There are already rumors that Apple’s third generation of the iPad (iPad 3), might be released by Thanksgiving or next year. Alongside these rumors is the great guessing game about new features. Here’s one feature that would have environmentalists drooling: solar powered charging. It might not be as unlikely as you think.
Apple has been investigating how to integrate solar-power systems into its mobile devices and already has a couple of solar-related patents including one that was granted to the company only a couple of weeks ago.
The patent, according to TechCrunch, details a system that includes a voltage converter and controller that would work alongside a solar power source. Earlier this year Apple was granted another patent, which was originally filed in 2009. This patent, explains Martin LaMonica on Green Tech, uses a solar panel to charge different portable devices, including a notebook computer, tablet, phone, or other handheld gadget. The solar panel could either be embedded in the device or be removable, according to the patent.
Does it mean that Apple is getting more serious about adding a solar power feature to the next generations of iPhone and iPad? It’s really hard to say. Apple is awarded hundreds of patents every year and it usually takes years before these patents materialize if at all.
Nevertheless, it is obvious that for some time Apple has a growing interest in integrating solar energy systems into its devices. Already in 2008 the company filed a patent to integrate solar cells into portable devices by placing them underneath the layers of a touch-sensitive display, causing various media outlets to wonder if “Apple's future just got sunnier.”
Obviously it hasn't, at least not yet, but the opportunity is still there. Actually the opportunity has only gotten better since the price of solar panels has fallen drastically in the last couple of years (just ask Solyndra about it). Now the only question is if Apple is willing to take advantage of this opportunity. I see here couple of very good reasons why it should.
First, for Apple’s new CEO, Tim Cook, this is a great opportunity to design a new and exciting future for Apple and add clean energy technologies to Apple’s groundbreaking products. By becoming the person that will succeed in integrating clean energy into consumer electronics, Cook can distinguish himself from Steve Jobs and create his own unique legacy in Apple. There’s no guarantee that Cook will succeed, but the odds seem to be in his favor.
This is of course not the only way Cook and Apple can green up their products, but the key here is visibility. How many iPad users do you think are aware that their device is free of arsenic, BFRs, mercury and PVC? Or that the carbon footprint of the iPad 2 is 20 percent lower than the iPad’s first generation? Very few. But adding solar panels to the iPad or the iPhone would be something that no one could ignore. Not only that it will make the devices noticeably greener, a solar feature will also enable Apple to receive greater recognition for its greening efforts.
Solar panels offer consumers benefits beyond the feel good factor. Devices will retain a charge longer, since they'll be powering up while you use them. There’s also the savings in your electricity bill, which is nominal, but there is no denying that it feels good to charge your device at no cost, courtesy of the sun.
Will a solar-power system make a difference when consumers come to make their decision on their next smartphone or tablet? as a stand-alone feature, probably not. But it can be an important addition that will help keeping Apple devices cool, advanced and unique.
If we want to see a solar-powered revolution in consumer electronics, we need Apple to lead the way. Whether we like it or not, it looks like Apple is the only one that can do it.
I’d like to add with a note to Mr. Cook. As you can see, adding a solar power system to your mobile devices can be a win-win strategy, helping you to keep Apple one or two steps in front of your competitors. It might be too late for the iPad 3 and the iPhone 5, but please think of it when you start working on the iPad 4 and the iPhone 6. We count on you! Image credit: Inineone, Flickr Creative Commons
Raz Godelnik is the co-founder and CEO of Eco-Libris, a green company working to green up the book industry in the digital age. He is also an adjunct professor in the University of Delaware’s Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics.