Apple's "Active Packaging" Idea Would Plug On-the-Shelf Products Into Power Source

ipod charging patent idea image

Image via AppleInsider

A patent idea from Apple bounces around the notion of "active packaging," where on-the-shelf products would be plugged into a power source so that things like iPods would be able to display videos or receive firmware updates while waiting to be purchased. Sounds like a very un-green turn for Apple. AppleInsider discovered a patent filing that drives at a very questionable concept:

"...the ability to fully view or interact with the electronic media device while still inside the packaging is severely limited in most packaging designs," Apple says. "In addition, typical packaging designs do not enable the electronic media device or devices housed within the packaging to present content (e.g., media content or advertising) while inside the packaging and without draining battery power. Other functionality, such as firmware or software upgrades, are also typically not available while the electronic media device is housed within the product packaging (e.g., at a retail location). This is primarily due to the inability to provide external power or data to the device while still housed within the packaging."

To solve this problem, Apple proposes what it calls "active packaging," or retail packaging that provides "power, data, or both power and data to one or more electronic media devices housed within the packaging. The power may be provided by a direct power connection to an external power supply or by one or more wireless power techniques. A data signal may be provided by one or more direct data lines to the electronic media device within the packaging, or the electronic media device may enable an integrated wireless network interface to receive a data stream while housed in the packaging."

There is the possibility of doing this in a green way, but the odds of that happening are somewhat unlikely because it means integrating electronics into the packaging, and whether or not that packaging would be properly disposed of once the consumer unboxes their product is questionable; or it means possibly using up power from sources that aren't renewable, which is simply wasteful.

The patent materials state that Apple suggests the backings of the packaging could be "printed (or in-molded) with one or more wire traces to supply power, ground, and data to the device. In some embodiments, the wire traces are routed to the appropriate pins or connectors on the electronic media device through the hooks or clasps that hold the device onto the backing."

It is forward thinking by Apple in terms of displaying products or keeping them updated. And the notion of utilizing wireless power technology is interesting. However, magnetic induction is also suggested in the patent, which is a highly inefficient way to charge a gadget (inductive charging is how electronic toothbrushes, for example, are charged).

Our primary concerns, though, are whether or not this kind of packaging is really necessary at all, and whether or not it causes excess packaging with excess e-waste and wasted power use. After all, how hard is it to update your product when you get it home? And you can play with Apple products right in the store so having them display video and such while in the packages seems excessive - it's much more efficient to have power going to a single demo product people can get hands on with, than a dozen in-box products people can only look at.

Just because a patent was filed doesn't mean we'll actually see this happen. Having ownership of an idea is important to companies, whether or not they ever plan on acting on the ideas. But it's something to keep an eye on.

Much more detail about the patent language is provided by AppleInsider.

Follow Jaymi on Twitter: @JaymiHeimbuch
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