Apple Working On Solar Panels For Mobile Devices


Cupertino (CA) - Road warriors have been promised eight-hours of battery time for their mobile devices such as notebooks for some time now. We are inching towards that goal and one of the technologies that could take us much closer to that goal would be Apple’s idea to integrate solar panels behind the LCD of a mobile device.

Alright, we know that Apple has not made major headlines with environmentally-friendly technology, but we have to give them props for this approach: Apple is taking an idea from Motorola’s by applying for a patent that suggest the integration of solar panels into mobile devices. According to a patent filing, dug up by MacRumors, the company plans to use solar panels to support its mobile products, both handheld and portable computers.

Using solar panels in mobile devices is not a new idea, as Motorola’s patent from 2001 clearly shows. However, both Motorola’s and Apple’s patent call for a new and innovative way of incorporating solar panels into a mobile product. Instead of covering the casing of the product with solar panels, either on the front or the back, Apple believes the panels can be positioned between the LCD and the circuit board of a device. This way, the panels would absorb ambient light that passes through the LCD screen, while not impacting the size or aesthetic appearance of the product. Also, such a solution would protect sensitive solar panels from physical impacts.

It is unclear how effective this technology could be, considering the fact that today’s best solar panels are about 20-23% efficient. We doubt the solar panel would deliver enough juice to power a notebook or even an iPhone entirely. However, as a technology that would inject additional power into the battery, solar power could dramatically extend the battery life of a device.

Hiding solar panels behind the LCD screen is not the only Apple’s patent that turns the regular LCD screen into something more than meets the eye. In an unrelated patent filing, Apple suggests that the LCD screen could also integrate a camera that takes photos and records video. The invention calls for the incorporation of "miniature photo sensitive devices", similar to CCDs in a digital video camera, wedged between the crystals that make up the LCD screen. Such a new-breed LCD display would be capable of taking pictures and recording video, while simultaneously serving as a regular display.

Both solar panel and video recording patents make use of the space behind the LCD panel and both would perfectly fit into a mobile device with a large screen, such as iPhone, the patent filings suggest. Imagine a 3G iPhone with a multi-touch LED-backlit screen that charges the battery when you flip the handset towards sun, while also recording your face during a videoconference. Not bad for a new rumored third sensor that would augment the accelerometer and proximity sensor of the device.