News sites around the globe have been blowing up with rumors that Apple will include solar charging panels on its next iPhone. Although we say “rumored” there is actually a lot of evidence to back up the claim, making it exciting for the tech world right now. This would be a huge leap forward in mobile technology, one Apple desperately needs in Steve Jobs’ absence from the company. Korean giant Samsung is crushing Apple at every turn; could this new technology be their saving grace? Let’s examine the evidence.
1. GT Advanced Technologies (GTAT)
This is the story that started all the buzz. At the end of 2013 the news broke that Apple penned a multi-year agreement with GT Advanced Technologies to produce sapphire on an industrial scale out of their Arizona facility. Apple has been on the sapphire bandwagon recently, incorporating more of the material into their devices than ever before. However when placed under strength and endurance tests against Corning’s Gorilla Glass, sapphire breaks far sooner and under less pressure. In the deal with GTAT, Apple advanced the company $578 million to employ 700 people on the manufacturing floor.
Keep in mind that the “sapphire” referred to here is the man-made kind, manufactured with aluminum oxide. Compared to Gorilla Glass, this material is also harder on the environment when produced. Cost is also a huge factor with Gorilla being $2 to $3 for the average screen whereas sapphire is in the $20 to $30 range. Regardless, GTAT has the money and the people in place now to produce the material on mass scale which may lower costs and improve the product. The big speculation here is that the large production will not be for the small camera covers the iPhone 5 currently uses but for entire screen covers.
2. Apple’s Solar Patent
This is a big one that is pushing the speculation to insane heights. In an abstract of patent 8,368,654 it states “Integrated touch sensor and solar panel configurations that may be used on portable devices, particularly handheld portable devices such as a media player or phone are disclosed.
The integrated touch sensor array and solar cell stack-ups may include electrodes that are used both for collecting solar energy and for sensing on a touch sensor array. By integrating both the touch sensors and the solar cell layers into the same stack-up, surface area on the portable device may be conserved.
In addition to being used for capacitive sensing, the integrated touch sensor and solar panel configurations may also be used for optical sensing.” This little gem is what has consumers all excited about the prospect of being able to lay their iPhones out in the sun so they can charge.
3. The Need
Since Steve Jobs’ death more than 2 years ago, Apple has become a different company. Though the stock soared from the high $400s to over $600 per share, it plummeted back down to just $480/share in October of last year.
Apple has been up against the ropes with rivals Samsung and Amazon taking large parts of their market share. This combined with sluggish iPhone sales and a smaller manufacturing order has put the company on the defensive.
If they are going to survive this competitive landscape, they need to start innovating again; the solar charging stack could be the “shot in the arm” the company needs.
Combine this with the growing demand for solar powered products, and you have a real winner on your hands.