Apple patent hints at potential solar cell embedded touch screens

Solar cell touch surface patent

Apple tends to patent every one of its inventions that could possibly be used in a future product, so it can be difficult to read the tea leaves on which ones will eventually translate to product features. A new patent from Apple highlighted by PatentlyApple today, though, describes a technology that would be a very welcome remedy to battery life issues. The patent covers applying solar cells to a touch display surface like a trackpad or iPhone to store power for the device:

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Apple notes that “the wireless device has a touch sensor and a solar cell that converts ambient light into electrical power. Wireless communications circuitry transmits the touch input to the external equipment using the electrical power from the solar cell. Energy storage devices such as a capacitor and a battery can be charged using the electrical power.”

The application describes a technology that could be intended for use in products like Apple’s Magic Trackpad or Magic Mouse, both which currently communicate wirelessly via Bluetooth to the Mac and require replacing or recharging AA batteries to stay powered. Apple’s Wireless Keyboard suffers a similar restriction, although the current design lacks the described touch surface where the solar cells would be embedded.

In either case, relying on solar power in part to prolong battery life during use would be a welcome addition to Apple’s desktop peripherals. The patent could also be applied to add a solar component to trackpads found on Apple’s portable MacBooks to prevent the need to charge as frequently between uses.

Keeping touch surfaces in mind, the iPhone and Apple Watch could both especially benefit from using solar energy as a power source, and hiding solar cells into the touch screen or bezel aligns with Apple’s design practices.

In prior years, Apple has shared job listings for experts in the solar field with a focus on mobile devices while solar energy remains a major part of the company’s renewable energy strategy so it seems inevitable that Apple will leverage the technology to help power its products eventually.

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  1. mikhailt - 8 years ago

    It will be interesting to see how much they can get out of it and if it is worth it. If it is a few minutes, it’s not worth the cost. There is only so much we can get out of a tiny surface like the iPad.

    This also isn’t a new idea as we had calculators in the past with solar cells to charge the battery.

    • applegetridofsimandjack - 8 years ago

      True but I think that’s an entirely different consumption category. I mean calculators consume nearly 0 power. If you were to hook up an iPad battery to your calculator, I’m sure your calculator would have enough battery life witness the eventual explosion of the sun…

      I think they’re saying it hasn not been done for higher consumption mobile devices yet… Like iPhones and iPads.

      • Israel Molina - 8 years ago

        yeah, and if you leave your mouse/trackpad open, and it sits on your desk while you aren’t using it it will be constantly charging.

    • Nycko Heimberg - 8 years ago

      Oups…6 January C.E.S 2014 … ALCATEL Phone with this technologie ;-)

  2. 89p13 - 8 years ago

    Citizen has been doing something similar with their Eco-Drive watches: there is a solar cell behind the face of the watch and daily exposure to sunlight, ambient light or artificial light will keep the capacitor / battery charged for months at a time. Yet, when you look at the face of the Eco-Drive watch – you can’t tell that the whole face is transparent to the solar cell.

    I realize that a wristwatch (non-smart watch) doesn’t draw down power like a smartphone but Citizen has done a lot of work with this type of technology

  3. Graham J - 8 years ago

    The Apple Watch already has a solar cell embedded in the display. I believe it’s only used for ambient light level detection rather than power generation however.

    • florinnica - 8 years ago

      That is very much not true, I am afraid. The iPhone (and the iPad) has a dedicated ambient light sensor which sits at the top of the phone, right above the earpiece. On white iPhones you can see it extremely easily. On black ones, it is pretty much invisible.

  4. Shalev Lazarof - 8 years ago

    if that solution will work like i imagine and hope it will solve the biggest problem i think in modern mobile devices that consumes a lot of power and need to charge every day for 1 or 2 times.. i think that my apple watch will charge itself and my iPhone as well and this sounds to me like a dream.. !

  5. Andrew John - 8 years ago

    Apple patented this concept just after they patented the capacitive touch screens a few years ago.

  6. Will Zapar - 7 years ago

    The Apple Wireless Keyboard already has solar charging. Nothing new there. I think this is more for the mouse and the iPhone/iPad Technology.


Avatar for Zac Hall Zac Hall

Zac covers Apple news for 9to5Mac and hosts the 9to5Mac Happy Hour and 9to5Mac Watch Time podcasts.