back to article Apple seeks cooling fan patent for iPhone, iPad

A future iPad – or even iPhone – might have a cooling fan inside, if a just-published patent application ever makes it off the drawing board and into an iOS device. The application, "Cooling System for Mobile Electronic Devices", was published on Thursday by the US Patent and Trademark Office, and describes the combination of a …

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so again they didn't actually come up with an idea or invention just some prior art.

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Lost the Plot

Going from a device with no moving parts to one with moving parts?

Going from a device with no noisy fan to one with a noisy fan?

WTF? This is sooooooooooooo retro, I'm staggered to believe it.

This is further proof that Apple have lost their way since Steve Jobs died.

Tim Cock is not doing a good job and should be fired.

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Re: Lost the Plot

You don't just patent things you seriously intend to use... you also patent things that there is an outside chance you might use. You hedge your bets. No-one's crystal ball is perfect, and looking at filed patents doesn't give an idea of a company's plans. A better way of solving the same problem, such as using graphene* for example, may well be developed...we don't yet know, and neither do Apple.

On another note, whatever happened to generating air movement by electrostatic charge from the surface of a chip? It was based on the idea that at a very small scale, air blown over a chip by conventional means doesn't make too much contact with the part to be cooled, due to microscopic turbulence.

*Even better at conducting heat than diamond. Makes copper look like eiderdown.

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maybe ....

It has rounded blades

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Can you list some of that prior art? I can't think of any computing devices that use a fan like that or suck / blow air through a port used for other means. But obviously I'm busy doing my job and don't have all day to investigate these things. You clearly have the time so please give us the prior art.

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Re: Lost the Plot

If you buy quality hardware, you know you can have fans that don't make noises. A fan small enough to fit in an ipad would never make as much noise as a 4 inch high desktop fan.

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"suggested use of the iDevice's audio-out jack as either an air input or output port."

That's just stupid. Even if no one ever watches a movie with headphones how much air do they think they can get through the 3.5mm hole?

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That's just stupid. Even if no one ever watches a movie with headphones how much air do they think they can get through the 3.5mm hole?

Quite possibly enough to be worthwhile and more than enough to be effective. Whenever people mention fans the immediate reaction is to think of full-size computer forced air cooling with all the airflow and noise that implies.

It doesn't have to be like that though. My home server is an ideal example - it's an Atom D2700 in a low-profile mini-ITX case. Every part of the system was specified to be as low power and low noise as possible given it's always-on nature. I tried to avoid fans entirely to eliminate the noise but the system simply stewed - the top of the case was literally too hot to touch. Reluctantly I connected up one of the case fans and slowed it down as much as possible until it rotates virtually inaudibly.

A 40mm turning over at ~800rpm generates next to no airflow - you can't feel a thing when to put your hand up to the exhaust. It isn't even in the ideal location since it is the wrong side of the PCI riser to cool the CPU or indeed anything else on the motherboard. However, it is ample - even it it takes 10 minutes to change the air in even that small case that gentle exchange of air is enough to prevent a relentless build up of heat inside the case. Internal temps went from ~70⁰C to ~30⁰C at a stroke. It sounds like Apple may be looking at similar situations here - enough to need something but not forced-air cooling in the usual sense of the word.

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"...how much air do they think they can get through the 3.5mm hole?"

The size of the exhaust is irrelevant, I think. What's important is the size compared to the volume of air you need to shift through it, which in the case of a phone, is also pretty small.

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Happy

I shall-

patent the use of audio-output jack as a whistle.

*heard it here first*

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Re: I shall-

Nice !

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Holmes

Re: I shall-

Unfortunately resistance to flow is not a linear function of the size of the pipe ... This is why heart attacks happen. A small fan and a small jack may well not be able to compete with a standard heat sink.

Well, needs MATLAB I guess.

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depends

" how much air do they think they can get through the 3.5mm hole"

Is it an African or European hole?

