Newly published patent suggest that Garmin is working on a new sports watch that will have a bright OLED display, with solar charging to extend its battery life.
Until now, runners and hikers have had to make a choice – do they want a watch with maximum battery life, or one with a bright high-resolution display that's good for displaying maps.
Some of Garmin's best GPS watches, such as the Instinct and Forerunner series, use memory-in-pixel (MIP) displays. These can be covered with a layer of photovoltaic glass that tops up the watch's battery when exposed to sunlight, but can be hard to read in bright sun.
Other watches, including the Venu 2 and Epix, have bright OLED screens that emit light and are easy to read in all conditions. However, these don't look good when covered with a layer of solar glass, and use significantly more power than MIP.
Now, it looks like Garmin has developed a way to solve this problem. An OLED display is made up of 'subpixels', which are colored red, green and blue. Rather than covering the whole watch face with a special lens, Garmin plans to use tiny amounts of photovoltaic material in between these subpixels.
These details have appeared in patents earlier this year, but now the US Patents and Trademarks Office has published a new document (opens in new tab) giving more details of how the tech could be implemented, together with a new drawing (opens in new tab) to illustrate how it could be used in a sports watch.
The best of both worlds
Registering a patent doesn't mean that a solar-powered OLED sports watch will eventually go on sale, but the signs so far are promising. Choosing between performance and battery life can be a real bugbear, and Garmin has recognized that runners, hikers, and other athletes value both.
"Battery life is important for these devices as it is aggravating for users to stop wearing a device for recharging," Its latest patent states. "Some attempts have been made to equip smartwatches with semitransparent solar panels such as by using a discrete solar cell positioned on top of (or over) the watch's display.
"However, the presence of such a solar cell overlay degrades visibility of the display module. Accordingly, there is a need for an integrated energy-collecting display module that collects solar energy without substantially obscuring its display."
We aren't expecting this tech to appear in the long-awaited Garmin Forerunner 955, which is likely to have the same MIP display as its predecessor, with a solar option available for an extra fee. However, if we're lucky, we might see it in a watch like the Garmin Epix 2 in a few years' time.
Cat is the editor of Advnture, She’s been a journalist for 13 years, and was fitness and wellbeing editor on TechRadar before joining the Advnture team in 2022. She’s a UK Athletics qualified run leader, and in her spare time enjoys nothing more than lacing up her shoes and hitting the roads and trails (the muddier, the better).
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