Moreover, in the mobile industry, adoption and use of solar energy in devices is even lower. While at the same time, battery life remains a major concern for mobile users. That's why I thought it was worth noting that at Mobile World Congress earlier this month there was news from an OEM around solar battery charging. Japanese company, Kyocera, a device maker (who some might have thought was no longer around) unveiled its new ruggedized Torque smartphone for Europe and also a prototype with solar-charging capabilities. According to Network World, Kyocera, along with SunPartner Technologies, they are working on turning the "modern smartphone's biggest battery life liabilities into an asset – a smartphone that incorporates solar power technology into the touchscreen."
It should be noted here that the solar functionality in the device is not designed to replace traditional battering charging, but could be used to access info and apps if the phone battery dies. It also should be mentioned that Kyocera may not actually launch the Torque with solar capabilities but is actively working on the prototype and that's progress.
Other solar-based mobile battery initiatives
The unveiling of a solar battery prototype is by no means the first for the market. It's been bandied about for a very long time. More recently, in August 2013, it was announced that Chinese OEM TCL Communication was set to launch a smartphone with solar abilities using SunPartner's technology as well. SunPartner at the time stated: "The goal of this partnership is to develop smartphone prototypes powered by solar and artificial light. This project will enable TCL Communication to evaluate the technology in both technical and marketing terms."
There are also examples of devices with solar back covers like Sagem's Puma Phone.
There are also tablet projects in Europe that involve companies like Gemalto, Archos and Eurocom using SunPartner Wysips technology. In addition, there are accessories on the market that allow end users to use the sun to charge their devices but it's not part of the device itself.
The Big Guys
Rumors circulated late last year prior to the iPhone 6 launch that the sapphire glass touchscreen would contain technology components for solar charging. This, of course, was one of the many rumors that did not come true, unfortunately. (Note: According to BGR, Apple owns patents around solar charging for computers and mobile devices.)
Way back in 2009, Samsung launched the Blue Earth touchscreen handset which had solar cells embedded on the back. The OEM giant also had the Replenish that had an option for a solar panel back cover. These phones launched around the time Samsung was more focused on eco-friendly devices, which were often feature phones. As of late, we've not seen much focus on truly green devices from the Korean-based OEM.
Solar battery power is one of the more pivotal areas in the device green technology space to watch closely, since devices enabled with solar charging could stand out among the many seemingly similar smartphones launched every week. Plus, a full replacement of lithium ION batteries would be a huge leap forward for the industry. Maybe someday.
For now, we will continue to monitor this space around the OEMs (and accessory providers) as they develop more eco-based solutions. Keep a look out for more commentary and reports that address these issues. We are "walking on sunshine" here at Bamboo Mobile. One of these days the industry, businesses and consumers will feel good about it. My grandfather would be so pleased.
Kate Pearce is Head of Mobility and a Sr. Strategist at Compass Intelligence where she manages consulting projects, conducts market research and develops content for the wireless industry, including in the areas of mobile devices, B2B segmentation/sizing, reuse and recycling, green/clean technology and other areas. She is also involved in specialized business and client development activities for the company.
Pearce is also the Editor-in-Chief of Bamboo Mobile. She has been quoted in major news and technology publications, including CBS News, New York Times, CNET, St. Louis Post Dispatch and Business Week.
Prior to joining Compass Intelligence, Pearce worked in management roles in corporate strategy and product development groups at Sprint PCS, Sprint Corporation and EMBARQ (now CenturyLink).