back to article Apple patent filing suggests solar powered iPhone

The battery life of portable gadgets has always been a source of frustration. But Apple may have found an eco-friendly way around the problem – by integrating a solar panel behind, say, the iPhone’s LCD display. Apple has filed a patent application for the integration of a layer of solar cells below a gadget’s LCD display. …


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  1. John Robson Silver badge

    Any remember calculator

    You know - the early primitive computers - only good for maths.

    I'm sure they were portable, and ran on solar power alot of the time....

  2. Steve

    Apple trousers?

    Presumably they'll be bringing out an iWear range of clothing with transparent pockets - or is this a plan to make people show off their iPhones more by giving them an excuse to take it out and waive it around.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not so sure about this

    I cannot see this working on most current portable devices with displays. Solar power is greatest when an panel is left out in bright (sun)light for some time. People usually are more careful with the mobile phones, MP3 players and laptops and don't leave them out in the sun (unless they are government laptops ho ho)

    So I think Apple have patented this idea 'just in case' thinking it might be useful one day.

    AC because I could be wrong

  4. Kenneth Chan

    Green & Dumb

    I could see it now, people are going to leave their toy laying around in the sun and get them stolen... Could you just hear it....

    "Yes officer, I left my $+400.00 iPhone on the dash 'cause I had a low batt, and well it is solar"

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    seems a reasonable idea

    i suppose anything that would boost the life of it is worth a try, i just hope the (already overpriced) cost of the phone doesn't go up because of it.

    but that's probably going to happen anyway.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Depends how well it works...

    My phone sits on it's back on my desk all day, so if it had solar panels they would certainly catch some light. Question is, would the fluorescent light above my desk be enough to make any noticeable difference to the battery life?

  7. G D WEBB
    Thumb Down

    How silly

    This is perhaps the most ill thought through idea I have ever seen in the history of 'because we can!' engineering.

    Anyone who thinks this is a viable idea, ask yourself four questions.

    1. Where is the sun?

    2. Where is your phone most of the time?

    3. What happens when you take the phone out of your pocket and leave it lying about in the sun on its own?

    4. How much is a new phone when the insurance people understandly won't cough up for a phone you left unattended and walked off without?

  8. nicholas king

    solar power

    "solar power" or photovoltaics in this case does not need sunlight directly to make electricity but just light, more can be read about here

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Solar powered calculators

    Yup, I had a Casio one like than ... did hex, logic and everything ... though using it in a design room where people liked to work by the light of CRT alone was a challenge.

    Anyway, the major diff was that it had a rectangle of solar cells on the calulator case ... the "novelty" here is that the solar cells are behind the LCD display and evidently the ability to put a light sensitive device behind something that is translucent is seen as being "not obvious"

  10. Peter Pirie
    Dead Vulture

    Citizen - Eco Drive

    The description of the patent is amazingly close to how my watch works?

  11. paul
    Jobs Horns


    then again most patents are.

    In the future (when fossil fuels are gone) we going to have to beg Steve Jobs so we can use ANY portable electronic.

  12. TeeCee Gold badge
    Jobs Horns

    Oooh, a solar-powered iPhone!

    If you're a real Apple fan you can hold it up to Steve Jobs' arse to quick-charge it.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up


    Does this mean that they can then make the outer screen less reflective (as you want as much light to enter as possible) and in turn make the screen easier to see while charging at the same time?

  14. Anonymous Coward

    Leaving it in the sun

    Think about this:

    LCDs don't like excess heat

    iPhones are black

    Solar cells are black

    Lots of heat goes in with the light, and cant get out again. You're focussing the heat on the LCD, which will damage it.

    IF it's introduced, I doubt it'll be long before there's a raft of returns with heat damaged screens! A white reflective backing (which is on most screens) is far more sensible.

    It does however pave way for a solar powered iPhone cooler to help keep your phone cool while it's charging!!

    Just put the solar panel on the back, that way it can charge while you hold it to your ear (although apple can't patent this because I distinctly remember seeing a rear cover for a nokia 3310/3330 with a solar panel battery charger!)

  15. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

    Hail to the sun god: Ra! Ra! Ra!

    Average insolation in mainland US is about 125 to 275 W/n^2. Call it 200W/m^2, use an experimental 40% efficient 5x7cm cell, use 80% efficient (modern) batteries and 85% efficient chargers (an excellent mains charger - solar power powered chargers are less efficient because the have to handle a variable input voltage). That would power a basic modern phone (no 3D graphics or GPRS) continuously with about 4hours/day of talk time (250mA at 3.7V transmit, 10mA standby).

    If people want to spend their day pointing their phones at the brightest available light source, then we can just about make this work now.

    Well done to Apple. This has most the attributes of a profitable patent: mass market, obvious, plenty of prior art. There are a few things they missed though. For real success, they should patent software for a business method and sneak it into an open standard.

  16. Andy Barber

    @G D WEBB

    You don't need the SUN for 'solar power'; just leave device in the office desk, or home table & your normal electrical lighting will top up the battery.

  17. chris

    only one decent use

    could it be used to make the backlight brighter when it's sunny outside? I'm tired of having to shade the screen to read a text on a nice day

  18. Stu

    Other Solar gadgets aplenty...

