The technology is coming out of a small company called Wysips, which has perfected a transparent coating less than 100 microns deep that captures enough energy from the sun to generate electrical power. It relies on the application of super-thin strips of photovoltaic cells laid down on a display screen, and then a precise layer of cylindrical lenticular lenses deposited on top. Light from the display exits through the lenses undistorted into a viewer's eyes, but incoming solar energy is focused onto the PV cells, where it generates electricity.
According to the company's president, it's possible to design a transparent smartphone touchscreen that can charge a typical phone battery in around six hours of direct illumination outside, or longer under inside lighting conditions (due to different intensity in lighting, and differing amounts of IR and UV radiation in the light). A next-gen prototype is due next year that's powerful enough to give 30 minutes of talk time from an hour of charging.
There's more than one upshot from the technology than mere green charging credentials. If you charge your phone "normally" and then leave it sitting on your desk (as we all so often do), then the tech will be able to top off your battery charge in a way that could mean you'll need to charge it via a wall plug much less frequently. The extra energy gained by a solar top-off system could let phone designers incorporate slimmer batteries, relying on solar energy to keep the phone alive, and thus enable all sorts of design decisions that would otherwise be impossible—an important thing when you peep inside the iPhone 4 and realize that its guts are nearly entirely dominated by the battery cells. Or perhaps phone designers may leave the battery as is, but incorporate much more powerful, yet energy-hungry, CPUs that'll boost performance and have their larger energy needs met via a little solar power boost.
Apple gets a mention here because the firm is all about innovative product design, and in fact has already patented a different screen/solar power charging technology. If Apple incorporated Wysips' tech for a future iPhone, it would certainly help differentiate the device from rival Android units.
To read more news like this, follow Fast Company on Twitter: Click here.