As the difference between “water-resistant” and “waterproof” generally comes down to whether a device can survive a splash or submersion, removing or shrinking holes can make all the difference. Having already removed headphone ports and gasketed other iPhone holes, Apple has applied to patent a new tapered Lightning connector that could narrow the opening on iOS devices until the plug is fully inserted, then seal the male and female sides shut.
The patent, originally discovered by Patently Apple, depicts a wedge-shaped male Lightning plug with a very thin insertion-side edge and a base highly similar to the current Lightning design. On the device side, the new connector would have a pliable seal that expands to expose metal contacts only when a plug is inserted. The cable would use similar material on the base of the plug or a larger portion of the plug, in either case forming a liquid-tight seal with the device once connected.
Filed in March 2017 and published today, this next-generation Lightning connector patent application is shared with two standard caveats: Apple’s patents frequently do not result in actual products, and the company often contemplates multiple possible designs including varying components and shapes. To that point, the patent application includes an alternate version of the connector with a gasketed base and more conventional shape. It’s also worth underscoring that Apple has been steadily moving towards wireless connectivity and charging solutions, so it might skip a next-generation Lightning connector to fully embrace inductive charging, leaving no holes to seal.
But if Apple does evolve the Lightning connector, the patent application spells out the reasoning for doing so: Electronic devices are increasingly indispensable and more frequently used in harsh conditions with greater damage potential, so seals can reduce or eliminate that damage. Until electronics makers are ready to go wireless-only for charging, gasketed ports and connectors will likely be the best alternative.