Apple wins patents signaling new solar-power options for devices

Your next iPhone or iPad could be powered by the sun. Apple (NYSE: APPL) recently won its first solar patent for portable electronics from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Already companies are offering solar-powered chargers for iPhones, iPads and laptops. But this patent and others that Apple has filed for could allow Apple to natively incorporate solar cells into their devices.

In all, the company has applied for four patents related to solar power, said Jack Purcher of Patently Apple, a site that follows Apple’s patent applications.

“Apple has three published patent applications and one granted patent [related to solar],” Purcher said, “I think that we’re just starting to see Apple’s initial engineering research in the area of incorporating solar energy into future products as one way to prolong battery life.”

The patent granted to Apple is for “portable devices having multiple power interfaces,” according to the filing.

Such devices, Apple explained, could include a solar-power source. The innovation is in allowing multiple power sources to charge the battery and it includes a “battery charging manager.” The manager will allow the device to receive power from multiple sources, including fluctuating power sources like solar power.

Purcher said it is too early at this point to tell which product Apple will first use the patented solar technology.

“But it’s likely to start with implementing their voltage converter,” he said.

Still, Purcher doesn’t expect any solar-powered devices from Apple this year.

“Unlike some who think this will be rolled out in 2011, I think this is years away from coming to market,” he said.

He noted that Apple first started rolling out patents for iPhone in 2000, but the product itself didn’t come to market until 2007.

“In this case, I just don’t see it being fast-tracked,” he said.

Given Apple’s penchant for secrecy, it could come out with a surprise product with solar sooner than expected.

“Yet you never know with Apple. A future iPod nano watch could come out of nowhere and use solar energy as one of its power sources right out of the gate,” Purcher said.

Up until now, other firms have been responsible for supplying solar-powered charging devices for Apple.

Pictured: No, this is not a new product, just Meehan’s rendering of what a solar iPhone looks like. We don’t want calls about this.