Apple continues to make improvements to its iPhone with each refresh. On Tuesday, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office approved Apple for a MultiTouch Solar Cell panel patent that may change the future of the iPhone. The technology allows for a touch sensor to be integrated into a solar panel, which can make the iPhone power efficient and more compact.
The patent, which is filed as Patent No. 8,368,654 is simply listed as an “Integrated touch sensor and solar assembly”. However, the technology is much more advanced than the patent filing mentions. The solar panel is not attached to the MultiTouch with two separate pieces, instead of operating as one panel with electrodes that can operate as both a capacitive touch sensor and a solar energy collector.
In practical use, the capacitive touch sensors and solar cells would be separated using isolation trenches, as noted in the images. Both the touch sensors and the solar cells would be integrated into the multiplexer circuitry which would then allow it to switch between touch signals and the power from the solar cells, which would likely be delivered for CPU usage or to the battery for storage.
Currently, Apple uses capacitive touch panels that have the sole purpose of displaying images, photos, videos etc. However, with the MultiTouch Solar Cell panels, Apple can replace the current screen technology and move to a technology that can also provide energy solutions for the iPhone. This, in turn, could potentially solve battery issues on the iPhone as the devices become thinner and more compact.
It is unlikely that Apple would include something so advanced in its next generation iPhone 5S / 6, but it is a possibility for future models as the Cupertino, California company is consistently moving ahead of the competition. As solar panels and alternate forms of energy for mobile devices become common in the industry, Apple will likely integrate this technology. Apple filed the patent in 2008 and listed Michael Nathaniel Rosenblatt, Benjamin Lyon, John Benjamin Filson, Steve Porter Hotelling, Gordon Cameron and Cameron Frazier as inventors.