Is Apple Working on a Solar-Powered, Sapphire-Covered iPhone?


Seeking Alpha’s Matt Margolis recently made a compelling argument for why he believes Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) may be developing a solar-powered, sapphire-covered iPhone. Although many commentators have speculated that Apple may use sapphire for its next iPhone displays in lieu of Corning’s (NYSE:GLW) Gorilla Glass, Margolis believes that the company has even bigger plans in the works.

Apple’s interest in sapphire has been known ever since sapphire manufacturer GT Advanced Technologies (or, GTAT) revealed that the Cupertino-based company invested $578 million in the company last year. According to GT Advanced Technologies, Apple’s investment “accelerated the development of its next generation, large capacity ASF [Advanced Sapphire Furnaces] furnaces to deliver low cost, high volume manufacturing of sapphire material.”

Sapphire is an extremely hard and scratch-resistant material that is currently used by Apple as a protective covering for the Touch ID fingerprint scanner and the iPhone’s camera lens. However, Margolis noted that this material could also be used to protect solar panels.

Margolis pointed out that Apple has patented several technologies that will allow mobile devices to be powered directly through solar cells. For example, Apple filed a patent titled, “Integrated touch sensor and solar assembly,” that covers a method for “integrating both the touch sensors and the solar cell layers into the same stack-up.”

It should also be noted that Apple 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 a solar-powered iPhone.

Besides the patent evidence, Margolis also noted that Apple recently hired a specialist who could create a thin-film solar panel suitable for a mobile device. Last year, Apple’s “Mobile Devices group” posted a job listing for an engineer with “extensive experience with thin-film technologies in either semiconductor processing or solar industries.”

He noted that another more recent job listing for GT Advanced Technologies’ Arizona plant described work responsibilities that involved developing a “new process for glass scribe/break.” According to Margolis’s research, “scribing” can refer to the process of depositing ultra-thin solar cells onto glass.

Finally, Margolis cited the recently reported supply chain rumor that Apple supplier Foxconn has successfully completed a trial production run of about 100 iPhone prototypes with sapphire displays. Although it is an unconfirmed rumor, it would appear to mesh with Margolis’s argument that Apple is developing a sapphire-covered iPhone with solar-charging capabilities.

Follow Nathanael on Twitter (@ArnoldEtan_WSCS)

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