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There is currently a battle going on for the connector we use to listen to music, and by many accounts, the 3.5mm headphone jack is losing.
The reasons are not very clear, but numerous have been offered, including the thickness of the connector preventing phones from becoming thinner, needing the internal space for other technology such as batteries or vibrators, or more nefariously nudging users to buy expensive and partly proprietary Bluetooth headphones.
Microsoft’s new patent won’t solve the last issue, but if implemented would help the first two.
Microsoft’s patent for a “Plug receptacle for an electronic device” proposes replacing the internal headphone silo for an expandable, partially external one, which would retain the sleek look of the device when the headphone jack is not plugged in, but would increase the space available when needed without impacting other structures.
In the abstract Microsoft explains:
A plug receptacle is disclosed, comprising a receptacle housing having a passage configured to receive at least a part of a plug of a plug connector, a front side having a first opening and a top side having a second, elongated opening that intersects the first opening, the passage opening to the front side via the first opening and to the top side via the second opening. The plug receptacle also comprises at least one plug receptacle cover that is reversibly extendable between a cover position and an open position. In the cover position, the at least one plug receptacle cover covers the second opening at least partially. In the open position, at least a part of the at least one plug receptacle cover is extended outwards, so that the at least the part of the plug partially extends through the second opening.
Microsoft proposes at least 3 configurations:
The first would have a flexible material which can expand when the headphone jack in inserted, the second would be a hard pleated material which would similarly expand, and the last would expand in both directions, for ultra-slim devices.
Microsoft proposes spring-like electrical contacts to carry the current to the headphones, but also suggest contacts may only be needed on one side of the plug, which would simplify construction.
Ultimately the final product would look like the above images.
It seems to me that while the idea is good, because it would increase manufacturing complexity without earning the OEM any more money (unlike removing the headphone jack) it is unlikely to succeed except for the occasional gimmick, meaning we should probably make peace with losing the headphone jack in a phone generation or two.
The full patent, which was filed in August 2016, can be read here.