Battery life is one of the biggest challenges in front of smart phone producers. The more features are added to a phone, the more battery is needed in order to operate the phone. The days where users could recharge their phones every 3-4 days are over; nowadays phones have to be recharged every few hours instead. Nokia (NYSE:NOK) is said to be working on a new project which would allow its phones to be charged with the solar power, just the same way calculators are. If this thing actually works, Nokia might be truly onto something. Recently, the company's Facebook page posted picture of a Lumia facing the sun with a title: "Sun, sun, sun, here we come!" which may be a hint that Nokia is indeed working on a Lumia model with a solar panel.
I know a lot of people who use an iPhone, Galaxy or Lumia and complain about the battery life. These days, many smart phone owners have to carry a charger with them wherever they go in case their phone runs out of battery power. Phone companies are spending a lot of money on R&D in order to increase the battery life of their phones; however, this is a very tough challenge because smart phones are now capable of doing a lot of things that drain batteries such as playing games and videos.
Currently, the technology of deriving electric from solar energy is still in its infancy and it may be still impossible to run a smart phone with solar energy alone. This is not very important though. If solar charging can slow down the usage of the battery, this could extend the life of a phone between two charging sessions. More specifically, if the battery life is extended by a couple hours every day because of solar charging, this will be good enough to lure many people to buy these phones.
Last week, Samsung introduced a smart phone that can track eye-movement to use in many functions including but not limited to scrolling. This is revolutionary and phone companies have to come up with creative ideas like these in order to gain an edge in the highly competitive market of smart phones. Smart phones with unique functions can help a company earn money in more than one way. For example, if Nokia indeed develops a fully functioning solar panel to go with its phones, not only will it help Nokia sell more phones, but also Nokia will hold the patent to the technology and earn money by licensing such technology.
In 2012, it was said that Nokia was working on a phone that would be powered with solar panels. Back then, Nokia dismissed this by saying that the technology was not feasible to use on smart phones yet. It's been a year since then and things might have changed by now. The fact that Nokia commented about how solar powered phones were not "feasible" shows that the company actually ran tests with it, which means the idea had been already brought up and discussed by the engineers in the company. Between last year and now, they might have improved the technology or they might have settled with a solution that can simply slow down battery consumption rather than eliminate it entirely. In fact, Nokia tested 5 prototypes of phones that could be charged with solar energy even though the results were not that impressive.
If such a phone comes out, Nokia will have passed a very important milestone in the global smart phone race. With Lumia 920, the company introduced wireless charging to the smart phone market and solar panel would take things another step forward. I know a lot of people who are sick of having to carry a charger with them wherever they go and many of them would be very happy to get their hands on a solar paneled phone.
Furthermore, Sunpartner's Wysips (What You See Is Photovoltaïc Surface) division recently introduced its new product at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. This is an ultra-thin film-like product that can be attached to many devices including but not limited to cell phones in order to allow solar charging. The idea is very interesting and very new. I can see many companies being skeptical about this technology until it proves itself; however in a rapidly evolving smart phone market, companies have to innovate very quickly if they want to survive. I can definitely see Nokia partnering with Sunpartner to test this new technology in the future Lumias.
The smart phone market is one of the most competitive and fastest evolving markets in the world. Even the companies like Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Samsung (OTC:SSNLF) that are dominating the market are on their toes to be the first ones to introduce certain ideas in the market. As the technology improves and many once-great products become commodities (for example, flat screen HD TVs in the last few years), it will be more and more difficult for certain companies to keep their competitive edge. When it comes to that, even smaller innovations can make a lot of difference.
Alternatively, Nokia's Facebook message might be just a reference to new Lumias that will hit the market this summer, which is another thing that should excite Nokia fans and investors.
Disclosure: I am long NOK. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.