Apple might kill the Lightning port with speedier waveguides

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Apple waveguides patent
An iPhone receiving data via a waveguide wouldn’t need an external port.
Photo: Apple/Cult of Mac

Apple is looking for better options for transmitting data than wires or wireless connections. One possibility mixes the two: sending high-speed data down waveguides.

The result would something capable of transferring data much more quickly than a wire and without requiring a port on the iPhone.

Limitations of data cables

Apple today received a patent for Conductive Cladding for Waveguides (20190195654). The included documentation reveals some of the company’s thoughts on using this technology to replace data cables.

The filing points out that the amount of data that can be sent through a conductive wire is limited by the electrical resistance of the material. Using multiple wires in conjunction can lead to capacitive coupling adding “noise” to the data.

And don’t forget about the Lightning port itself. “Utilizing conductive wires to transmit data requires the use of receptacles on the receiving side, which may often create openings within which moisture and/or debris may enter,” says Apple’s documentation.

Waveguides to the rescue

The alternative Apple investigates in this patent is waveguides that transmit electromagnetic waves.

“Waveguides are structures that enable wave signals to propagate with minimal loss of energy,” the patent points out. “Waveguides are particularly useful for transmitting waves that are not normally capable of efficient transmission in the atmosphere. As an example, very high frequency waves (e.g., millimeter waves) that easily disperse in the atmosphere can be contained within a waveguide to prevent dispersion of transmitted signals. By enabling the transmission of millimeter waves, transmissions performed at frequencies substantially higher than that of conductive wires (e.g., tens or even hundreds of gigahertz (GHz)) can be achieved.”

Specifically, Apple’s patent covers methods for ensuring that the transmitter and receiver of the millimeter waves are oriented correctly.

Waveguides replacing the Lightning port? Who knows?

Using a system for transmitting data that’s far faster than a cable or Wi-Fi and doesn’t require a physical port would allow Apple to make an iPhone even more waterproof than its current models.

But patent filing don’t always lead to shipping products. Just because Apple is looking into the possibilities of waveguides doesn’t mean they’ll be part of any future iOS devices.