Apple's ex-wireless lead plots a solid state future for electronics

Apple’s former 5G chief, Ruben Caballero, is working to solve one of the oldest problems in the consumer electronics business.

Apple, iPhone, Keyssa, hardware, electronics, Ruben Caballero

Future smartphones may not need traditional metallic circuits if a start-up led by Apple’s one-time 5G chief, Ruben Caballero, gets its way.

Apple’s ex-wireless lead is on a fresh mission

A company called Keyssa is developing new ways to achieve high-speed, contactless connectivity. Its website describes multiple ways this might work, from pairing set-top boxes to televisions to sharing data with a bump.

But it’s possible the most compelling future implication may be in its use as an interconnect on a component basis inside devices.

Product design has hit a wall when it comes to I/O, which is what Keyssa is trying to solve with its solid-state contactless technology. (It is interesting to note its solution is based on millimeter wave (mmWave), which Apple has reportedly been testing.)

The Apple connection

Keyssa recently appointed Apple’s former vice president for engineering, Ruben Caballero, as its chief wireless strategist. He’s the man who led Apple’s wireless tech development, including work on 5G and designs for the first iPads and iPhones.

He left Apple shortly around the time the company announced it would purchase modem technologies from Intel to accelerate 5G modem development.

I don’t know if Caballero was involved in Apple’s attempt to enhance the Qi standard with the ability to recharge multiple devices intelligently via one pad, but it seems interesting that his career has led him to work with the new tech.

You see, while processors, memory and other components have increased in speed, the actual performance of the metal pins used inside devices to connect these parts has not.

There is no Moore’s Law for pins, so Keyssa's solution is to ditch the pins.

Because Keyssa is mmWave technology, it operates in a portion of the spectrum that is above all the noise caused by sub 6GHz signals – Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, for instance  – as well as the harmonics caused by emissions from traces, cables and metal connectors from signals running at 5Gbps (such as USB or PCIe).

How could this tech boost product design?

The former Apple engineer will be working with Keyssa to help the company identify how best to develop the technology to address genuine needs.

I’m not in the business of identifying such needs – but it’s not so hard to imagine how AirPods might look if they needed no interconnect strip, or how radically smartphone design could evolve if freed from the need for physical external or internal connects.

It’s fair to say this seems to be the direction of travel Apple has been following since it removed the headphone jack and migrated to the smaller lightning cable.

Development of completely sealed, completely weather- and shock-resistant devices seems to be on Apple’s road map – and Apple isn’t alone.

There are multiple existing, or soon-to-ship uses for Keyssa’s existing product:

  • You will soon see it used to connect a second screen to the LG V50 ThinQ.
  • It is currently being tested within rotating high-speed LiDAR systems for autonomous vehicles. Vehicles using the tech are expected to appear in 2020, I’ve been told.
  • It is already used in some endoscopes.
  • A rugged edge-storage device equipped with the tech will launch next year offering a total throughput of 640Gbps.

It isn’t too hard to imagine other uses, such as in the provision of interconnect technology for wearable devices.

Caballero allegedly likes the technology because it provides a solution to some of the challenges he grappled with when designing wireless technologies in products (presumably at Apple) – particularly around signal/connectivity integrity.

What might this mean for Apple users?

Caballero isn’t at Apple any more and there’s no indication his future work will be reflected in anything Apple chooses to introduce. However, his interest in the technology is a big hint that the iPhone maker is exploring these sorts of challenges, as well it might, given its focus on wearables and mobile solutions.

After all, resolving those problems in signal integrity is the best possible way to ensure no hardware manufacturer ever needs to tell its customers "You're holding it wrong."  It's a challenge worth solving....

Please follow me on Twitter, or join me in the AppleHolic’s bar & grill and Apple Discussions groups on MeWe.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

7 inconvenient truths about the hybrid work trend
Shop Tech Products at Amazon