Skip the navigation

Why no wireless charging in the iPhone 5?

Hint: It's all about the specs

September 13, 2012 11:00 AM ET

Computerworld - In some ways, the iPhone 5 is a significant technological step up over its predecessor with its two times faster A6 processor, longer battery life, larger scratch-proof sapphire glass lens cover, and LTE network support. So why no wireless charging?

Last week, the first of what will likely become hundreds of new mobile products with built-in wireless charging was announced in the U.S.

The Nokia Lumia 920, a Windows Phone 8 smartphone launched last week, is the first U.S. smartphone to have embedded wireless charging.

Already, products from 120 companies are certified as compliant with the Qi (pronounced "chee") standard for wireless charging, according to the Wireless Power Consortium (WPC).

The Qi standard sets the specifications for mobile devices to be charged either by resting on a magnetic induction pad or by using resonance charging. Resonance charging allows a device to be charged from up to 1.5-in. away from the power source, such as a laptop. Furniture and auto makers are already preparing products that will afford wireless charging for mobile devices.

While more than 100 vendors have joined the WPC and its standards efforts, notably missing is Apple. Samsung is also not among the WPC membership.

Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney believes Apple may be trying to force their own standard, just like they did by not offering micro USB like other smartphone vendors.

"Apple is not always first to technology. I am not therefore surprised," Dulaney said. "Google and Nokia/Microsoft have been shown to be far more aggressive."

"They don't support Qi. Again not surprising," Dulaney continued. "This means that as Apple falls behind in a number of technical areas there will still be value propositions for the other platforms to offer. This is a good thing. It gives us choice and competition."

Also in the plus column, Dulaney noted, Apple is the only vendor aside from BlackBerry maker RIM to have a consistent connector over the years.

Today, however, there are 8.5 million Qi-capable devices sold worldwide. The largest market for wireless charging is Japan, where it's almost impossible to purchase a mobile phone without the capability embedded in it, said Menno Treffers, chairman of WPC.

Unlike those devices, the new iPhone 5 comes with a new connector called Lightning, which replaces the 30-pin socket used since the first iPhone was launched.

The Lightning connector is 80% smaller than the previous one, and it is reversible for convenience sake, but it also means users will now have to purchase a $29 adapter to plug into existing speaker docks and charging stations.

Phil Schiller, SVP of worldwide marketing for Apple, said in an interview following the iPhone 5's release that wireless charging has no clear added convenience because the chargers still need to be plugged into an power outlet. Schiller went as far as to say that wireless charging actually adds complexity when compared to widely-adopted USB cords.

During Apple's press conference announcing the new Lightning connector, Schiller said the iPhone 5's stripped down connector is in response to the many functions now being performed wirelessly.

"We use Bluetooth now to connect to speakers, and headphones and car systems. We use Wi-Fi to do AirPlay to our TV or stereo. We can do WiFi syncing to iTunes now," he said. "It's time for the connector to evolve."

"So now we have Thunderbolt and Lightning in our connector strategy," Schiller said. "This connector is a modern connector for the next decade."

Schiller said Apple is working with accessory partners such as Bose, JBL, Bowers & Wilkins (B&W), and Bang and Olufsen to bring Lightning-enabled products to market by the holiday season.

Keith Shaw and Ken Mingis discuss the features of Apple's iPhone 5 smartphone, and whether the larger screen, 4G LTE network and other features will excite the legions of Apple fans.

covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at Twitter @lucasmearian or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed Mearian RSS. His e-mail address is lmearian@computerworld.com.

See more by Lucas Mearian on Computerworld.com.

Read more about Smartphones in Computerworld's Smartphones Topic Center.



Our Commenting Policies
Consumerization of IT: Be in the know
consumer tech

Our new weekly Consumerization of IT newsletter covers a wide range of trends including BYOD, smartphones, tablets, MDM, cloud, social and what it all means for IT. Subscribe now and stay up to date!