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Thunderbolt headed to iOS devices? Patent pitch says so

The high-speed Thunderbolt I/O could be headed to iOS devices like the iPhone and iPad in the future, a new patent application suggests.

Thunderbolt cables.
Thunderbolt cables.

The cable for charging and transferring data from iPhones, iPods and iPads could soon undergo another major shift, switching to technology that could speed up both tasks.

In a freshly published patent application, picked up by Patently Apple this morning, Apple details a new type of cable that blends together increased power and faster data transfer technologies, including Thunderbolt.

While not going so far as to call out the technology by name, the patent application notes that the proposed cable could support DisplayPort and PCI Express--the two technologies that are bundled together in Thunderbolt's architecture.

Along with the faster speed, the proposed cable would offer a way to bring more power to devices, potentially shortening up the time it takes to recharge. That comes in the form of higher-voltage capabilities for devices that can take advantage of the extra power.

Since introducing Thunderbolt to the MacBook Pro line last February, Apple has added it to nearly its entire line of computers, short of the Mac Pro desktop tower. Also missing out on the faster I/O has been the company's mobile devices running iOS, all of which make use of USB 2.0 and a 30-pin dock connector that's been a feature of the line since Apple began its transition away from Firewire ports on early iPods.

This is not the first indication Apple is contemplating speedier physical connections for its portables. Last April the company was granted a patent for a dock connector that would support higher-speed I/O standards like USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt, surpassing what can be found in current offerings.

Of note, Apple has taken steps with iOS 5--the latest version of its mobile operating system--to reduce the need for physical cables when it comes to transferring data. This includes letting users set up devices without having to plug into a computer running iTunes, as well as offering ways to sync data from computers over Wi-Fi. Other additions, like backup through the company's iCloud service and putting music files in the cloud withiTunes Match, have further separated those devices from needing to plug in.