Apple Patents Hint at Touchscreen Macs, MagSafe iPads, and Wireless Syncing

Time for your Friday check of Apple rumors. Patents are re-injecting some intrigue into the thoughts about touchscreen iMacs, and potential MagSafe connectors for the iPad could hint that Apple plans wireless syncing at last.

Apple patent

Patents are re-injecting some intrigue into the thoughts about touchscreen iMacs, and potential MagSafe connectors for the iPad could hint that Apple plans wireless syncing at last.


Touchscreen Macs

Integrated Touch Sensitive Display Gate Driver” is the patent in question, and it’s the latest in a long string of Apple patents in the domain of advanced touchscreen tech. This patent is extremely long at over 42 pages–indicating that the core innovative thinking Apple is trying to protect is both highly technical and highly developed.

It can be digested down to some simple points though: Apple’s plan is to integrate the circuitry needed to sense touch inputs directly into the circuits that typically drive the electronics of a display screen. This is to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of both modes of the device, and to thereby realize “cost and power savings.”

Typically multitouch screen systems, such as that of the iPad, rely on a layered structure with a stock-production “traditional” LCD unit concealed beneath a protective glass sheet that also supports the transparent capacitance electronics needed to detect finger presses on the display. Apple’s plan to integrate everything into a single layer will inevitably simplify this setup, reducing costs because fewer components are required–and the shallower physical setup may allow for more accurate touch detections and permit freer design of the physical gadgets. The patent hinges on a switchable gate-driver design…but you don’t need to read the 42 pages to understand this.

MagSafe in iPads, iPhones


Apple’s MacBook range of portable computers have been utilizing the MagSafe system for several years now–where the power connector latches onto the chassis of the PC using a magnet, enabling quick and easy power-hookups, a lower profile to the electronics behind the connector (handy for design optimizations) and a safe disconnection if the power cord is yanked accidentally.

Now Apple’s applied for a continuation patent that very obviously expands the idea of using MagSafes as power connectors to the iPad and iPhone line. Currently these products use a physical iPod cable for the purposes of charging (from either a wall charger or USB port).

Adding a magnetic connector to either of these two portable gizmos would definitely improve the ease with which they’re charged. And it brings about one interesting thought: Apple’s famously careful about the design of its hardware, to the point of influencing its choice and location of connector ports. Indeed, this week an aluminum shell for an iPad surfaced online which showed two iPod slots for docking in landscape or portrait mode, but the conclusion was that it was a prototype that was shelved at later stages in the design process.

So if Apple chose to use an alternative connector for charging these devices, it would seem less likely that a traditional USB-based iPod connector would also be used to hook up the device to a PC. Apple may even choose to shun a physical connector totally–simplifying circuit design and cutting the cost–in favor of a wireless hook up. Which is, coincidentally, something that many Apple fans have been asking for for ages (and which may allow Apple to cut down on jailbreaking and hacking, as it would be harder to gain access to the device’s code).

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About the author

I'm covering the science/tech/generally-exciting-and-innovative beat for Fast Company. Follow me on Twitter, or Google+ and you'll hear tons of interesting stuff, I promise. I've also got a PhD, and worked in such roles as professional scientist and theater technician...thankfully avoiding jobs like bodyguard and chicken shed-cleaner (bonus points if you get that reference!)