Is Apple Developing a Solar-Powered iPhone?

AppleĀ (NASDAQ:AAPL) has certainly been manning the patent front lately, from its battle with Samsung (SSNLF.PK) to protecting the minimalist layout of its popular retail stores. Now the latest from the Cupertino, California, tech company is an application for solar-paneled technology specifically designed for devices with small screens like the iPhone or iPod.

Solar technology has not been the most promising, due to steep production expenses, but hasn’t prevented both Apple and Samsung from applying for other solar patents in the past. Apple first applied for a patent for “Solar Cells on Portable Devices” back in 2006. Samsung already uses solar technology in some of its mobile devices, including two phones released in 2009 the “Blue Earth” and “Crest Solar” models, which both sport solar panels on the back that can charge the phone by using sunlight.

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As smartphones keep getting smarter, batteries keep growing larger, demanding more and more power. Solar technology like the “integrated touch sensor and solar assembly” described in Apple’s patent request could offer new and exciting possibilities for designers…

The abstract of the patent Apple has applied for reads: “Integrated touch sensor and solar panel configurations that may be used on portable devices, particularly handheld portable devices such as a media player or phone are disclosed.

“The integrated touch sensor array and solar cell stack-ups may include electrodes that are used both for collecting solar energy and for sensing on a touch sensor array. By integrating both the touch sensors and the solar cell layers into the same stack-up, surface area on the portable device may be conserved. In addition to being used for capacitive sensing, the integrated touch sensor and solar panel configurations may also be used for optical sensing.”

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It can take years for something like this to come out of development, if it ever manifests itself at all. Apple notoriously has numerous patents under its belt that never panned out. But solar does seem like a practical next step for a company whose products are demanding an increasing amount of power to run an advanced software and ecosystem, but are still meant to be on-the-go. Whether Apple will be able to find a way to make these solar panels look cool will likely be a determining factor in whether they ever come to market.

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