Kyocera solar smartphoneAn announcement from Sunpartner Technologies, “the French specialist in innovative solar solutions,” and Japanese device manufacturer Kyocera Corp. heralds another technology debut at this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. This time it’s “a new working demo of a solar smartphone with a high-end screen and outstanding performance.”

According to the joint announcement, “the new working demo phone to be unveiled at MWC 2016 uses a Kyocera smartphone with a 5-inch full HD screen,” while “Sunpartner Technologies’ R&D team has reached an unprecedented level of yield: now only 3 minutes of exposure to light* are needed for 1 minute of smartphone talk time.” A YouTube video from Barcelona appears to show an otherwise fairly normal smartphone design charging at speed from a typical Maglite-style torch beam.

Obviously, since this design is explicitly just a working prototype, it’s unclear how soon it could be in production – let alone how viable the whole concept is. But you can see the advantages. Sunpartner Technologies states that “the invisible photovoltaic component Wysips® Crystal” is “installed under the touchscreen during manufacture” and allows the mobile device to generate “its own perpetual energy reserves, producing electricity by capturing ambient light.”

Rather than ruggedized smartphones for hikers, though, think of the potential of such technology married to simple tablet or e-reading devices for the developing world. Or for high-growth markets with poor power infrastructure like the emerging Asian economies that Google is currently targeting. That could be a whole order of magnitude more important than an always-powered Kindle.


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