Starbucks' new wireless charging won't work for most devices

Wireless charging wars are likely to limit the technology adoption for the time being

Starbucks today announced the rollout of wireless charging nationwide, but nearly all mobile handsets and consumer devices currently in use that incorporate wireless charging technology won't be able to use it.

Nevertheless, with more than 8,000 company-operated stores in the U.S., the move by Starbucks will create a substantial network and infrastructure for wireless charging in the hospitality sector and lead to shipments of more than 100,000 Powermat wireless chargers, according to IHS research.

There are now three wireless charging consortiums vying for dominance in the market, which has enormous potential. The combined global market for wireless power receivers and transmitters is expected to rise to 1.7 billion unit shipments in 2023, up from about 25 million last year, according to IHS.

Wireless charging
Powermat wireless charging stations in a Starbucks cafe.

According to IHS, 80% of consumers want wireless charging in public places, so the move by Starbucks was expected.

Starbucks, which has been testing wireless charging in San Francisco and Boston, will deploy 'Powermat Spots' in designated areas on tables and counters where customers can place their compatible device to charge wirelessly. Customers can find enabled locations on Powermat's website.

"From Wi-Fi and the in-store Starbucks Digital Network to mobile payment and digital music downloads, we have always tried to anticipate our customers' needs early in the adoption curve and provide a world-class solution," Adam Brotman, chief digital officer at Starbucks, said in a statement.

Duracell Powermat is a member of the Power Matters Alliance (PMA), one of the three consortiums rolling out products. The PMA earlier this year announced a deal to share technologies with the Alliance For Wireless Power (A4WP).

That partnership pitted the two against the largest of the industry groups, the Wireless Power Consortium (WPC), which touts the Qi (pronounced "chee") wireless charging specification.

Of the 20 million consumer devices estimated to have shipped in 2013 with wireless charging capabilities, nearly all were built with the Qi specification, according to IHS.

The majority of the Qi technology was built into devices such as the Google Nexus 4 and 5 smartphones, Google's Nexus 7 second-generation tablet and a number of models in Nokia's Lumia smart phone range.

An example of Texas Instrument's wireless charging coil and chip technology that adheres to the Qi specification. The device can be much smaller and would be the electrical receiver in a mobile device.

"These devices will not be compatible with the wireless chargers due to be installed in Starbucks stores," said Ryan Sanderson, IHS's associate director of Power Supply & Storage Components.

Still, devices that come native with the PMA wireless charging being installed in Starbucks stores are beginning to emerge, Sanderson said.

Since May, Sprint and Virgin Mobile US have both been offering the Kyocera Hydro Vibe, a low-end smartphone, with PMA wireless charging built in.

AT&T now offers an upgrade for the Samsung Galaxy S5, which supports the PMA specification, and an add-on case for the Apple iPhone is also available from Duracell Powermat.

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