Apple patents don't always find their way into actual products, but two recent applications seem like logical additions to the next iPhone or iPods.
The first patent application, uncovered by AppleInsider, calls for a special kind of audio jack that takes up less space inside the device. The so-called "Audio Jack With Pogo Pins for Conductive Contacts" includes retractable pins that make contact with a standard 1/8-inch headphone jack. The pins are a smaller alternative to "cantilever beams," conductive pads that bend to make way for incoming headphones. Think of the headphone jack as using a pogo stick instead of a spring board.
AppleInsider points to the latest iPod Nano as evidence of how existing headphone jacks can dictate the size of a device. As iFixit noted in its teardown of the new Nano, the device's front glass panel is raised up 0.3 mm from the base of the device, probably because of the audio jack. Apple could've made the device thicker to accommodate the jack while keeping the glass flush, but instead likely chose to raise up the glass panel instead.
The other patent application, described by Patently Apple, calls for a smart camera flash. The flash would use a redirector to shift the peak of the light's spatial energy profile, effectively pointing the light in different directions and at times reducing the strength of the flash.
Light could be redirected automatically, using an evaluator to detect where a scene needs the most lighting, or manually, with the user touching the screen to focus flash, in the same way that auto-focus is implemented now. Currently, only the iPhone would be able to use this feature, because its the only Apple device with camera flash, but I wouldn't be surprised to see the iPod Touch get flash in future generations.
If Apple actually uses these patents, we're basically looking at thinner devices from Apple, with cameras that become more competitive with dedicated digicams. Game-changing? No, but certainly welcome.