A new patent application published by the USPTO (via AppleInsider) indicates that Apple has been thinking about how to practically deliver the benefits of solar power to mobile devices, without requiring clumsy and gigantic external converters. Solar charging is still fairly fringe when it comes to the general gadget-using population, but Apple’s patent, filed originally in 2012, looks like it could provide a way to make getting your power from the sun something that’s generally palatable within a few years’ time.
The system in Apple’s patent is a power management array for accepting both power adapter and solar power direct from gathering devices or traditional mains-based chargers. So in other words, you could plug in your MagSafe or iPad/iPod adapter, or alternatively hook a MacBook or other piece of hardware directly to a solar panel with a simple cord. There’s also a means for accepting both inputs at the same time, according to the patent, for a power balance that would likely charge your device quicker but with more economical use of juice from the grid.
The key to this patent is that the system described is both composed of readily available power management techniques achievable with existing hardware, and; able to be built using componentry that takes up very little space, making it theoretically possible to integrate it into existing device designs without much modification. Both of those indicate that Apple could build this into products sooner, rather than later, should it choose to go that route.
I’d still expect this to take a while to come to fruition, if it does at all, but it is one way that Apple could explore the possibility of expanding device battery life in non-traditional usage situations, like while out and about in nature and separated from any mains access. The key will be whether this can be done without making any sacrifices to battery or device size, and that seems to be where Apple is focusing its R&D efforts around solar, according to this application at least.