Apple on course for wireless charging in iPhones?

Don't underestimate the importance of wireless charging to mobile devices -- even the 'ultimate' ones

Apple, iOS, OS X, iPhone, iPad, Mac, wireless charging

Don’t hurt me

Ever tried to extricate the pocket lint out of the lightning connector on your iPhone? Ever broken the contacts inside the port when you did so? There’s one reason your local mobile repair shop is geared up to fix a broken power port for you. Wireless charging eliminates this problem.

For most iPhone users, the fantasy of wireless charging is also about convenience. We all love the idea of being able to slap our iPhone down on the mat, knowing the device is getting recharged. The problem with existing wireless charging solutions is that they cost more energy to use than plugging the devices in, making them environmentally damaging. Why use more power than you need, and what’s the effect of encouraging a billion iOS users to do so? In what way would that leave the world a better place?

Also read: Apple’s Sept. 9 event: What to expect

Stop it now

Apple has been researching wireless charging (also called inductive charging) for an incredibly long time – it even has patents for wireless charging for Macs. Its most recent public move was the introduction of wireless charging with the Apple Watch. Back in 2013 it filed details of a highly sophisticated wireless charging system designed to harness near-field magnetic resonance to put power inside phones.

While little has shipped (beyond the Watch) at Apple, research continues. Patently Apple today published an Apple patent for a fast and reliable wireless charging technology. As described, this solution seems way more efficient than existing systems, which (as I said) tend to squander a lot of precious energy when used.

That’s great for iPhone users, but the potential for efficient wireless charging technologies doesn’t end just there. What’s good for the smartphone is good for the car. An IDTechEx report confirms: “Wireless charging will be on almost all mobile phones and millions of cars by 2025.” Qualcomm in August announced that its WiPower tech can now recharge devices wirelessly through metal. Might Apple adopt this technology to enable wireless recharging of iPhones, iPads and Macs?

Electric Avenue

What we’re going to see in the next few years is that wireless charging isn’t just about smartphones – the world’s “ultimate mobile device,” aka “the car,” will also benefit from improvements in this technology. Qualcomm recently unveiled new, more-powerful wireless charging technology for Formula E safety cars, which suggests deployment in racing cars in future. In the UK, trials of dynamic charging systems designed to keep vehicles charged while they travel will begin this year – these will be electric avenues on existing roads. Eddy Grant must have seen it coming when he wrote 'Electric Avenue':

As electric vehicles hit our streets innovation in wireless charging threatens to make existing solutions seem antique. That Qualcomm technology I mentioned above could be included on BMW cars by 2017.

Connecting energy

Juniper Research this week predicted that wireless charging adoption for mobile devices will increase rapidly in the coming years, with nearly 40 percent of U.S. households and over 20 percent in Europe using wireless charging by 2020.

"Wireless charging will ultimately be about more than the power and speed of charge," says Juniper analyst, James Moar. In a thought-provoking follow-up he added, "The ability to pinpoint device location through data exchange enables all kinds of location-based activation functions around the home, the car and in the leisure industry.”

It seems possible there’s more to Apple’s plans for wireless charging than making iPhones compatible with an IKEA table lamp or Starbucks mat. That Apple Watch charger might even hint at design concepts that may inform a future Apple Car.

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Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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