I don’t expect Energous wireless charging in iPhone 8

But I can imagine it turning up in smaller Apple accessories

Apple, iPhone, Energous, wireless charging, smartphones, IHS
Apple

Apple watchers grew quite excited by pre-Christmas 2016 speculation of a link up between Apple and power-like-Wi-Fi developer, Energous.

Wireless everywhere

The speculation has been around for years. It’s intoxicating because we all want an iPhone that we don’t need to plug into a wall socket to keep charged.

The claimed association with Energous opens up a new vista – the ability to charge a smartphone just by entering a room. The bad news is that this isn’t going to happen, at least, not yet (if ever). Why do I think this?

I spoke with David Green, research manager, wireless power and smart utilities, IHS Markit for a chat about the wireless charging industry.

He wouldn’t comment on Apple or the Energies speculation specifically, but provided me with some great insights into the industry. These insights suggest we’ll need to wait a little longer, even though wireless charging technologies are...

Already here

Apple already uses wireless power charging for its Apple Watch, as does Samsung with its high-end smartphone. Eighty percent of consumers have heard of this technology according to IHS Markit. Ninety percent of consumers want it in their next device. The industry is pursuing three different approaches to wireless charging:

Charging pads

  • “Typically inductive technology, short range, such as the Qi specification that’s built into Samsung devices.”

Charging bowls

  • These through-surface type charges are limited to a few centimeters of range. They include the “AirFuel Resonant specification that’s in this new Dell/WiTricity system.”  (Dell announced the new Latitude 7285 that uses this technology at CES 2017. Solutions based on these technologies will ship this year.

Uncoupled

  • Also known as power-like-WiFi, this technology offers low power levels at a longer range, such as the Energous RF system that Apple has been rumored to be looking at. CES 2017 saw this tech used in some relatively low power devices, including a Bluetooth-based key tracker, a medical scanning device and a hearing aid.

What about the iPhone?

There have been rumors of a partnership between Apple and long-distance wireless charging firm Energous.

With this in mind can we expect the next iPhone to support power-like-Wi-Fi?

“There’s two ends of a scale instead, charging at the same speed as a wire but on a charging pad, or perhaps trickle charging very slowly but at a larger distance away,” Green said.  He thinks charging across a room is “at least a year away from commercial high-volume reality.”

The analyst would not speculate on Apple’s plans, beyond pointing out: “Regarding Apple’s plans, second guessing their exact product specification is a fool’s game,” he said, “but I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re looking at more than one method of wireless charging as part of the overall experience.”

The take away is that he doesn’t think we will see devices offering full-speed wireless charging across a room for at least a year, and probably more.

Accelerating innovation

While Apple watchers may need to be patient before they see this kind of wireless charging in their iPhones and Macs, Green is quite optimistic about what’s happening to wireless charging generally – he expects the industry to double in size this year as new products reach market.

“We’ve already seen the first magnetic resonant and laptop system, and by the end of the year we will have the first manufacturer-owned electric vehicle system too,” he said.

The ace card for this technology once it does reach market is how much consumers like using it. “Once they’ve experienced wireless charging, they don’t want to go back to wired,” he explained.

“The launch of “the world’s first…” in any category is therefore important in pushing the whole market forwards towards the two billion plus receivers per year that could ship in 2025.

My take?

It seems unlikely to me that we’ll get to use Energous’ charging solutions with larger devices, such as Macs, iPads, or iPhones within at least the next 24-months (but I can see these products shipping with charging pads).

From what Green tells me about market readiness of these technologies, it seems possible Energous tech may first appear in support of Apple’s smaller connected solutions, including (but in future not confined to) Apple Watch and AirPods -- but that's a speculation on my part, not his. What I don't expect is to see such tech in an iPhone this year. 

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