We know we’re desperate for the iPhone 5 when the fate of the dock connector becomes the center of the rumor mill. This isn’t to say that Apple changing from their 30-pin dock connector to either a smaller 19-pin design or the universal micro-USB variety isn’t important — we all know that the change would affect an entire swath of consumer electronics accessories companies and users with 30-pin accessories — but the notion of the dock connector changing is a far cry from the sexier hardware upgrades expected for the iPhone 5, such as the larger display, LTE, NFC, and a form factor overhaul.
A lesser-reported rumored feature that relates to the discussion of the dock connector (at least in terms of recharging) is gaining traction, however. An interesting Apple patent for implementing inductive charging onto an iOS device could essentially do away with the need for cable connections altogether.
The patent highlight was reported by Patently Apple, which:
…illustrates a docking station that includes a reradiating antenna and an inductive charging circuit for inductively charging a handheld device. As shown, the dock housing is configured to receive a handheld device. While the dock housing is shown to receive the handheld device in an upright position, other dock housing configurations for receiving the handheld device along its other sides are also possible. The dock housing is further configured to enable charging the battery of the handheld device through an inductive charge coupling mechanism, and to also provide improved wireless communication by integrating the reradiating antenna as shown. The charge circuit is connected between the inductive charge coupling mechanism and a port for receiving power.
Particularly interesting in the Patently Apple report is this line: “The dock housing is further configured to enable charging the battery of the handheld device through an inductive charge coupling mechanism, and to also provide improved wireless communication by integrating the reradiating antenna as shown,” since the inductive charging patent would have implications not only on charging the iPhone 5′s battery, but also improving wireless communication, which relates directly to the notion that inductive charging on the iPhone 5 could be coupled with this loosely rumored “AirShare” or similar technology that would allow fluid, wireless data sharing as well.
In effect, cables would no longer be necessary for the transfer of data or charging.
9to5Mac reminds us that while “Apple is expected to unveil a smaller, redesigned dock connector with the next-generation iPhone . . . The Wall Street Journal reported in July of last year that Apple was working on ‘a new way of charging’ future iPhones.”
This could be it.
I’ve written a few times on this blog about the genius of the USB port: the ability for a cable and connector to transfer both data and power is truly one of the most underrated pieces of technology associated with the computer age. I wouldn’t even be surprised if someday we see standard electrical sockets in homes replaced with USB or USB-like sockets, which would in essence allow virtually any electrical device to be “smart.” But for as much as the USB and similar connectors — such as Apple’s current proprietary 30-pin connector — the notion of wireless charging is much more in line with next-generation mobile technology.
We’ve already seen Apple move into the realm of OTA software updates. More recently, we’re seen the rise of NFC-related technologies that allow data transfers to occur between devices by simply touching one another, using bluetooth, etc. It’s clear that we’re moving in the direction of wireless data transfer. Because of this, Apple could see it as a strong selling point to debut inductive charging on the iPhone 5, including a special dock in the package. Some have suggested that the somewhat strange two-toned metal back of the rumored iPhone 5 images published by 9to5Mac could be the product of an inductive charging system, though it is unclear if it would be necessary for the iPhone 5 to necessarily have an exposed meta back for an inductive charging system, as other wirelessly charged electronics currently on the market — such as electric shavers — still feature plastic housing around internal contacts.
Also, there is a concern that inductive charging, while convenient, is not necessarily the highest quality of charging.
For as much as the USB is an impressive invention, it does not offer the same quality of charging compared to direct AC charging. Anyone who has ever recharged a mobile device from a USB connected to a laptop versus directly via AC knows that the charge is never as strong. Inductive charging — at least in its current forms — has similar problems.
Given the stress that the iPhone 4Ss anemic battery life caused to its early adopters, one would assume that Apple would not gamble with inductive charging on the iPhone 5 unless they were absolutely certain that it could offer charge quality and battery longevity comparable to the iPhone 4. But assuming that Apple could deliver on effective inductive charging technology, the need for a 19-pin or micro USB adaptor could become a thing of the past.
And we could see this as soon as 2012 with the release of the iPhone 5.
By Michael Nace