow different accessories to utilize a single connector port on Apple’s iPhone, iPad, iPod touch or MacBook. “The magnets create a universal port that detects the coded magnet ‘signature’ of a particular cable type and reconfigures itself accordingly,” according to Apple’s patent application, allowing pins within the MagSafe-like connector to pass different kinds of data depending on the type of device being connected.
Another use case at the front and center of Apple’s patent involves a new stylus technology for the iPad. Apple’s proposed stylus has a design that includes coded magnets positioned at or near the tip of the device. Beyond performing functions typical of a standard stylus, Apple’s design would allow the pen to be placed in a dock connected to the iPad — or iPhone, iPod or MacBook — in order to exchange data with the tablet.
The magnets could also provide a layer of security according to Apple’s patent application. Because the magnetic coding in each stylus would be unique, an iPad could be configured to only function only when touched by a paired stylus. The iPad would also be able to exchange other types of data wirelessly with a stylus using the technology described in Apple’s patent.
Coded magnets could potentially introduce a whole new range of capabilities to Apple’s mobile devices that extends far beyond the use cases described here. Apple also makes references to wireless battery charging solutions that employ magnets, for example. Whether or not Apple will build its coded magnet technology into future devices remains to be seen, however.