As the speculation surrounding the iPhone 5S release date continues, a newly discovered patent application has many observers wondering just what Apple could have in store for consumers when the company's next phone hits the market later this year.

Rumors regarding the iPhone 5S and possible release dates began circulating within days of the iPhone 5 launch, with predictions including everything from the debut of cheaper/smaller iPhone models to the possible sale of a strangely named "iPhone Math" phablet; however, Apple has remained as quite as ever. Now, thanks to a little digging by Forbes, a patent grant from the U.S. Trademark and Patent Office has revealed an exciting potential addition to Apple's iconic smartphone that could debut on the iPhone 5S release date.

Awarded on Feb. 5, patent number 8,368,654 grants Apple the right to manufacture "integrated touch sensor and solar panel configurations that may be used on portable devices" for smartphones, mp3 players, and other portable media devices. Which means the solar-cell/touch sensor combos could be headed to more than just the iPhone 5S. Now, we don't know about you, but we're pretty sure that more than a few consumers would love having the option to purchase a solar-powered iPod Touch, iPad mini, or MacBook Pro.

Based on the information from the patent, it would appear Apple hopes to manufacture combination touch sensor/solar panel configurations which rely on stacked electrodes capable of either collecting solar energy or sensing a touch input. By combining the typically separate panels into a single entity, Apple hopes to cut down on overall device size, presumably so as not to lose the ground gained with the iPhone 5's impressively small frame.

Of course, patent ownership is hardly a guarantee that the company plans to manufacture such products, as is plainly evident by the increasing number of "patent trolls" filing suits against a variety of technical companies. Apple could easily be looking to protect a recent investment in a new research initiative, or attempting to stay one step ahead of major competitors like Samsung and HTC as they prepare to release new devices like the Galaxy S IV and HTC M7.

Do you think Apple should hold the iPhone 5S release date until the touch sensor/solar cell panels are ready for mass production?

Let us know in the comments section!