Future docks for iPhones and iPads could have a retractable project. Apple has bee granted a patent (number 9,201,453) by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office for a “self-retracting connector for docking device.”
Docking stations that can include a durable, movable plug connector are provided. For example, the plug connector can rotate and retract into or extend out of an opening of the docking station housing, thereby reducing the likelihood of breakage caused by misuse. A pivoting retraction mechanism can be rotatably coupled to the plug connector to allow the plug connector to be movable.
According to the patent, the retraction mechanism can be a compliant mechanism that is formed from a single piece of material. The plug connector can be biased in a first position by a biasing element that also returns the plug connector to the first position after moving. The opening in the docking station that accommodates the plug connector's full range of motion may only be slightly larger than the plug connector.
Docks are necessary devices. However, Apple says that connectors can be weak points, especially when devices become large and additional stresses are placed on the connector. The connector may also provide most of the support for the device, which means they can be damaged by misuse, e.g. being pulled in an improper direction.
Some docks include a rotating connector that rotates instead of breaking when stresses are applied to the connector. However, in order to accommodate rotating connectors, such docks often include a “large, unsightly” opening through which the connector or other unsightly features for accommodating the rotating connector may extend, according to Apple.
What’s more, many docking stations with rotating connectors still have room for improvement in terms of manufacturability and convenience in disconnecting from corresponding portable electronic devices. Apple thinks it can do better.