Apple was granted a patent Tuesday for a method that uses ferrofluids to make induction-charging systems more efficient. U.S. Patent No. 9,479,007, as it is officially dubbed, describes a way to use ferrofluids — which are magnetic particles suspended in a liquid — to allow magnetic flux in an inductive charging system to travel between a transceiver and receiver coil more easily. The patent was first filed for in February 2014, and credits Eric S. Jol, Ibuki Kamei and Warren Z. Jones as its principal inventors.
For the uninitiated, inductive, or wireless, charging uses electromagnetic fields to transfer energy between the coils in a charging station and the coils in a device. While that allows for wireless charging to be a possibility, it also has its disadvantages. Inductive systems are inherently less efficient and tend to be bulkier, and they require pretty precise alignment between the two coils — or else they risk wasting energy as thermal heat.
That’s where the ferrofluids come in. Placed adjacent to a coil in either the charger or the device, the helpful layer of ferrofluid could potentially act as a “bridge” between the two coils, focusing and increasing the energy transfer and mitigating the energy loss due to the coils being misaligned.
This isn’t the first time that Apple has used inductive charging. The Apple Watch, for example, charges wirelessly — but even that system suffers from the same inefficiency problem. To combat that, the Apple Watch uses magnets in both the charger and the device to ensure that the coils are aligned properly. But while that might work for a small device like the Watch, it would probably be hard to apply that system across all of Apple’s products. Hence, the ferrofluid-enhanced system described in today’s patent.
Of course, since this is just a patent, there’s really no guarantee that Apple will use the technology in any of its future products. But it’s at another sign that Cupertino is seriously considering wireless charging for its flagship phone — something that it’s never done due to the fact that it would make the charging time much longer. According to the China-based Economic Daily News, Apple has searching for manufacturers of wireless charging chips for the iPhone. So there is some evidence that Apple is at least considering using inductive charging systems in the future.