There's been a lot of buzz lately about Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) potentially incorporating solar charging into devices like the Macbook or a new iWatch. Recent patents granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office prove that Apple is at least testing solar in its products but so far we can only speculate about what the company might have in store.
Whether solar products come today or in five years, it's an interesting development and one that investors should keep an eye on, whether it's with Apple or someone else who makes the first move.
What we know about Apple and solar
All we really know for now is that there's interest in solar by Apple.
The patents I mentioned above ponder both using a solar panel to plug into a Mac or other device as well as incorporating solar panels into the device itself. On a Macbook, incorporating a thin sheet of solar panels on the back of the display would add to the device's thickness, but it may be worth the added battery life. For something like an iPhone or iWatch that thickness becomes far more cumbersome.
The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Apple tried to make a solar iWatch, but the device proved too complicated. But that doesn't mean we won't see it in the future. Solar technology is improving rapidly and as solar cells get thinner, they'll be more easily incorporated into consumer products.
Apple solar-powered devices may be a glimpse in the horizon and add to Apple's growing solar portfolio. Apple is already one of the largest commercial solar operators in the country after SunPower (NASDAQ:SPWR) built at least 40 MW of solar power plants and it's buying cutting-edge technology to power its data centers.
Solar is already showing up in consumer products
On the surface, Apple putting solar power in their devices may seem crazy, but the leap of solar into commercial products has already begun. SunPower recently announced it is providing solar cells for Ford's C-Max Energi concept car. It has also provided cells for solar-powered aircraft, boats, and research automobiles so the number of devices we're seeing solar on is increasing.
Small solar electronics chargers are also starting to pop up for computers and tablets, and as cells get thinner and cheaper, they'll only grow. The solar Macbook may not be coming today, but don't count it out sometime in the future.
Solar and electronics have a future... someday
For today, I think the idea of solar cells in Apple's electronic devices is probably not realistic. But give both the solar and electronics industries another few years and the possibilities get better.
Solar cells are no longer prohibitively expensive and if built into a device correctly, they could add the chargeability that's only been feasible in small calculators until now. This is an innovation worth keeping an eye on, whether it's Apple or someone else who leads the way.