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Apple patent hints at wireless charging for boxed gadgets

A new patent application from Apple paints a picture of a future filled with gadgets that can be charged wirelessly, and be updated before you even open them up.

US Patent and Trademark Office

The stickers Apple slaps on iPods encased in see-through plastic packaging to show off their features could be replaced with real onscreen visuals, thanks to a technology the company wants to patent.

In a new patent application for "active electronic media device packaging," which was published (pdf) today by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and picked up by Apple Insider, Apple details packaging design that can slurp up wireless power and deliver it to the gadget inside.

Apple's iPod nano in its retail packaging. What you see on the front right now is a sticker.
Apple's iPod nano in its retail packaging. What you see on the front right now is a sticker. Apple

This design does two main things, the filing argues: one is keep the gadgets charged and updated with the latest software before a customer even takes it out of the box, and the other is to allow the gadget's screen to be used for visual promotion.

To do that, the patent describes a system for using either RF power or magnetic induction to keep units juiced up. Two possible options for that process include charging the device through the box wirelessly, or as part of a charging system that's built into the packaging itself.

When charged, gadgets can then be intelligently powered on to display content or features, similar to how a wall of TVs would look on display at a big box retail store. The patent even describes a feature of the system that's able to determine which package is in the very front of a stack and power it on to keep power from being slurped up by devices that would go unseen.

One curiosity about such an idea is that Apple itself keeps iPods behind locked doors, and generally out of sight at its retail stores. However, the display units that are out on the floor can have promotional videos running on them.

One place where such a technology could prove useful is in third-party authorized resellers, including places like Best Buy and Target, where Apple's portable gadgets are sold and typically locked away in clear storage cases. If set up in what can often be a out of sight area of the store, the added visual element could make the gadgets more eye-catching.

Last year Apple overhauled its retail stores, replacing paper signage with iPads that were encased in acrylic boxes, and hooked up to mainline power. These signs were designed to add extra information about the product they were next to in an interactive manner. For a product like the iPhone, for instance, shoppers could pick and choose rate plans, and even use the display tablet to call up a sales associate for further help.