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Meh

not sure about the clutch

the idea of a centrifugal clutch to control fan speed doesn't seem that great - this requires slippage, and thus wear on the clutch shoes. Besides the obvious issue of this wearing out the clutch shoes quickly, the material from the shoes needs to go somewhere - and since it's in the bowels of the phone, I imagine everything will be quickly covered in powdered clutch material (aided by the airflow from the fan pushing the dust everywhere). Not to mention slippage=friction=heat, which adds to the problem the contraption is designed to alleviate. Not saying it won't work, but surely there are better implementations - at the moment this just sounds like a solution looking for a problem.

<sarc> But hey, who needs a phone that is maintainable and lasts a long time? If a small component wears out you just buy a new phone, right? </sarc>

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Devil

Re: not sure about the clutch

It will be an "everlasting wonder of maintainability" for a different reason.

If you think that iPhone/Pad/Whatever was bad on water contact before, just watch how bad it will become when it has a fan. A special contraption to splatter the water evenly across all components in the casing and ensure it is dead outright. LOVELY IDEA...

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Boffin

Re: not sure about the clutch

The clutch on my car carries/dissipates a hell of a lot more energy than one of these little ones would need to, yet my clutch has already lasted five years / 65000 miles and will (touch wood) continue for an awful lot longer, so I don't think they pose that much of a design challenge.

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Re: not sure about the clutch

the clutch on your car has a relatively massive surface area, thick layer of friction material, and weighs a number of kilos. Its life is based on the amount of material it can lose before no longer providing enough friction to turn the driveshaft/diff/axles/wheels. It doesn't need to exist in the vicinity of sensitive electronics (in fact it exists in a bellhousing isolated from both the gearbox and the engine, partly so that clutch material doesn't contaminate the oil and partly so that oil doesn't contaminate the clutch plate, which will cause clutch shudder).

*carrying* energy isn't the issue - the strength of the diaphragm pushing the plate against the flywheel determines how much power it can effectively carry (as well as the formula of the friction material, but clutch plate pressure is the most common/cheapest way to give a "stronger" clutch).

Dissipating heat IS an issue. Car clutches are actually pretty bad at dissipating heat (sit in traffic for hours on a hot day slipping the clutch and the pedal will get spongy, and there are plenty of vids on youtube of people thinking they're spinning their wheels when they're actually frying their clutch - usually because they allowed a tiny bit of slip, which heated the clutch, which reduced it's friction coefficient, which very quickly resulted in the clutch getting fried). Sitting in a confined bellhousing with no ventilation is part of the reason clutches "come back" very slowly once overheated, a fact seen quite a lot at the beginning of endurance races where a car has to get off the line with a full tank of fuel as quickly as possible - usually by slipping the clutch a bit.

The clutch on your car is also not a centrifugal clutch - a centrifugal clutch will slip and engage as soon as the rpm of the shaft on which the shoes are attached to exceeds the point at which the centrifugal force acting on the clutch shoes is greater than the springs holding them in. A bit like those old "flying saucer" carnival rides where you get pushed out against the walls, but instead of the walls being attached to the bit spinning, friction between you and the walls is required to make them spin. Every time the motor spins up enough for the fan to engage, there will be some slippage, and to use the clutch to run the fan at a lower speed will require constant slip (according to the design referenced in the article).

Put your car in gear, handbrake on, and constantly slip the clutch (give it about half throttle, and let the clutch out until rpm sits around idle). Then see how long your clutch lasts. (and how hot it gets - I'm guessing it won't be too long before it starts smoking).

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Anonymous Coward

Patentable

They should be able to patent a specific design for cooling small devices, if that design is significantly different from already existing designs for regular devices (non-small devices). "Simply" (probably not easy) shrinking existing technologies can't be patentable - although the specific method for shrinking that technology might be...

They should not be able to patent the idea of cooling computer parts - on the phone.

Anyway, they might just be filing this patent to ensure that they have the patent for it.

