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Apple continues to investigate solar power for mobile devices

post #1 of 8
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A recently revealed patent application shows that Apple is continuing to research solar power as a potential secondary power source for its mobile devices.

The application, which describes an auxiliary solar cell that interfaces with a device's battery, was published earlier this week.

The invention includes a "battery charging manager" that can handle power from a "plurality of power sources including a solar power source."

According to the filing, the patent is for "a solar power package for use with an electronic device, the package comprising: at least one solar cell operable to derive solar power from solar energy; and a power charger operable to provide the derived solar power to the portable electronic device, wherein the derived solar power is provided in a plug-and-play fashion when the portable electronic device is coupled to the package, and wherein the power charge is operative to adjust the amount of power provided to the portable electronic device based on attributes of the portable electronic device."

Alternate embodiments of the invention include charging the device's battery or an accessory battery, simultaneously charging a battery and providing power to the device and removable solar cells. The described solar power charging accessory could be used to power "a media player, a notebook computer, a tablet computer, a cellular phone, an image processing device, and a handheld computing device."

Intellectual property blog IPBiz reports that Apple's patent application hit several snags because of similarities to a patent for a solar charger case and a patent for solar power connector cables, but the iPhone maker was able to distinguish its patent because the invention is "plug-and-play" and regulates power levels according to the attributes of the device it is powering.

Apple has been looking into solar power for its portable devices for several years now. Early last year, the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office published an application describing a portable device such as an iPod or iPhone with solar cells on the front and back that could power the device and recharge the battery.



The patent, which was filed in Feb. 2009, is titled "Portable devices having multiple power interfaces" and replaces a prior application from 2006 with the same title. Wendell B. Sander and Daniel A. Warren are listed as the inventors.

According to his LinkedIn profile, Daniel Warren is an iPod System Integrator for Apple and has previously worked on the iPod Nano, iPod Classic and iPod Shuffle.

Last year, Apple was awarded 563 patents, twice as many as in 2009, making it the No. 46 company in the world in terms of inventions acknowledged by the USPTO. In its 2010 fiscal year, Apple spent a total of $1.8 billion on research and development, compared to $1.3 billion in 2009, according to the company's annual Form 10-K filing with the Securities Exchange Commission.

Apple's interest in solar power may be a result of environmentally conscious initiatives that the company has adopted in recent years.

Several years ago, the Cupertino, Calif., company was criticized by Greenpeace for the use of toxic chemicals in its products. Last year, Greenpeace praised Apple for its turnaround, honoring the Mac maker with the environmental advocacy group's top ranking as the greenest electronics marker.
post #2 of 8
Green solar powered Apple products will trigger an all bulletins smug alert.


Seriously though, what is the validity of this patent? I know there are some solar powered chargers for mobile devices out there, but I thought they took an ungodly amount of time to charge even a simple cellphone. I just can’t see Apple, a company who has required a physical tether to get all updates and to sync all iDevices, allow for a charging method that would be slow. Could this be for some other device, like Bluetooth headphones you wear when jogging?
Dick Applebaum on whether the iPad is a personal computer: "BTW, I am posting this from my iPad pc while sitting on the throne... personal enough for you?"
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Dick Applebaum on whether the iPad is a personal computer: "BTW, I am posting this from my iPad pc while sitting on the throne... personal enough for you?"
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post #3 of 8
Good luck in Seattle or London. Is there ever sun?
post #4 of 8
Quote:
Originally Posted by solipsism View Post

Seriously though, what is the validity of this patent?

You would probably need a square meter of sunlight to be of any use, which would mean unfolding something awkward. Unless you could make solar clothes... that would be cool.
Maybe we will all one day be wearing solar absorbant black iTurtle necks to power our iDevices.
I had a vision once of the future, where everything was black, black being energy efficient by nature, black cars painted with solar absorbing nano paint, black roofs, black houses, black roads.. the future is black I tell yee.
post #5 of 8
Quote:
Originally Posted by monstrosity View Post

You would probably need a square meter of sunlight to be of any use, which would mean unfolding something awkward. Unless you could make solar clothes... that would be cool.
Maybe we will all one day be wearing solar absorbant black iTurtle necks.
I had a vision once of the future, where everything was black, black being energy efficient by nature, black cars painted with solar absorbing nano paint, black roofs, black houses, black roads.. the future is black.

Yeah, The amount of power that can be gleaned from the available surface is miniscule even for handheld electronics. On the face of an iPhone, the part that's not screen, you're talking about 5 cm^2. And the power gleaned from that needs to be able to power 30cm^2 of screen back light, bright enough that it can be visible under the same incident light? I wonder if a 5cm^2 of solar cell is enough to keep the phone in standby mode.

There are just too many other extenuating circumstances that negate the value of a solar cell, the benefit wouldn't be worth the cost for a long time.
post #6 of 8
Quote:
Originally Posted by solipsism View Post

Seriously though, what is the validity of this patent? I know there are some solar powered chargers for mobile devices out there, but I thought they took an ungodly amount of time to charge even a simple cellphone.

By the time Apple uses the patent to release an actual device, things could be very different.

A non tech's thoughts on Apple stuff 

(She's family so I'm a little biased)

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A non tech's thoughts on Apple stuff 

(She's family so I'm a little biased)

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post #7 of 8
Quote:
Originally Posted by charlituna View Post

By the time Apple uses the patent to release an actual device, things could be very different.

My wrist watch is solar powered, my calculator is solar powered. Both take a lot less power than a phone, but they have very little charging surface. Drop the power demands of phones a couple of orders of magnitude, and solar here we come.
post #8 of 8
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