Apple has patented [pdf link] a combination MagSafe power connector and fiber optic docking system, that could allow future MacBook notebooks – as well as other devices using the same next-gen port – to access an external dock or port array and minimize the number of on-device connections. The concept is reminiscent of rumors earlier in the week suggesting Apple was looking to Intel’s Light Peak technology for a future MacBook Pro refresh, taking advantage of the connection technology’s ability to replace USB, ethernet, display and other cable types simultaneously.
“Circuits, apparatus, and methods that provide a connector system that can supply both power and data to a mobile computing or other type of device using a single connection. Further examples also provide a power and data adapter that can provide power and data to a mobile computing device using a single cable. Further examples provide an easy disengagement when a cable connected to the connector is pulled. One such example provides a magnetic connector that uncouples without binding when its cord is pulled. Another example prevents power from being provided at a connector insert until the connector insert is placed in a connector receptacle.” Apple patent
Apple doesn’t suggest that the fiber optic technology it has in mind is actually Light Peak, but the company is known to be working with Intel on the new system. The idea to combine a fiber optic link with power would allow for a broader range of ports on a multi-function AC adapter, as in Apple’s illustration above, as well as taking advantage of the easily-detached magnetic port.
Interestingly, the new MagSafe would also apparently be backward compatible with previous, power-only versions of the connection. An alternative system included in the patent suggests a dual-headed cable, with a split AC adapter section and docking array that could, for instance, be placed on top of a table. As with all patents, it’s worth taking this with a pinch of salt – trying to protect the concept doesn’t necessarily mean a company has any intention of actually using it – but given Apple’s historically ruthless attitude to cutting out older ports, switching to fiber optics would certainly make some degree of sense.