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Nokia solar-powered phones, and the search for the next big thing

Lots of people are looking at Nokia these days and wondering if they'll be able to pull a rabbit out of a hat that will keep them at the top of the industry.  Some are looking at their overall market position and improving app ecosystem.  Some are looing at their mobile ad revenue.  Some at their success with low-end phones in emerging markets.  Some are looking at how good Windows Phone is becoming.

I think that all of the above matter a lot.  But at the same time, they're all evolutionary, and none of them are particularly revolutionary. They're all a continuation of today's big thing, and none of them are tomorrow's big thing.

That's why I'm very intrigued to see Nokia's new experiment in solar powered cellphones.  They're taking running solar-powered cellphones and putting them into use in four different places, to measure how they work in practice. This means that the phones exist, and that the technology is close enough to final that experimental measurements of effectiveness are worth gathering.

Nokia's not saying yet what solar power technology they're using, although they've claimed that they'll give details soon.  Grizzly Analytics knows of a few solar power technologies that Nokia is researching:

  • Silicon Carbide NanoFlowers - This NanoTechnology material has two interesting properties. One is that they gather solar power. Another is that they're water-repellent, giving them the self-cleaning nature that Nokia included in their Morph vision.  Others are also researching Silicon Carbide NanoFlowers for solar energy, including Singapore's Institute of MicroElectronics.
  • NanoWire solar cells using nanowire networks - This NanoTechnology structure also has other uses, such as sensing molecules in the air.
  • Phoactive layers on touchscreens - This is an approach to having touchscreens themselves gather energy from "incident radiation," including solar.
Details on this and other Nokia research are available in a Grizzly Analytics report on Nokia NanoTechnology research.

It's not clear yet which of these Nokia is using in their new experiment, if any.  And it's not clear whether their technology will be as good as other solar power technologies being researched.  But we may be seeing one or more of these technologies leaving Nokia's research labs and entering real application.

Will solar powering a cellphone recapture Nokia's market dominance?  Not by itself. But this just might be a sign that Nokia is actually working to take technologies from their research labs and move them into market.  The inability to do this is one of their big failings in recent years by many accounts.  If they can succeed at productizing some of their advanced research, they may be closer than others to a true "next big thing." 

And a true "next big thing" could be the true revolution that will catapault Nokia ahead of companies still worrying about all the issues of today. It might be solar powered phones, or flexible phones, or phones with built-in pico-projectors, or phones that display on eyeglass lenses, or any of the many other things that Nokia and others are researching.

What do you think? Is solar powering a cellphone a big thing? What else will be a big new thing? Will Nokia be able to productize their advanced research?

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