Will Apple use some sort of ‘pie in the sky’ battery tech for the iWatch?

apple-solar-powerWe discussed all of the information we had on Apple and Solar products last week, noticing a lot of jobs, patents, and other clues that could indicate the company is readying solar powered products, perhaps even in the iPhone 6 due later this year.

There have been Mobile-Solar Apple Jobs that have vanished after discovery, tons of patentstrial rumors and of course the Solar effort/expertise on Apple’s Data Centers and new Campus 2 building. This week, Seeking Alpha has a highly speculative piece by Matt Margolis suggesting that the evidence may be mounting for the iPhone 6 being the product Apple uses to bring the Solar idea to market.

Before we get too far into the speculation, it is worthwhile to note that the surface area of an iPhone would hardly be enough to keep a charge let alone recharge a phone even with the most efficient solar technology in labs today. However, all of the evidence weighed together might make you forget all of that ‘science’

The iWatch would have even less surface area than an iPhone 6 (especially one nearly 5-inches big) so it is hard to imagine getting any usable power out of such a small watch face…

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Today’s New York Times picks up the baton though and talked to former Apple executive Tony Fadell who is now one of Google’s top hardware folks:

“Hoping and betting on new battery technology to me is a fool’s errand,” said Mr. Fadell, who is now the chief executive of Nest, which makes household technology and was bought by Google last month. “Don’t wait for the battery technology to get there, because it’s incredibly slow to move.”

Mr. Fadell, who is often referred to as “one of the fathers of the iPod” for his work on the first version of Apple’s venerable music player, said Apple tried for many years to build a smarter battery by adding solar charging to iPhones and iPods. But the method never proved practical, he said, because mobile devices often stay inside pockets when people are outdoors, and indoor artificial light generates only a tiny amount of energy.

..they have continued to experiment with solar charging, two people who work at the company said.

The Times guesses that Apple may use solar in a watch, somehow getting enough energy out of a small surface worn on the wrist under a sleeve.  They go on to postulate that Apple could use the motion of your arm or wireless charging tech or some other charging method to get power to the watch.

Me? I don’t buy any of these pie in the sky ideas. These don’t feel like informed sources and it feels like a lot of guessing going on. My money is on Apple optimizing everything from the battery to the chips as much as science will allow and then putting a super efficient OS on top of it and eeking out a full day’s power– which is the gold standard.

It’s not all guesswork though.

For its wristwatch, Apple has been testing a method to charge the battery wirelessly with magnetic induction, according to a person briefed on the product. A similar technology is already used in some Nokia smartphones — when a phone is placed on a charging plate, an electrical current creates a magnetic field, which creates voltage that powers the phone.

I could believe Apple would do some form of inductive charging, like what many of us use to charge our toothbrushes and other household items.

Apple is good at taking the latest scientific breakthroughs and putting them to use in novel ways but they’ve never done anything that physically hasn’t been shown in the lab before.  I don’t think that’s going to start with the iWatch.

We previously ran down all the health and fitness functionality we expect to show up in the iWatch. 

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  1. frostie4flakes - 9 years ago

    I agree, solar makes no sense. There has been production cells that reach optimal performance through a longer period, but not a watch technology. Modified inertial charging could be part of the mix with an induction charging stand used when your not wearing the watch,

  2. Capt_Kalli (@capt_kalli) - 9 years ago

    there are so many watches that run on solar/battery already in the market. Casio has one that has an altimeter, barometer, compass, temp and all the regular watch features. battery lasts about 2 years thanks to the solar charging. i don’t see why it sounds so far fetched. its quite do-able!

    • Chuz_Cr - 9 years ago

      Because a Watch made by Casio will never never use even a third of the power required by an iPhone ir a iWatch with LCD touch screen. Batteries in casio watch are quite small compare to smartphones. They don’t have, a LCD huge retina display, LTE, Bluetooth, WIFI, and lots more of sensors consuming battery and they don’t keep getting new tweets, emails, sms, messages etc etc.

  3. Jan Zegers - 9 years ago

    Wireless charging also makes sense, because charging would be the only reason to add a Lightning port in the watch. Everything else is being synced wirelessly, so they could save the space this port normally takes. Furthermore, a Lightning port on a fashion item like a watch isn’t very elegant.