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Coat

Think competitors

Maybe the idea isn't to use it themselves, but to beat those overheating Intel powered phones when they come out? Charge them a $1 or $2 licencing fee per unit?

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Re: Think competitors

And if a competitor uses a fan that leaks any air in or out of the headphone jack ... bingo! Court time.

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Trollface

Re: Think competitors

Exactly... why else would you patent multiple *possible* implementations? Normal companies invent some technology (including implementation) and patent it. Apple patents most of the common possible implementations and isn't using it itself. Time to declare Apple = patent troll.

Suitable icon selected for Apple, not this post.

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Re: Think competitors

It's not uncommon for companies to patent multiple implementations of an overall singular design. They do it to protect all of the basic -- i.e., easily doable -- variants of the initial design concept. The purpose is to stop someone from arguing, say, that the original maker patented a CLOCKWISE-rotating therblig, while theirs rotates COUNTER-clockwise and, hence, doesn't infringe.

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Hawtness

"All this hardware oddness begs one question, of course: why would low-power ARM-based chips such as Apple's A series, fabricated in increasingly smaller and therefore increasingly less power-hungry manufacturing processes, need to resort to such a complex, space-wasting scheme as fan-based cooling?"

Well, my elderly HTC sensation gets nice and toasty even playing Angry Birds. Run something with actual 3D requirements and there's no way to avoid heat being generated. ARMs and embedded graphics cores are very efficient, but we're still talking multiple >1GHz processor cores and a lot of graphics, usually in a fingernail-sized chip, and they're not magic. Unless Apple are getting their performance by fabbing with superconductors and Josephson Junctions, of course.

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Processor ... or battery?

Well, processors can get pretty darned hot before they complain, hotter than would be comfortable to hold. The thing in my phone that doesn't like heat is the battery. Could it be that this invention is a way to extend the lifetime of the battery?

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From SIM to fan

Apple want to do away with a SIM and yet are prepared to fit a phone with a fan?

I reckon this is a none starter. Phones operate in very dusty environments (eg your pockets). How are they going to cope with that? Filters clog, dust gathers in every nook and corner, cooling effectiveness reduces. Surely it is far better to rely on passive cooling through the external surfaces?

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Anonymous Coward

Each iPhone already has an iFan

All they have to do is blow on it.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Each iPhone already has an iFan

Apple iFans (and their devices) already BLOW!

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Joke

Fans...

As its market share subsides, Apple needs a buitl-in fan base!

Every fan counts!

Laugh!

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Anonymous Coward

Patent Happy

It's a good thing they didn't get to patent the PC fan.

It's like these guys just try and patent anything anyone can imagine and thus close the door to innovation in that area. Who would be so bold as to try and create a neat fan for mobile devices or any cooling system of *any* sort now the school bully has this... Apart from Samsung that is.

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Prior Art

I own two laptops - a Dell Latitude D610, and a Lenovo IdeaPad Z570 - that are mobile, and have fans and vents for them.

It's not an obvious improvement to keep the fan when you ditch the keyboard?

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Lots of use of "may" in the application. So they aren't trying to patent a cooling fan they've actually designed and prototyped - they've just sat down and considered different ways this might be achieved if it was necessary in order to cover all the bases they can and prevent anyone else from, you know, actually doing it for real.

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That's not how patents work.

You don't patent something because you plan on using it. That's just silly. No, you patent anything and everything your engineers can come up with, no matter how outlandish or impractical, because it helps to build your portfolio - and gives you a weapon to use should a competitor ever come up with a way to make it work. Even if the patent turns out to be worthless, there is no significant cost - so why not? Look at the rounded corners patent, for example - just on the face of it, the patent is ridiculous. Yet it still turned out to be key to hurting rival Samsung.

It goes the same way in biotech - the moment a company gets a gene identified as a gene, they file a patent. There is no time to figure out what the gene actually does, or what use it can be, because a delay like that might mean a rival patents it first. So there are lots of patents on 'this nucleotide sequence, whatever it does.'

