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Report: Apple, Samsung eyeing organic solar tech

A new report says the two gadget companies are evaluating solar tech, something Samsung's already done in a handful of gadgets.

Josh Lowensohn Former Senior Writer
Josh Lowensohn joined CNET in 2006 and now covers Apple. Before that, Josh wrote about everything from new Web start-ups, to remote-controlled robots that watch your house. Prior to joining CNET, Josh covered breaking video game news, as well as reviewing game software. His current console favorite is the Xbox 360.
Josh Lowensohn
2 min read
Solar panels that would not fit on your phone or laptop.
Solar panels that would not fit on your phone or laptop Michael Kanellos/CNET News

Gadgets from Apple and Samsung could eventually be getting a little extra star power.

No those companies aren't pulling a MySpace and tapping Justin Timberlake. Instead, it could be the sun--an actual star.

Digitimes reported today that both companies have been "evaluating" solar technologies to power future products, focusing particularly on organic photovoltaic cells, a technology that yields a lower sunlight-to-electricity conversion ratio than large solar panels installed on rooftops, but can be fit into small gadgets.

Samsung already uses solar technologies in some of its gadgets, including two of its phones in 2009, the "Blue Earth" and "Crest Solar" models, both of which sport solar panels on the back that could charge the phone in a pinch by using sunlight. The company followed those phones up with the Android-powered Replenish earlier this year, which can make use of an optional rear cover with a solar cell on it. Samsung also plans to debut the NC215S next month, a 10-inch Netbook that has a solar panel on the lid.

As for Apple, this is just the latest mention of the company being interested in solar technologies, following a number of patent applications that have dealt with solar:

• In 2006 Apple applied for a patent titled "Solar Cells on Portable Devices," which detailed a way to place solar panels beneath a device's semitransparent display, as well as the backside of it.

• In 2008 the company applied for a patent dealing with power management circuitry and solar cells, technology that would keep the device running with sufficient voltage when running off solar cells.

• Another 2008 patent filing once again brought up the idea of combining a solar panel with a display, this time covering touch panels to give the solar cells more surface area.

• In 2009, Apple applied for (and was later granted) a patent for a power system that makes use of solar to power various portable devices like a phone, tablet, or computer.

Digitimes notes right up front that the technology still needs time to develop and that it's potentially cost-prohibitive. The report also mentions that both companies are eyeing several Taiwan-based solar firms to supply the technology, including Konarka which has produced flexible solar cells using plastic.

Worth pointing out about organic cells is that it's unclear how well they'll hold up in the long run given degradation--that's when they begin to lose their efficiency over time. That's an important consideration given gadget warranties.

Apple currently offers a year of warranty service on its phones, tablets, and computers, but that can be extended by one to two years through the company's AppleCare protection program. Samsung similarly offers a one-year warranty on most of its products, including phones and its notebook computers. Assuming someone buys a device with embedded solar technology, they're likely going to expect it to continue working at a certain level while it's still under that warranty.

See also: Are mobile solar chargers worth it?