You put your iPhone down on a docking surface with the top facing an icon on the pad marked “data sync.” And just like that, the data starts syncing.
That kind of orientation-triggered action could turn docking stations into smarter peripherals, if Apple implements a newly awarded patent.
The U.S. patent, #8,645,604, was awarded Tuesday for “device orientation-based docking functions.” A user could select or perform such actions as data transfer, data synchronization, diagnostic checking, or charging by how the device is placed on the docking device – face down, face up, pointing this way or that. If data transfer is involved, the orientation of two devices on the surface could initiate the action.
An induction-charging mat might be used as a docking device, but other possibilities are also left open. Orientation could be determined by coordinates, rotational position, whether the device is facing up or down, or anything else that provides a physical relationship to a reference point. The patent also does not limit the orientation to one movement. In other words, you could place your device facing this way, then turn it that way, then flip it over – triggering three different actions in the process.
The patent previously received attention when it was initially published by the Patent Office in the fall of 2012, but it is particularly of interest now because of a recent report in The New York Times indicating Apple might employ alternative forms of device powering for an iWatch, such as induction charging on a mat.
Induction powering is already being used for some products, such as Nokia’s Lumia smartphones or Google’s Nexus. But the patent only suggests induction powering as one method for the docking station; the patent’s key value is action triggering through orientation during docking.
Al Hilwa, program director for application development at industry research firm IDC, pointed out to VentureBeat that triggers from device orientation “are really an extension of gesture-based interaction.”
Thus, an iWatch’s alarm time might be set by orientation against the display of a clock on the surface of a docking station. An iPhone could transfer its most recent photos to an HD TV by placing the phone on top of the set, which also serves as a docking station. In fact, the patent suggests a docking station could be built into a laptop.
This potential ballet of device orientation moves, added to the repertoire of gestural commands, suggests that Apple could be planning a major career promotion for the lowly docking station – becoming a ringmaster of applications and a liaison to other equipment or services, all governed by how you place or move your device on its surface.