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Solar Smartphones Aren't The Next Wave

Written By Brian Hicks

Posted February 4, 2014

There are rumors going around that either Apple’s (NASDAQ: AAPL) iPhone, or some new “iWatch” device could be equipped with their own solar panels. Solar Panel Graphic

But is it just a rumor, or is it something more? Can we really expect our next generation Apple devices to run on solar power?

It might be closer than we think. Next generation close? Probably not, but if we go behind the scenes and take a look at phone manufacturers, every single one of them is working to develop some sort of solar energy solution.

It’s true. I don’t need to remind you of the rapid evolution of our mobile phone. The fact that I’m talking about your future mobile device going solar probably wouldn’t surprise a single one of you. Even notable changes like the new iPhone 5s and its thumbprint recognition technology – that didn’t exactly blow any minds – it’s almost like we expect to see these kinds of innovations, and surprising consumers today is a tall order.

Going solar is just the next phase of the evolution. And while Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) has proven itself as the king of mobile, there are plenty of others out there to keep them on their toes. And there are plenty of ways that we can all seek to benefit.

The Rumor

We might as well start at the top with Apple. They always seem to ignite the next craze in the mobile industry, and this time, with solar, it’s no different.

Supposedly Apple is working to implement solar cells into its new sapphire glass screen for the iPhone 6 or in some wearable device.

The source of the rumor is Apple patent #8,368,654, which states:

“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.”

As the patent goes on, there is absolutely no mention of sapphire anywhere, which leads me to further believe that it is highly unlikely we will see this technology in the soon-to-arrive next generation of devices.

When it comes down to it, the patent holds little merit, and would likely be contested if it were ever used. After all, the idea of using solar cells to power a phone didn’t just pop up out of nowhere. There are tons of solar patents that reference the use of solar cells, and they have proven successful too, like in the use of calculators and watches.

The use of solar cells in general has seen great advancement, which is why phone integration seems to be the next logical step.

If we look beyond Apple, companies like SunPartner Technologies is having success with a solar cell transparent film screen that could be used in a phone. They, along with 3M (NYSE: MMM) also recently announced a transparent solar charging system for consumer electronics at the latest Consumer Electronics Show.


Moving along, Chinese company TCL Communication, a mobile phone manufacturer and subsidiary of TCL Communication Tech Holdings Ltd. (HKG: 2618), is using transparent Wysips Crystal photovoltaic panels that are bonded into their phone screens. Wysips, which stands for “What You See Is Photovoltaic Surface,” is using the technology developed by SunPartner.

Together, they are developing a smartphone powered by both solar and artificial light. If it proves successful, this idea could be launched into handheld tablets and eventually even be used in businesses and whole buildings.

The present goal: use an hour of sunlight to provide enough power for 30 minutes of conversation, according to ZDNet.

TCL Communication presently supplies Alcatel (NYSE: ALU) with its OneTouch mobile phone and markets its devices in more than 120 countries.


Ascent Solar (NASDAQ: ASTI) is another one to keep an eye on, with its own proven thin-film CIGS photovoltaic technology that can be used on flexible plastic-based products. It’s efficient, durable, and lightweight.

EnerPlex is the term used on the consumer side of Ascent Solar, incorporating this technology into everyday consumer products, like your cell phone.

The company has an industry leading 11.4 percent conversion efficiency, according to the company, and provides the greatest power density and best power to weight ratio on any solar form factor.

In contrast, competing products using crystalline based solar technology are heavy, rigid and fragile.

Solar Chargers

If we take our focus off the consumer for a second, and instead look at infrastructure, and places around the world that are desperate for energy to power devices like a cell phone; places like sub-Saharan Africa – there is great opportunity.

U.S. based World Panel has unveiled a hand-held solar charger that proves extra handy in regions where electric power is a rarity.

This new device can charge your phone, tablet – virtually anything that runs on electricity – all from technology it has developed and harnessed from the sun. The company claims that up to ten phones can be charged in a single day, and are built to endure the harshest environmental conditions, much like those found in Sub-Saharan Africa.
In places like this, the electricity supply is almost nonexistent. Even for those who do have access to electricity, it is unreliable, and mostly comes from a generator.

The device is relatively small, and can easily fit into a backpack, so it is always with you on your journey. The company even provides a clear on-the-go pack to make transport easy, while harnessing the sun’s power.

The Investment

Clearly, with as much buzz as there is around the sun, as long as it doesn’t burn out on us, it’s good for business, and what’s good for business is good for us.

Even better: we’re still in the inchoate stages of harnessing and realizing the full potential of the sun.
Companies like the ones I’ve mentioned are just beginning to showcase what they can do with solar energy.

SunPartner alone is working with large phone companies and is expected to ink more deals in the coming months, and it’s all because of solar energy.

We won’t see solar in the Apple iPhone 6, but at the rate things are moving, we’ll definitely see it in the iPhone 7, 7s, or 8.

Don’t let the sun go down on you.