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Re: That's not how patents work.

Correct assessment. Who's downvoting? iPhone wielding IP lawyers?

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Handbag hoover

So basically if they put this into the iPhone-Whatever-Number-It-Is-This-Week, they'll turn it into a weak mini hoover that will slowly suck up all the fluff, dust and cruft in the handbag or pocket in which it sits, thus filling up the innards with crud even quicker than the fans on my laptop seem to fill its innards?

Hence rather than cooling it they'll probably end up making it overheat more until it's opened up and cleaned out. Hey, what do you mean it's almost impossible to open an iPhone up? That'd mean you had to replace it every few months instead...

And to say nothing of how effective this would be in a phone that's immediately put into a case.

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FAIL

Don't worry

As it's an Apple patent and it's about thermal engineering, it can be used as an example by the competition as an example of what not to do.

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They used to make desktops with no fans

Now they want to put a fan in a handheld? Somehow I seriously doubt it. It would surely add far too much thickness and power drain. If the SoC is drawing so much it needs active cooling, I say it's back to the drawing board until better SoCs exist.

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Re: They used to make desktops with no fans

Power drain, maybe- but by keeping the battery cool might outweigh that issue, by extending its life. I've had a water-damaged Nokia vibrate for about 7 hours before the battery died, so I get the impression that the motor isn't the greatest power drain.

As for thickness, the whole point of the patent is that it largely uses components that are already in most phones.

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Just design around it.

Neither Apple nor any other company should be allowed a patent on the mere installation of a fan in a phone, especially if the parts themselves can be sourcednfreely and cheaply.

Before the first cars commercially available came with air filters for occupant comfort, i suggested the idea to my dad, way back around 1988, and he said it would not be done, due to expense. Now, they are common. Nobody and no company should be allowed to patent the easy, obvious, or absolutely necessary, and get away with it by crafty use of vague words to obstruct exploration and implementation of a neat idea.

Now, if Apple patents 25 different designs and 15 permutations of each, and is in each country staturally compelled to pay a "prospector fee" of, say, $250,000 each for the first 5 iterations of basically the same purpose, submitted in a time manner suggestive of tech stifling, and then $850,000 for each of the subsequent submissions or filings, then that will force them and the likes of them to actually DO something with the patent, prevent them from cheaplynoffloading the patent to a subsidiary or patent troll partner, and make them focus on innovating instead of cock-blocking.

It would also provide funds for patent authorities to clean up their operations and help defray costs of patents protection for small, independent inventors who are raped out of rewards for their efforts because so many factories act as toll gates to the consumers. A $0 idea on paper capable of being thenfoundation of a $25 SRP item ends up costing 3 or 4 times that at the counter, but costs over $50,000-100-000 for tooling, not even counting the lawyers, marketing, prototyping, and other costs, all of which mean involving more tollgates such as harvest-minded investors, leaving many inventors too dissuaded to even bother with filingma provisional patent.

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Re: Just design around it.

> [No one] should be allowed a patent on the mere installation of a fan in a phone

Er, did you read the article or look at the pictures? The patent isn't for 'merely installing a fan' but for making use of a component that is already fitted to most phones- the vibrator motor - for cooling purposes. Obviously you don't want to have the phone vibrate every time the fan is used, so some method of decoupling the eccentric weight from the motor is required... a method commonly known as a clutch. I've seen centrifugal clutches before, they are often used in petrol garden strimmers... at tick-over the head doesn't rotate, but once a threshold rotational speed is reached, the clutch engages and soon your dandelions are pushing up the daisies.

This was all very clear, so why are you writing as if the patent is just for sticking a fan inside the case?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The patent isn't for 'merely installing a fan'

It's for driving different devices from a single motor, something which has been done in other areas for many years - saying "but ours is specifically for a mobile digital device" shouldn't be enough to overcome the barriers of obviousness and prior art.

