Apple appears to be investigating the use of thin film solar technology for future mobile products with a new job listing on the company’s website looking to hire an engineer with experience in the solar industry. The thin films engineer would join Apple’s Mobile Devices group and “assist in the development and refinement of thin films technologies applicable to electronic systems.” The job listing adds some proof to rumors in recent years that Apple was evaluating the use of solar panels for future products.
On top of “extensive experience with thin-film technologies in either semiconductor processing or solar industries” Apple also notes that “knowledge of thin-films in the context of RF shielding is highly desirable.”
There have been some hints in the past that Apple is considering the use of solar panels in products outside of the company’s experience with solar installations for its data centers and new Apple 2 “Spaceship” campus. Back in 2011, new Apple patents surfaced related to solar applications for consumer products and just this year a patent application detailed a method of integrating a touch sensor and a solar assembly into the display of a mobile product like an iPhone.
Solar technology could also have major benefits for Apple’s watch product currently being developed by a team of Apple executives, sensor, and fitness experts. A patent application from Apple earlier this year showed a wrist watch form factor that could utilize a built-in solar array as an additional power source for the device’s battery. Charging and battery life has been a hurdle for current smart watches on the market that often require charging everyday, and smart watches with longer battery life are often much thicker than a traditional wristwatch as a result of a larger battery.
Companies are already testing similar applications to integrate solar technology into a smartphone display in order to extend battery life, although there has yet to be a large manufacturer to implement a solar panel into a flagship smartphone or tablet. Quartz reported recently that Chinese electronics company TCL Communications is currently testing a technology called Wysips from French startup SunPartner that embeds a 0.5 mm thin photovoltaic surface underneath the display of a smartphone or watch.
Apple, like most consumer technology companies, is constantly researching ways to help extend battery life while keeping devices as a compact as possible. There’s already quite a big market for solar charging products for Apple devices from third-party companies, but a solar panel built right into a future iPhone or iWatch that dramatically extends battery life could be a major innovation for mobile products.