Does your iPhone battery life get you down? Don’t worry. Two enterprising Seattle geeks believe they’ve solved that ongoing frustration with the SolMate, a innovative iPhone case whose razor-thin solar panel and 16-bit microcontroller circuit board provides a charge directly to the mobile device.
Yes, the irony of the SolMate being developed in cloudy Seattle is not lost on us. But co-founders Adam Benzion, a 42-year-old former Microsoftie, and Jamie Wojcik, a 38-year-old former Texas Instruments engineer, aren’t letting the lack of sunlight stall their entrepreneurial dreams.
“In direct sunlight we can provide a continuous charge for the iPhone,” boasts Benzion. But, he quickly points out, that continuous sunlight isn’t really a reality in most places in the world, including his home of Seattle.
“Today, yes, you can actually completely do away with the grid charging. But you have to live in California or Florida, and make sure that your phone is exposed to the sunlight at least four our five hours a day. It is not super realistic for most people,” Benzion tells GeekWire. “But, technically, absolutely yes, if this device is in the sun a few hours a day, you don’t need to use a cable to charge.”
(Apple notes that the iPhone works best from 32° to 95° F, and the ideal temperature for the device is 72° F).
In direct sunlight, Benzion said it takes about five hours to go from a dead battery to a full charge on the iPhone. But the cool thing about the SolMate is that it also can charge in non-direct sunlight or the shade, something that Wojcik said is truly unique.
“Everyone that has done a mobile solar charger has to be in direct sunlight, and you have to have the planets align and the sun align exactly … to get any charge out of it,” Wojcik said. “Ours is different. We can charge in the shade, although you won’t get as good of charging, but you should be able to get at least your standby current in any light condition.”
The company, which operates under the name of GreenSimian, plans to finish development on the SolMate this Spring and start shipping to customers by May. The solar-powered iPhone case will cost $99, with the company targeting lovers of industrial design and “the geeky crowd” who love gadgets, said Benzion.
The entrepreneurial duo have already raised $28,453 toward a $30,000 goal on the startup funding site Kickstarter.
The SolMate system includes a high-efficiency, custom-made solar panel that affixes to the back of the iPhone. A backup battery runs at the base of case to manage the power between the solar panel, the charger and the phone. An app provides details of the power usage, and the company notes that the aluminum framed case does not exacerbate the frustrating reception problems associated with the iPhone 4.
Benzion doesn’t think the issue of short battery life will disappear anytime soon even as engineers at Apple, Samsung and other phone giants attack the problem. And even if it does go away, he said they’ve got other projects percolating.
“We are trying to be a company that is almost like a next-generation Sharper Image, or something much cooler” said Benzion. “Building amazing products in small batches, and then moving on to the next ones.”
Here’s the video pitch that chief technology officer Wojcik provided to Kickstarter in which he notes that they plan to develop a similar case for the iPad and the iPhone 5.