    • this is very true. it also doesn’t make sense to have a lightning connector because it is just a source for moisture – something that a watch is exposed to often, particularly if the product is marketed for fitness + health. a little bit of sweat and your warranty is void. inductive charging makes 100% sense for this application.

  4. Oflife - 9 years ago

    One day is rubbish for a watch. Bought my mum a Casio for £10 ($15) from Argos (UK). Battery lasts, wait for it, 10 years! That’s £1 (approx $1.60) a year. We cannot expect that sort of result from a sophisticated device like the iWatch, but if the watch is to become the hub of one’s life, a day just won’t cut it!

    I am willing to bet that whatever Apple launch will never need conscious charging at all, and that will be it’s No.1 value proposition. Consider:

    Kinetic energy (most proven technology) as mentioned in NYT article
    Body temperature power generation
    Long distance wireless charging, so although you don’t think about charging your device, other devices nearby, such as your phone, tablet, laptop etc could emit energy waves (this is what Intel etc were/are doing) and charge your watch as you work. Once you get up, kinetic energy/body temp take over keeping your iWatch topped up.

    One less thing to worry about.

    • telecastle - 9 years ago

      I agree one day of charge is not going to cut it for a successful product. Having to worry about charging your watch every day along with remembering to charge your phone – it’s just to much of having to do to maintain one’s gadgets. The beauty of a cell phone in everyone’s pocket for a decade has resulted in the death of the watch. If Apple is to resurrect the watch, it cannot inherit the biggest flaw if the cell phone (especially smartphone), which is a necessity to charge it every day.

  5. alphabetize1 - 9 years ago


  6. Paul Barton - 9 years ago

    loads of watches have solar, admittedly not full-on gps watches but still, it could top up. My guess is true wireless charging – 2 metre isn range so you can leave it on at night, sensors while sleeping could be important ti the Healthbook angle.

  7. charilaosmulder - 9 years ago

    Now, wireless charging has tons of downsides, however none of them as bad as the huge internal space that a lightning connector requires. So induction makes a lot of sense.

    Especially if it’s a ring. I really hope it’s an elegant little ring that can monitor movement and health, display the time, and (depending on the current app you’re using on the connected device) act as a remote for scrolling, tapping and longtapping by being touch sensitive and displaying some super basic controls. That would eliminate the need for a traditional watch, add value to the Apple TV, keynotes, and provide the necessary functionality for the rumored iOS 8 “Health Book” and fitness app.

    As a side note, @Tallest Skil i’d like your opinion on this one :)

  8. Karl Kadhammar - 9 years ago

    I could see Apple releasing a wireless charger for the iWatch, which would then also work for upcoming iPhones and iPads, maybe even MacBooks. You could buy as many chargers as you like and have one in your office and one/several in your apartment. Every time the battery of any device goes under 20% it starts to charge automatically until it reaches 100% or until you leave the “charging area/range.”

  9. Maichel (@Maichel) - 9 years ago

    My watch works on sollllar…

  10. The belief that Apple is working on an iWatch – which is a wearable iOS device capable of running applications like a tiny iPhone – is the oddest notion to have gripped the tech industry in a while.

    Samsung were so convinced of this fact, they went and built a device, which proved beyond doubt the sheer dumbness of the idea.

    Such a device solves no existing problems. There is no consumer market for a $300 gadget to read notifications without the tiresome bore of pulling out a phone. Apple has never built gimmicky products.

    If Apple are working on wearables it is to solve a completely different problem.

    I think that problem is “how can I effortlessly inform a bunch of devices where I am and what I am doing” . Not so much a computer, more a wearable iBeacon, which uses a trickle of power to open doors and turn on lights.

    A device like this is not a stand-alone product, but rather the simplest possible interface to a suite of products which need to know where people are and what they are doing.

    • Paul Barton - 9 years ago

      You’re so wrong. The amount of times I’ve imagined (sad I know!) glancing at a watch when my bleeping iPhone is stuck in a pocket. I’d buy one purely on this notifications issue. Imagine improved Siri, health and fitness, AppleTV remote… etc. It shows such a lack of imagination to not see the massive potential here.

