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Forget AirDrop: Future iPhones could share content just by pointing at one another

iPhone 11 Pro vs iPhone X
(Image credit: Future)

I don’t know about you, but every time I try to use AirDrop, it's a pain due to devices that don’t appear or have problems connecting. Wouldn’t it be cool if you could simply make a gesture to transfer anything on your screen to another device like in a sci-fi movie? That’s what Apple seems to be researching, according to two new patents.

The patents unearthed by William Gallagher of AppleInsider show that Apple is exploring the possibility of sharing data between devices by just having them pointing at one another.

(Image credit: Apple)

In the first patent, Apple describes exactly that: “With the use of mobile electronic devices such as smart phones, tablet computers, and smart wearable devices becoming an indispensable part of modern life, device-to-device interaction is expected to become the seamless digital extension of ad-hoc interpersonal communication.”

The patent describes a way for devices to identify and be aware of each other’s existence using a low-power highly-responsive secure discovery mode with optical sensors and emitters.

Apple’s old optical love affair

If you were born in 1834 like me, you may remember the Apple Newton, some PowerBooks like the PowerBook 190 or the 5300 or the Palm Pilot using IR communication for limited, very low speed data transfers. 

These machines used protocols like IrDA or IRTalk (Infrared Apple Talk) to transmit information between each other and also to supported printers within 16 feet. Apple abandoned them all —as well as IR hardware — with the 1998 introduction of the iMac.

However, Apple is not proposing to use optical transmitters and receivers to actually transfer data but just as a mean of instantly discover each other without having to wait or pray that it works like we do know with the current Bluetooth Low Energy handshakes.

In the other patent, however, Apple describes how to not only discover devices but also use high speed optical communication to transmit and receive data. Instead of requiring a line of sight that can’t be disturbed at all, however, Apple may have found a way to do it that would allow devices to be moved.

It all seems rather convoluted. Perhaps the answer to the slow discovery and handshake problem — as AppleInsider points out — is all in Ultra Wideband communications that can already serve the most recent Apple devices equipped with the U1 chip — like the iPhone 11 — to be aware of one another.

Whatever it is, I can‘t really wait for someone to figure out how to do this reliably and without any hiccups whatsoever.