Is Apple Working on a Solar-Powered iWatch?

iWatch concept -- Source: Anders Kjellberg / dogday-design.se

Source: Anders Kjellberg / dogday-design.se

Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) may be developing an iWatch that can be powered through solar panels or charged wirelessly via magnetic induction, reported an unnamed insider source cited by the New York Times. Per the New York Times’ source, Apple’s long-rumored iWatch may feature a curved glass screen that could also include a layer of solar cells that would allow the device to derive power from sunlight.

Another possibility is that the iWatch will include a wireless charging station that uses magnetic induction to recharge the battery. However, while companies like Nokia (NYSE:NOK) already use a similar magnetic induction technology for some of its smartphones, the source noted that the solar technology being investigated by Apple is likely still years away from being ready for market.

On the other hand, at least one industry watcher believes that Apple has already developed a solar-charging technology for the next iPhone model. Seeking Alpha’s Matt Margolis recently made a compelling argument that Apple had outfitted the GT Advanced Technologies (NASDAQ:GTAT) sapphire plant in Arizona to manufacture a sapphire-covered iPhone that will include a thin layer of solar cells under the glass. It should also be noted that Apple already holds a patent for a power management system that allows solar-charging technology to be incorporated into mobile products without increasing the overall size of the devices. Apple also holds patents for several other solar-related technologies that could potentially be used for an iWatch or iPhone.

Another potential iWatch battery technology that Apple has investigated involves charging a battery through movement, reports the New York Times. For example, the swinging motion of a person’s arm while they are walking could activate an internal charging mechanism that harnesses kinetic energy.

The latest iWatch rumors from the New York Times follow last week’s revelation that several Apple executives recently met with officials from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to discuss “Mobile Medical Applications.” The meeting included vice president of Software Technology Bud Tribble and Michael O’Reilly, a relatively recent Apple hire who previously worked for a company that developed an iPhone-enabled pulse oximeter. The news of the FDA meeting bolstered rumors that Apple is developing a smart watch with health-monitoring functions.

However, the viability of an iWatch product may depend on the device’s ability to maintain a decent battery charge. According to sources cited by 9to5Mac’s Mark Gurman, Apple assembled an iWatch development team last summer that included medical sensor experts, fitness experts, and battery efficiency specialists. The battery specialists were tasked with developing light and efficient batteries and supposedly included experts that helped develop the MacBook Air’s “all day” battery life of 12 hours.

Last year, Apple filed a patent titled “Flexible Battery Pack,” that outlined a method for creating a reliable, form-fitting battery arrangement that could be intended for an iWatch. In the patent, Apple notes that conventional lithium-ion battery packs “are quite rigid and bending them repeatedly may cause damage to the battery cells and battery failure.” To get around this problem, Apple proposes using “a plurality of cells, such as galvanic or photovoltaic cells” in lieu of a rigid lithium-ion battery.

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