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David Talbot

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Is Apple Really Planning Self-Charging iPhones?

An Apple patent is just the latest in a broad industry effort to expand battery life.

  • September 20, 2012

With short battery life a major hassle for smartphone owners, researchers industrywide are continually seeking easier ways to recharge gadgets and prolong their life between charges.  An interesting Apple patent, filed in July and published today by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, hints at an interesting self-charging idea.

The patent describes as system of printed coils on a circuit board, and moveable magnets. The motion of shaking the phone or walking would move the magnets over the coils, producing electricity. No word on how long it might take such an idea to prove practical. And, of course, Apple patents lots of things.

A number of other efforts aim to attack the problem. These include tricks to use photovoltaics built into displays (see “Energy Harvesting Displays”). A collaboration between Intel and IDT is pursuing wireless charging (see “Intel’s Wireless Power Play”) and so is the startup Witricitity (see “Charge Your Phone and Your Car from Afar”).

Those last two ideas would be extensions of something already possible–charging specially-equipped electronics by sitting them directly on charging pads. Among recent smartphone product releases (most of which boasted of some effort to reduce consumption) the new Nokia phone took a somewhat radical step to include such a pad with the device (see “New Smartphones May be Nokia’s Last Stand.”  

Meantime, try not to use the phone as a flashlight too often.

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