CES short take: Qi pushes to popularize wireless charging

ces qi

John Perzow, VP of Market Development for the Wireless Power Consortium, which is responsible for the Qi wireless standard, is sure of many things, but the first thing he is sure of is the company name. “It’s pronounced ‘Chi,’" he says firmly.

However it’s pronounced, Qi, which powers smartphones, tablets and other devices wirelessly, seems to be doing quite well. Having recently brought several large vendors such as Dell under its umbrella, Qi is pushing to become the standard for wireless powering. According to Perzow, by the end of 2014, there were 635 products certified for use by Qi; currently, there are about 1,000 products. He also asserted that, as of the end of 2015 there were 150 million deployed Qi systems globally, up from 50 million in 2014.

As with most new technologies, Qi is trying to become the main standard for wireless charging, against competition from the AirFuel Alliance, which was recently formed from the merger of Alliance for Wireless Power (AW4P) and Power Matters Alliance (PMA). the interesting thing here is that, judging simply from public awareness, Qi may succeed.

The company recently made a number of announcements of new technologies, including the ability to power more than one device at a time, and through thicker materials (so that, for example, you could have a charging plate under a wooden table). Last spring, it announced the ability to provide “fast charging” at 15 watts, increasing the speed about 40% for devices capable of it, such as Samsung’s latest phones. (Good news for Qi users, who may have enjoyed the convenience but not the speed of the current 5-watt standard.)

However, one of the aspects of Qi that Perzow stressed most were the charging pads being included in automobile lines from manufacturers such as Audi and Mercedes Benz. The ability to simply place your phone on a pad next to you and use it to provide music, GPS and communications while charging (and without the nest of wires and holders that most older cars demand) is a seductive idea, admittedly -- although, like many of the technologies offered at CES, it will take a while to filter down from premium products to a mass usership.

And that may be the final way to judge which wireless charging standard wins the race -- assuming one does (and considering how many wires we have to deal with on a daily basis, it seems a desirable outcome). When you have non-tech companies such as McDonald's and Ikea offering wireless charging ports in their stores and products, then perhaps the technology can be truly said to be catching on.

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