    Just recently I bought a Solar recharged Bluetooth GPS receiver from Maplins!

    Solar power is coming along leaps and bounds as a good supplement to battery power, better in places like Florida though. Over here I suppose you could have a wind powered iPhone, complete with a pop-up propeller blade . . . maybe not.

    But renewable supplies are free and getting better!

    ...and they laughed at me back at school (20 years ago now!) for proposing I work on a Solar powered torch! And lo and behold I see such things for sale now. Idiots.

  19. Jasper

    it'll self charge...

    if you leave the backlight on.

    Won't it?

  20. Nux Vomica


    Charging a device and keeping it secure are entirely different issues 'ferchrissakes!

    If you have trouble dealing with these two concepts and their interaction, I'd suggest it's a wetware problem not a technical one.

  21. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    RDF power

    No solar powered iTurtleneck with charger ports? Apple is just wasting patents.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Those smartarses panning the idea...

    If you think that sun is required, think again. Several solar cell manufacturers have designed theirs to work with any part of the light spectrum. Even if it only generates a small amount of electricity, perhaps enough to keep the GSM radio going without dipping into the battery, then that's fine by me.

    Also, for those moaning on about how direct sunlight will damage the LCD - direct light is not required either. Leave the device in your polar-conditioned car in light and hey presto, you still get power.

  23. Chris G

    Upon your head be it

    There are one or two manufacturers of flexible PVs , I suggest making a baseball cap out of some of this material complete with onboard earphones and a lead down to your pocket/bag, then maybe it will generate enough power to be useful. However it won't be long before fuel cell tech develops enough to operate iphones or anything else. Research and development for various military arms is advancing almost daily and aim at soldier portable or better for quite high outputs to power the modern super trooper.

  24. Nexox Enigma


    For the calculator comment - The average solar powered calculator can run on mere micro watts of power. I've seen people try to use calculator solar cells on those solar robots, and they can't manage to power a pager vibrator motor after 30-40 minutes of direct sun charging a highly efficient capacitor. A cell phone, even on standby with no radio or screen, would use far more power than a calculator, so your comment is somewhat less than worthless.

    Nobody seems to have thought about the thickness of a solar cell here - The highly efficient ones use multiple layers of PV material, each tuned toward a different bit of spectrum, so that they can absorb and use the most possible light. Standard cells are still rather thick (compared to a cell phone,) since even with one layer of PV material, you've got layers of glass, conductors, and substrate. If you could put in a cell with anything over about 7% efficiency in a phone without seriously compromising many of the essential features, I'd be surprised. And 7% of a smallish screen which is only intermittently in direct light of any kind isn't all that useful.

    And for those that suggest charging it with light from indoor lighting - consider that it would be far more efficient just to plug in the power adaptor, which is designed to convert mains electricity to battery power, without that irritating light step.

    I imagine that this was just something to get Apple looking better with those green folk. PR: "Apple has been making great strides in Green Mobile Computing - including recent advances in solar powered mobile electronic equipment. Buy our stuff or you're killing cute fuzzy little animals, you otter murdering bastard."

  25. Anonymous Coward

    Cool! How to make your very own iBomb FireStarter....!

    They have rechargeable batteries don't they? ;->

    Solar Panel iPhone + 2 weeks left in sun whilst on holiday = ***boom***

    Sure the fire brigade will Love this idea. :p

  26. Pavlovs well trained dog


    The negative comments on here are truly amazing.

    Henry Ford once commented:

    "If I'd asked the farmers what they'd wanted, they'd have told me a faster stronger horse."

    If you lack the vision to create the Next Thing, the shut up and get out the way whilst other people do.

    wucking fankers

  27. Ascylto
    Paris Hilton

    Apple files a patent ...

    and all the little anti-Apple wormies come rushing out making a huge "They're gonna die" fuss about ... what?

    Crawl back into your wormholes and wait until there is something tangible (see dictionary ... you know, the word thingy).

    Paris, because she sucks worms.

  28. Frank Bough

    Sony Solar Walkman WM-F107

    I had one of these in my massive Sony Walkman collection in the EIGHTIES. Apple, how are you going to patent this? Solar calculators, watches, Walkmans et al have been produced for literally DECADES.

  29. Wize


    I remember a solar cell device I had a while back (it was an LED flasher unit for unmanned parked up drilling rigs).

    The manual warned that fluorescent lighting wont charge the unit properly and may even cause the unit to trip out.

    And I remember a friend having a panic attack in an exam when his calculator overheated due to direct sunlight.

    The phone itself is either in your pocket/bag (where it wont get much light), on your desk/table (where it could be plugged into the mains) or in your car (where it could be plugged into the cigarette lighter).

    You could get a clear bag/belt mounted phone holder for it but you would look silly and pretentious, and make yourself a target for being mugged (remember when ipods first came out? People with white headphones were being mugged for them)

    Mines the one without anything from apple in the pockets

  30. TeeCee Gold badge

    Re: Henry Ford

    Yes, but he sold a f*** of a lot of tractors though, didn't he?

    One of the many things he was good at, listening to the market.........

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