      • Kyle Bavender (@k_bav) - 9 years ago

        There’s a big difference between what Samsung’s Gear does/is and the simpler (in/out, computation via iPhone) tasks you’re referencing are. Glyn’s right. You are too.

        Everything points to Apple creating something that resembles the Fitbit Force much more than the Gear. Think Force step & health tracking + Pebble’s functionality + some differentiating factor, such as multiple charging methods to achieve longer battery life & total waterproofing.

      • Jason Piebes - 9 years ago

        Everything you just stated already exists. And how is Siri improved by talking to your wrist? You really want to read emails on a screen the size of a quarter? There are audible notifications to help you with emails and texts. No disrespect meant, but I don’t see anything imaginative about what you posted. I think many of you are stuck on the image of a watch, just like Samsung is, and can’t get beyond it. That’s not imaginative. Glyn above at least is thinking a little outside of the box and getting beyond the ‘watch’ label. iBeacon is definitely something Apple is investing in. But the answers lay in Tim Cook’s own words, “Health and Fitness”. He hasn’t been talking about home automation or new tv remotes. Health and Fitness. The M7 coprocessor was not developed for running a wrist-worn tv remote and email notification system. It was developed to process information from external sensors… Health and Fitness. What sensor technology does Apple already possess for sensors that work with the body? Perhaps that nifty fingerprint reader. Worn below a wrist band with constant skin contact… seems to me that would be well beyond anything else out there.

        The other hint that it wont be a “watch” with an ipod nano screen is already out there. For as many people that think they would like something like that, the Samsung device is a colossal failure. If a quarter of the people out there using Galaxy phones had picked one up it would have been an amazing success. They didn’t even look at the thing. Nobody wants another dopey gadget to plug in that simply replicates functions their phone already performs. And Apple is way too smart to make such a big mistake.

  11. Jason Piebes - 9 years ago

    Not only does solar not make sense, but it really shows how many “analysts” really don’t have a clue about TECHNOLOGY. They are simply consumers who like buying gadgets.

    Calling this product a watch is a problem too. I don’t think Apple intends to introduce technology to help people tell time… It will be something that performs tasks the iPhone cannot. And it may be not one thing, but multiple things. Think about the health and fitness industry and leave the ‘watch’ junk to samsung. Nobody is replacing their Tag Carreras for a gadget no matter who makes it. This will be some sort of fuel band, fitbit, etc.. with features not offered today. Not only features, but abilities.

    What if this fitness sensor device utilizes the fingerprint technology on the skin contact to read metrics subdermally? There’s the advantage beyond the other products.

  12. Kasia Jagielska - 9 years ago

    Just look how much energy do we use while NOT using electronic…

  13. Madm Oreill O - 9 years ago

    actually if you do a google search for “iwatch solar” you get a nice concept of an apple watch with solar cells

  14. I think we’ll see long range inductive charging. At CES last year companies were demonstrating how they could use the energy in the Wi-Fi signal around them to generate electricity. As well, in previous articles about the iWatch (on 9to5mac.com) analysts predicted Apple to launch a long distance charging method. Now, as people have mentioned down below the possibility of near by iOS devices and Macs lending power to the iWatch – that’s ridiculous. Apple wouldn’t implement the tech this way, as it would require customers to purchase a whole new line of products in order to use the iWatch. $2000 dollars for an iWatch – no thanks! ($1000 MacBook Air, $500 iPad, $200 iPhone + the cost of the watch) I think they have a power dongle like the dongles used for older wireless keyboards. It’ll plug into the wall and give you power as long as the device is within 30ft – so say you place the dongle in your bedroom because you’ll spend close to 8hrs there every night with your watch on/on the night stand. As long as the watch has enough battery to be used for a full 24hrs, and can fully charge in 8hrs or less you won’t ever need to worry about the battery. They need to pull off those three things for the device to be a hit. (P.S. obviously you can’t transfer large amounts of energy through the air, so the device will still have to be extremely efficient)

  15. Mr. Grey (@mister_grey) - 9 years ago

    Solar makes no sense. Wristwatches make no sense. Inductive charging makes no sense.


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