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:

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.