Green

Yes, Apple is working on solar power for iPhones, iPads — no, it’s not nearly as cool as it sounds

sun flower
Image Credit: Moyan Brenn

Imagine a solar-powered iPhone that recharges wirelessly just by sitting in the sun! Or a MacBook that powers itself while you work joyfully in the park, birds tweeting happily all around!

Keep imagining.

This morning, an Apple patent published today revealed that the company is working on solar-powered devices, true. But the current implementations are clunky, ugly, and not even close anything elegant that you’d expect from the company that put fashion into consumer tech.

Steve Jobs would probably faint if he saw all these wires and separate components:

apple solar powered technology

The system described in the patent includes a separate solar panel, a charging cable for the “electronic device,” such as a laptop, iPad, or iPhone, and a system microcontroller that delivers power from the sun to your batteries, without the need for an intervening converter circuit to step up the input voltage to regularly-accepted levels.

That’s not nearly as simple, elegant, or useful as what the French company SunPartner is doing.

Sunpartner-220213-105SunPartner slides a 300-micron thick solar cell module that is 95 percent transparent right under your smartphone’s or tablet’s screen. The component costs between $1 to $2, and trickles in solar power continuously that can offer essentially infinite standby time, up to 20 percent more talk time, and with efficiency improvements that the company says are a “rational objective,” could add up to 50 percent more talk time.

Built-into your phone — no cables, no solar panel to cart along.

Granted, to fully recharge under heavy use, you’d want access to a large solar panel, with a system similar to the one that Apple just patented. But for the 99 percent of us that aren’t Crocodile Dundee, we don’t need full recharges in the middle of the Outback — we just need a little extra to get us through the day, until we’re back within reach of a power outlet.

And we certainly don’t need a backpack for the charging components for our “mobile” phone.

An ideal solution might be a solar film painted on or embedded within the entire surface of our devices, front and back, which is continuously receiving any ambient light energy that is available, and trickle-charging our batteries at basically all times. And a solar solution which is super-efficient at capturing and converting light into power, so that — with cautious use — we could approach the nirvana of never having to recharge again.

Without bulky wires and panels.

Hat tip: 9to5Mac