The idea of charging a smartphone with solar energy isn't new, but Apple plans to take it a step further by building solar charging capability directly into the iPhone.
Apple's patent, which integrates touch sensor and solar assembly, has just been approved by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
The innovative device, which will be used in future iPhones and media players, allows portable devices to be both power-efficient and compact.
To mitigate the battery drain that comes from bigger, brighter screens, the same panel would be used for both the touch screen that controls a smartphone and to capture sunlight that keeps the battery charged.
"The technology is arguably most useful in these types of products as consumer demand for larger, power-hungry screens is pushing the limit of battery design," says Mikey Campbell at AppleInsider.
Solar cells aren't simply layered in the touch screen's array, they are completely integrated — so the solar panel both harvests energy and serves as an optical sensor.
"Behind the scenes, a so-called 'traffic control' unit, which can be either a hardware or software solution, decides whether generated energy should be allocated to running the device or sent to the battery for storage," says Campbell.
Here's how the panel would work:
Photo of an iPhone charging provided by Adrian Ilie via Wikimedia Commons.