A new patent application published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office entitled "Super-Thin USB Connector Receptacle Housings having Reduced-Wear Finger Contacts" was uncovered this week, revealing that Apple is looking to make Thunderbolt, USB and other ports thinner and more durable.
Essentially Apple wants to see the connector plug entirely inside the port, leaving the actual cable flushed up against the device chassis. Apple also doesn't want to see a seam-- typically ports are soldered to the motherboard and connect to plugs via ugly holes in the chassis.
There's no question that this design would be more ideal on a visual and physical standpoint, as current USB connectors protrude out around 1.5-inches from the side of a notebook or desktop, depending on the manufacturer. To pull the plug deeper into the USB port, Apple proposes using domes, cylinders, balls or other structures as finger contacts within the connector receptacle.
Naturally Apple coughs up a few examples in the patent, one describing "aesthetically-pleasing connector receptacle enclosures by forming receptacle enclosures using the same type of material, or material having the same or similar color or texture, as is used for enclosing the electronic device that includes the receptacle."
Another example provides a super-thin connector receptacle by removing fingers and portions of a shell along one or more sides. Apple even proposes forming receptacle enclosures that are, in part or in whole, contiguous or formed with the housing.
Apple points out that a "secure snap or feel when accepting an insert" is important, as it provides the user with a mechanical feedback, indicating that a proper connection has been made (like Ethernet). This would be accomplished using the proposed finger contact design which in turn would also eliminate the connection degradation commonly associated with the continuous use of the current finger contact design.
"The metal housing is typically stamped to form fingers," the patent reads. "These fingers are then bent to form finger contacts. These finger contacts form an electrical connection with a shield on the connector insert and hold the connector insert when it is placed in a connector receptacle. However, these finger contacts may have sharp edges or burrs that may result during the stamping process. These edges or burrs can scratch or otherwise mar a connector insert after many insertions into a connector receptacle."
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