Hands On With Kyocera’s Solar Prototype
BARCELONA—Kyocera is a leading maker of rugged phones, but that isn’t why I come to its trade show booths. The real fun at a Kyocera booth is the concept phones, and this year at MWC, it has some interesting ideas.
The most useful is a solar-powered prototype with the solar panel in the screen. We’ve seen a few phones with solar cells over the years, but they’ve typically been in the backs of phones. That creates all sorts of problems, Kyocera’s John Chier said: it makes the backs more vulnerable to damage, and people don’t generally want to have their phones face down, anyway.
Kyocera is using a SunPartner transparent solar panel below its rugged screen glass, installed in a ruggedized phone. Many of Kyocera’s customers are outdoor workers, so this could let them get a bit more charge when they need it. The panel was truly clear—I didn’t have any trouble seeing the screen. The only down side is that it still isn’t very efficient, Chier said. A two-hour charge only gives you five minutes of talk time, so it’s really just for emergency texting and such.
The company also showed Windows Phone 8.1 running on its Kyocera Torque phone hardware. Kyocera is just experimenting with Windows, and if it comes out with a Windows Phone, it would probably be around when Windows 10 comes out and arrive in Japan first, Chier said. Finally, there was a modular smartphone design for rugged phones. No, this isn’t Project Ara; it’s a phone “core” that had various active cases which added elements like a heater, extra-loud speakers or a bar code scanner. It’s another field worker solution; companies would order a whole bunch of devices designed for their work environments.
Currently the No. 6 phone maker in the U.S. (after Apple, Samsung, LG, ZTE, and Alcatel), Kyocera makes some great rugged smartphones—we’ve given its Brigadier and Torque phones, among others, our Editors’ Choice. And we’ve seen its concepts appear in production phones—its Smart Sonic Receiver, which transmits sound through the screen, was once a concept. So we’re hoping that we’ll see some of these ideas in actual Kyocera phones in a year or two.