2011-04-07

Apple’s next dock connector

Apple will eventually need to upgrade its dock connector. The prime candidate is Thunderbolt [2], because it is fast and carries enough power even for charging iPads. It has been designed with mobile applications in mind. But there is one problem: If Apple migrates its iOS devices to a Thunderbolt connector, how are PCs and older Macs to sync with them? A patent that has recently been granted [1] to Apple sketches a solution.
The patent describes a dock connector that works for both DisplayPort and USB 3. That means that for connecting to an iOS device, you could use either one of two cables: On one side there would be the new dock connector (in both cases), on the other side, there would be either a DisplayPort plug or a USB 3 plug. The same two options would be available for the cable coming out of a dock.

Comments:
  • DisplayPort is probably code for Thunderbolt which hadn’t been announced when Apple applied for the patent. Thunderbolt support would give Apple fast syncing, ample power, and DisplayPort compatibility.
  • USB 3 takes care of three problems:
    • Modern PCs with USB 3 will get fast sync speeds.
    • Older Macs and PCs with USB 2 will still work, because USB 3 is compatible with USB 2.
    • USB adapters will be easy to create for iOS devices. I am not a fan of adapters, but that is how things work with Apple.
  • Apple might still surprise us with the actual shape of the plug. For example, making it smaller than the current dock connector would make a lot of sense.
  • USB 3 on Macs in 2012 [1]: Might never happen (similar to Blu-Ray). With Thunderbolt, the need to support USB 3 goes mostly away. If you are desperate, there will be adapters.
  • “Although the patent illustrates an iPod as being one of the first to adopt this, the patent clarifies that it's for all future Mac hardware as well.” [1] This connector appearing on Macs is not likely. I suspect that Apple is just covering its bases here.
Related reading:
  1. Apple Wins Patent for All-New Hybrid DisplayPort/USB 3.0 Connector [via MacRumors]
  2. Thunderbolt (code-named Light Peak): an overview

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