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Anonymous Coward

Printers (and others) got here first.

So, Apple is now copying a design where the rotation of the shaft sets the action that occurs? There's a number of inkjet printers that reverse the paper feed motor to use it to drive an air pump to help clean the printer head. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inkjet_printing#Cleaning_mechanisms ). It's not exactly an uncommon technique.

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Anonymous Coward

You're holding it wrong

If they did implement it - would they have to have a post sale advisory to tell users how to hold it to avoid blocking the vents.

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Big Brother

How to neutralised a potential competitor 101

Step 1: Do a thought experiment of how someone might make an Intel mobile

Step 2: Identify problems

Step 3: Identify solutions

Step 4: Patent the solutions

Step 5: Refuse to licence the solutions at reasonable rates

Step 6: Tie them up in court of years

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Re: How to neutralised a potential competitor 101

Intel themselves aren't expecting to enter the mobile market seriously for another couple of generations of chip... where they lose out on architecture to ARM licencees, they make up for by having smaller, more sophisticated fabrication.

Apple's solution as discussed here will only be worthwhile if the size of the motor + clutch mechanism is smaller than two motors. Or maybe people will use piezo effects for the vibrator. Or maybe future chips and battery won't require cooling as much. Or maybe better ways of cooling, through new materials or whatever will be developed. It really isn't anything to get worked up about.

Apple have had cooling patents before that in the end have not been necessary or worthwhile pursuing - such as using the back of a laptop's screen rather than its main body.

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Anonymous Coward

"Another bit of cleverness – obvious when you think about it, but not so obvious if you haven't – is the filing's suggested use of the iDevice's audio-out jack as either an air input or output port. Presumably, some sort of alert might be needed to inform the user that it was time to unplug his or her headphones before the device melted down."

Not so clever!

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Blower

Am I the only one who thinks Apple are taking the term "blower" literally? Or is that sucker? I can't tell which is which in this case.

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Cooling

Whilst there may actually be some patent validity to this one, I'd like to public domain my thoughts on cooling, so people like Apple cannot patent it.

Phones are getting faster and faster, and there will come a time were active cooling is necessary when the CPU's are running at full tilt. However, I reckon you normally only need full tilt when using your phone as your desktop (yes, they are soon to be powerful enough to take over most of the tasks of a desk or laptop) - which means docked in front of a monitor/keyboard

Now I propose that the phone/tablet docking station has the low volume fan, and pumps air in to a socket on the device, thereby cooling the device when its is running at full tilt. You could even use a peltier to get it really cool. Phone can communicate its temperature to the docking station (NFC, or hardwired) to tell the fan how hard to run.

Undock, fan turns off, CPU's in phone are turned down to keep temps under control.

Now not much technical innovation - just the concept of the fan being in the docking station. I fully expect this to have already been thought of, but decided to post anyway, just in case!

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Mushroom

Re: Cooling

That sounds sensible - the time you would most need the fan, surely, is when *charging* the battery? In particular, faster charging means more heat - or, from the other direction, more effective cooling of the battery during charging would mean you could charge it faster.

I don't think this is where Apple are heading with this patent, but imagine a charging dock with a small cooling fan. Instead of the 2.5 or 5 W (USB at 5V, standard 500mA or 'high power' 1A) we see now, have the dock ram in 25W and a cooling (filtered, dust-free) flow of air to stop the battery cooking while you do it.

The poster earlier might have a point about using this not as a fan but as a pump, shifting cooling fluid around inside the case to dissipate heat better. With smaller and smaller CPU/GPU cores, we're getting heat packed into increasingly tiny spaces: some sort of heat pump or other mechanism might be needed soon to stop the core nuking itself just because the heat can't be moved away fast enough.

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Anonymous Coward

How could apple cool when they are full of HOT AIR!

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surely if you needed cooling...

You'd use something like the linear cryogenic coolers found in things like night vision equipment instead of a primitive fan?

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