Chances are, if you haven’t been living in a cave during 2010, you know something about the iPad. A finger-friendly tablet from t Apple that runs iOS, the iPad builds upon the smaller mobile devices, like the iPod and iPhone, that have made Apple such a phenomenal success in recent years.
Two key differences set the iPad apart. The first is its size. The iPhone and iPod Touch, with which it shares operating system and a library of applications, have only a 3.5 inch screen. The iPad has a 9.7 inch screen, which means that full-page documents, as well as entire books, are easily readable.
Suddenly a thin tablet with a touch screen, coupled with an impressive run time, becomes a real alternative to the pad and paper. Mass tablets of the past were simply not up to that task.
The second difference is this: I buy an iPad today. Being a big fan of tablets, I have followed their development, and I am even a long time user of the venerable TC1100 tablet. But the actual designs before the iPad were best used with a stylus, and definitely not designed for fingertip operation. Badly wanting a simple tablet designed for human hands, I have watched and anticipated so many, only to see them disappear into the vaporware ethers. The iPad is real.
Competition Is Good
Any other tablet that comes on the scene is going to be play catchup. That’s good, of course. Competition will force Apple, and others, to add features, improve design, deliver greater capability or lower prices–or all of the above. This is where solar power could come into play.
When the calculator first came out, it was large, heavy, and required a lot of juice. You know, like laptops used to be. And over time, technology and innovation morphed the calculator from an expensive indispensable tool of the highest caliber to one that is cheap but gets the job done. In fact, a lot of checkbooks and notepads ship with a calculator mounted right to it–for free! And what is powering these inexpensive calculators? Solar energy.
Solar power has turned the calculator into a tool that is always handy, and with power to spare.
Empowering the iPad
If solar power made the calculator as handy as a notepad, what could we expect to replace the notepad itself? The iPad and other soon-to-be-real tablets should be able to do the job rather well, so long as they are easy to use and always powered to go.
All we need to do is add a source of renewable energy that could keep the iPad always-on. Is it just a pipe dream to think that an iPad could sustain abd power itself, without the need for a charge? Maybe not.
Apple is always busy developing its next product; patents are part of that process. Patent Application number 20100079387, published April 2010 (which encompasses Fig. 10, left), may reveal what the company has in mind. The application, entitled “Integrated Touch Sensor and Solar Assembly”, details the mechanics of just such a device. And does Apple have a device that would work well with a nice big screen to act as combination human interface / solar collector? Why yes they do, and it’s called an iPad.
The signs indicate that notoriously-secretive Apple is working on solar powered devices. For all we know they already have prototypes. While I sincerely doubt that we will see such a product in 2010 (or 2011), I would not be surprised to see it on the market soon after that. Just in time to leapfrog the competition once again.
By the time the solar power system is ready for market, chances are that the rest of the device will have been made cheap enough to make it practical for millions more users.
After all, the mechanical hard drive has already been replaced, and the circuit board in an iPad is small, saving room for the battery. Everything seems to be lining up for the product to be possible. The world needs a real alternative to the tree consuming notepads. We can’t have a solar-powered iPad soon enough.
Note from Marc: For more technical detail on the patent, see this post at Patently Apple.