Is a Solar Powered iPhone Next for Apple? (AAPL)
Following a series of provocative patent filings related to solar applications, Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) recently posted a job listing on the company website indicating it was seeking an engineer with experience in solar, according to 9to5 Mac.
The patent filings go back to 2011 with the latest one, related to a combination touch screen/solar panel that could be used on iPhones and iPods, filed in February of this year, according to CNET.
Companies like Apple file patent applications all the time. Many never see the light of day when it comes to an actual product. On the other hand, when a company expresses interest in hiring in an area covered by a series of patents, interest is piqued.
In the job listing, Apple said it was seeking someone with “extensive experience with thin-film technologies in either semiconductor processing or solar industries,” as well as, “knowledge of thin-films in the context of RF shielding.”
9to5 Mac speculated that the use of solar technology could have some benefit with products like the much-anticipated Apple iWatch. The possibility of solar charging as a way of enhancing and extending battery life would help keep battery size smaller and reduce the need to recharge constantly on a daily basis.
Apple Insider noted that the Key Qualifications section of the solar-related job posting at Apple indicated that the position would be more related to application than development. Applicants, the website said, would be considered based on experience in sputtering, vacuum evaporation, and areas generally related to placing thin-films on circuits.
The statement regarding knowledge related to thin-films and RF shielding suggests Apple might be exploring ways to block radio interference that doesn’t involve current metal RFI shielding technology.
The use of solar when it comes to powering electronics is not new. That said, the notion of a totally solar-powered device is probably not practical at this point according to Apple Insider.
What is possible is the use of solar to augment battery power. The emergence of third-party solar powered chargers for iPhones and other mobile devices has already paved the way in that regard.
There are obstacles to overcome. Comments posted by readers of CNET’s article on the combination touch-sensor/solar panel patent noted that a display screen (touch sensor) must be transparent, while a solar cell is opaque.
Another mentioned the practical problem caused by the fact that solar panels, after sitting in the sun for a while, are quite hot – an obvious issue if the panel and the touch screen are the same.
Finally, there is the fact that a cellphone in your pocket is not soaking up sunlight and therefore not charging.
These are all challenges that must be overcome if a solar-powered iPhone or other device becomes reality.
At the time of this writing, Jim Probasco had no position in any mentioned securities.
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