The last few iPhones have been water resistant — but if you drop one in water while it’s charging or connected to some other accessory, you might still have a problem because the Lightning connector itself can still get wet and cause a short.
Apple seems to have looked at ways to prevent this, as detailed in a series of patent applications published today. One pair of applications, first spotted by Patently Apple, handle this in a simple way: they propose changing the shape of Apple’s Lightning connector (or some other cable) into a wedge, which would push through a protective gate and seal off the entrance when inserted. It seems relatively straightforward, aside from the whole ‘introducing a brand new connector’ thing.
The other application is a lot more involved: it proposes allowing the phone or some other device to form a vacuum seal when the cable is connected. There would literally be a generator and pistons inside the device in order to do this. Apple proposes using the generator as a way to create vibrations in the device, too, which is a nice touch.
Images from the patent application suggest Apple is thinking of this mostly as a way to let accessories be waterproof — so rather than the generator being inside an iPhone, the generator would instead go inside an accessory that needs additional waterproofing, allowing it to safely go underwater while connected to the phone. The application also describes an interface popping up on the phone, which a user would need to control to activate and break the vacuum seal.
While additional waterproofing is usually a bonus, don’t assume either of these concepts are going to arrive in real products. Apple originally filed for these patents in September 2016, around the time it added water resistance to the iPhone, without any hint of these features. That doesn’t mean Apple will never make these changes, but the company files for a lot of patents that it never pursues as commercial products. Still, it’s an insight into what the company is thinking about. Now we just have to hope it isn’t planning to introduce another new connection standard.