Apple considers a way to make it easier to use connectors on Macs

Having trouble lining up the plugs for Mac accessories? Apple may be working on a solution. The company has been granted a patent (number 20160014390) by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office for “electronic devices with connector alignment assistance.”

Cables are often used to attach peripherals to the input-output ports for Macs and iOS devices. For example, one end of a cable may be plugged into the printer and the other end of the cable may be plugged into an input-output port on a Mac.

Input-output ports are typically located on rear portions of a computer to hide the ports (well, at least on Apple devices) and the cables that are coupled to the ports from view by the user. Apple says that, although it’s desirable to locate input-output ports on the rear of a computer from an aesthetic standpoint, doing so poses challenges when it’s necessary to plug cables into the ports. 

The rear of the Mac may be located close to a wall or other obstruction that restricts access. As a result, it may be difficult or impossible for a user to view the input-output ports on a computer while attempting to plug cables into these ports. Apple says that the inability to clearly view the input-output ports can make proper insertion of a cable into a suitable port a frustrating trial-and-error process. 

These difficulties can be magnified for ports that only accept plugs in a particular orientation, because you may not be able to tell whether a plug is failing to mate with a port because the plug is offset from the plug or because the plug is misoriented. Apple says it would be “desirable to be able to provide ways in which to assist a user when plugging cables or other accessories into the input-output ports of an electronic device.”

Here’s Apple’s summary of the invention: “An electronic device may have input-output ports. The electronic device may have control circuitry and input-output devices. The input-output devices may include sensors, camera equipment, and other input devices that the control circuitry uses to monitor the location of the plug relative to the input-output port. The input-output devices may also include a display, light-emitting diode array, speaker, or other visual or audio output device. 

“The control circuitry can use the output device to provide a user with plug alignment assistance information. The plug alignment assistance information can be provided visually, using audio, or using other output. Plug alignment assistance information can include information that helps the user align the plug with a port and may be based on information on the location of the plug relative to the input-output ports and based on information on which ports are available.”