Solar iPhone? Who knows when, but Apple’s cooking something solar up

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Apple secures more solar-device related patentsThe big news at Apple this week is Steve Jobs’ resignation, which comes weeks after Apple became the most valuable company in the world and as Jobs continues to struggle with medical issues. But earlier this week, the wonder-gizmo maker won another patent related to using solar power in its mobile devices.

It’s not the first company to think of using solar to power today’s devices. Samsung’s even launched a solar-powered netbook.

But given Apple’s ability to ‘wow’ consumers and fans with its new gadgets, like the iPad and the iPhone, its adoption of solar could change how people think about using solar on a daily basis.

It would be like solar-powered watches and calculators, v. 2.0—or maybe even 3.0.

The newly granted patent is related to solar-related patents Apple won earlier in 2011. The newly granted patent includes a voltage converter and a controller to make sure that devices can take input from a power source and output it to an electric load, like a mobile device, according to the patent abstract.

“The voltage converter is configured to monitor or detect an amount of power drawn by the electronic load at the output of the voltage converter,” the filing said. The controller responds and controls the converter, conditioning the power used by the device. “As a result, the output voltage from the solar power source is maintained within a predetermined range.”

It’s technical.

“The impression that I get is that Apple is working on a simple converter that will help to keep the device's battery running a little longer,” said Jack Purcher of Patently Apple, an Apple-centric blog. “As we begin to see 4G and communications built into more devices like the MacBook and iPad, we'll be using these devices more and more outdoors in the summer. I do that now as a matter of fact, and it sure would be nice if the boarders of the iPad and MacBook Pro would support solar cells. The new MacBook Pro has that new dark boarder that would be ideal to hide these cells. Of course that's my opinion and not something laid out in the patent.”

Still, it’s hard to tell when Apple could feasibly rollout a mobile device with solar. The iPhone 5 is rumored to be launched in October, but that doesn’t mean it will have solar.

“Timing of patents to marketable products is speculative,” Purcher said. “I've seen iPhone patents in 2006 come to life in 2007 and other ideas have taken years. So it's a mix of where the technology is at some point and marketable ideas and conditions. Apple's secret sauce isn't exactly public.”

Also not clear is whether Apple would use a third-party solar cell or develop it on its own.

The company has now won six patents related to using solar to power devices, but other companies already have some attractive possibilities that they’re ready to market, like Wypsis’ transparent photovoltaic cells.

Photo: Chris Meehan / Clean Energy Authority.