Apple may cut the (charging) cord completely with the iPhone 8

While Apple may not rush immediately into Wi-Fi wireless charging, it could go all in when it does

With each iteration of the iPhone, Apple seems determined to make its smartphone thinner and reduce the number of physical ports it has.

The latest speculation -- that the company may introduce wireless charging on the next iPhone -- indicates Apple may be considering cutting wires (and another port) all together.

Earlier this month,Ming-Chi Kuo, a financial analyst highly regarded for his accurate Apple predictions, asserted that the next iterations of the iPhone will include wireless charging.

And earlier this week, it was revealed that Apple in January joined the Wireless Power Consortium (WPC), which promotes the Qi magnetic resonance charging specification.

While Apple is often a technology follower -- preferring to let others push the envelope first before it moves into a market with its own advances -- it does have a history of changing user behavior through interfaces. That may mean wired charging could be missing completely on the next iPhone, said Rob Rueckert, the managing director at Sorenson Capital, a private equity and venture capital firm.

"They forced users into a different model with the wireless Earbuds [AirPods]," Rueckert said. "If you buy an iPhone 8, or whatever future versions they have, are they going to take it to the point where they only allow wireless charging?"

airpods Apple Creative Commons Lic.

Apple's AirPods, which use wireless Bluetooth to connect to a mobile device, ushered in iPhones without analog audio ports.

While the WPC's version of magnetic resonance wireless charging requires a mobile device to be in direct contact with a pad, it's unlikely Apple would move in that direction and keep a hardwired charging cord.

The problem with allowing both wired and wireless charging, Rueckert said, is there's no benefit of one over the other; why would users pay for a separate wireless charging pad when the device still requires a wire to be plugged into an electrical outlet?

"If they still allow you to plug it in, users will have to decide if they want to buy the expensive charger -- a feature I don't find overly compelling," Rueckert said.

Plus, magnetic wireless charging requires an additional element in the mobile device: a copper receiving coil, which takes up valuable real estate inside the ever-thinner iPhone.

Rueckert believes if Apple does choose to roll out wireless charging with the next iPhone, it'll likely go all in.

"They've done it before. They've been bold movers in changing features, and because of the loyalty to the Apple brand, people will embrace it; it wouldn't surprise me," Rueckert said.

Broadly speaking, there are three types of wireless charging technologies the industry is pursuing: charging pads that typically use magnetic inductive or resonance technology, which Samsung has adopted in its devices; charging bowls or through-surface type chargers, which can charge from a few centimeters away and also use magnetic resonance charging technology; and WiFi-like wireless charging, which is typically known as uncoupled. It produces less charging power but has a longer range allowing users to move freely while a device powers up.

(Apple, according to MacRumors, has also been eyeing WiTricity, which licenses a magnetic resonance charging technology.)

While systems being demonstrated by companies like Energous and Ossia, according to Green use Wi-Fi-like charging, the new Dell/WiTricity tablet system announced at CES uses the the AirFuel Resonant specification; it works with charging bowls and through-surface charging, according to David Green, research manager for the Wireless Power & Smart Utilities Infrastructure Group at IHS.

"In terms of progress and industry readiness, charging pads have been shipping in volume since 2015, charging bowls/through-surface type are really just launching this year, and charging across a room is probably still at least a year away from commercial high-volume reality," he said.

wattup farfield wireless charging Energous

An illustration of how Enerous' WattUp ecosystem works. A Far Field transmitter  embedded in the bezel of a TV or sound bar or mounted on the wall or ceiling, enables  meshed-network coverage where linked transmitters cover larger spaces.

One thing is clear, Green continued, in 2017 users are not going to see "a device offering full-speed wireless charging across a room."

Even if Apple chooses magnetic resonance wireless charging for the iPhone, it will likely be a "baby step" toward an eventual changeover to the Holy Grail of wireless charging: charging over distance with a W-iFi-like connection.

Ossia and Energous have demonstrated wireless charging beyond 15 feet.

"I've used both. The technology works," Ruekert said.

Both Energous' WattUp and Ossia's Cota mobile device charging systems work much like a wireless router, sending radio frequency signals that can be received by enabled mobile devices, such as wearables and mobile phones. A small RF antenna in the form of PCB board, an ASIC and software make up the wireless power receivers.

Ossia wireless charger router Ossia

Ossia's wireless RF charging router.

Another advantage of using radio frequencies to charge a mobile device is that a traditional magnetic charging coil is no longer needed. A mobile device's Wi-Fi receiver chip can simply be modified so that it receives both the wireless signal for communication and charging.

Whatever wireless charging method Apple chooses, if indeed it does so this year, there will likely be something proprietary added to it, Ruekert said.

Over the last decade, Apple has filed several patents on wireless charging.

In 2005, an Apple patent described technology for an iPod using zero-contact induction for not only charging but data transfer -- most likely to manage device charging.

apple watch wireless charging Apple

The Apple Watch, launched in 2015, uses a proprietary form of  inductive wireless charging.

In a 2012 Apple patent filing, the company described a near field magnetic resonance (NFMR) power supply "arranged to wirelessly provide power to any of a number of suitably configured devices."

Apple's patent description indicated a charging distance of about one meter, which could be projected out from a desktop computer such as the iMac to power peripheral devices such as a wireless mouse.

While "second guessing exact Apple product specifications is a fool's game," wireless charging is quickly on the uptake by most leading mobile technology providers, Green said.

In 2016, 200 million wireless charging-enabled devices shipped, with almost all of them using some form of inductive (charging pad) type design, Green said.

"If this was any other manufacturer, you would predict inductive charging pad-type technology as the start point," Green 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."


Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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