Apple patents hint at Thunderbolt enabled iOS devices

Sun, Jan 8, 2012


Apple in March of 2011 introduced Thunderbolt, a new transfer technology developed jointly with Intel that first appeared in its early 2011 line of MacBook Pros. Putting all other transfer technologies to shame, Thunderbolt is capable of handling data trasfer at 10Gbps both up and down.

Now part of Apple’s m.o is to slowly but surely roll out their innovations across their entire product line, a fact which begs the question – when will Apple’s line of iOS devices get the Thunderbolt treatment? After all, who wouldn’t want super fast transfer speeds for all of that media Apple wants you to buy, and with Thunderbolt being more than capable of carrying data and power to a device, Thunderbolt equipped iPhones and the like seems like an innevitability.

“Now that’d be a welcome addition to a syncing process that can often be cumbersome now that we have HD movies, apps, and higher quality songs to transfer to a plethora of devices.” – Me

But there are some hurdles.

In an article from a few months back, Dan Moren of Macworld pointed out a big one:

Will iOS devices get Thunderbolt?

As noted above, Thunderbolt relies on PCI Express, the architecture that underpins Macs and most PCs. But iOS devices don’t use a PCI Express architecture, which would presumably make it difficult to simply stick a Thunderbolt port on an iPhone. Plus the dock-connector port on iOS devices provides quite a bit of additional functionality—it’s got 30 connection pins for a reason, after all. Finally, it’s not clear what benefits Thunderbolt would provide that the dock-connector port is missing. We suspect it’s far more likely that Apple will eventually sell an optional Thunderbolt-to-dock-connector cable for charging and syncing.

But now comes word via Patently Apple on three newly published patent applications which all relate, in one way or another, to Thunderbolt technology.

Apple’s Thunderbolt webpage states that Thunderbolt is based on two fundamental technologies: PCI Express and DisplayPort. In Apple’s second related patent application, they state that “DisplayPort is the legacy standard, which has been overlaid with pins for a new standard, referred to here as HSIO, and elsewhere in this document as T29…

Before going into the details of this main patent in their series of three, it should be noted that Apple states in their secondary patent application that “the present invention, connection may also be a new type of connection.” For example, “a connection may be provided between a portable media player and a display, a computer and a portable media player, or between other types of devices.” Of course if this is to apply to future iOS devices, as suggested in the quote above, Apple will have to reengineer the connector to be flat enough to fit a USB-type of device slot. Though we’ve shown that Apple has been at work on that already. The good news is that transferring data to and from an iOS device will be lighting fast as will recharging.

Now patent applications are typically drawn up to be as broad as possible, so we caution not to read too much into Apple’s mention of a ‘portable media player.’ But with the shift to HD video, high quality audio via iTunes, and heavyweight apps, Thuderbolt style data transfer speeds would be a highly welcome feature.


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