So wireless charging has been about for some time now, but what actually is it? How much more effective and efficient is it? And is it really worth the extra cost?[divider]Apple’s Absence[/divider]
Wireless charging, the next frontier for smartphones. Once confined to the pages of science fiction, the technology has found its way into some of the latest devices on the market, such as Samsung’s Galaxy S6 and Google’s Nexus 6. Others can also add the feature through an accessory, and now wireless charging is even making its way into furniture from IKEA.
Then there’s Apple, which has mostly ignored the technology, except in the Apple Watch, which uses similar inductive charging technology in their Magsafe style charger. So why haven’t we seen the technology in Apple’s iPhones?
It’s partly because of competing standards, a common problem in the technology industry.
Retailers like restaurants and coffee shops have installed wireless charging pads in some locations. For example, PMA technology is rolling out at Starbucks stores nationwide, and McDonald’s has tested Qi in some of their restaurants in Europe. And IKEA’s latest line of wireless charging furniture features Qi technology.
Since there’s no single unifying standard, Samsung has taken a sort of shortcut, bypassing the issue by supporting PMA and Qi in the Galaxy S6.
The choice of design materials also plays a role in the introduction of wireless charging to smartphones. Apple’s iPhone 6 and 6 Plus are both constructed of aluminum, which cannot support wireless charging technology.
Apple experienced this firsthand in 2006, when the company developed a brushed-aluminum iPhone prototype, according to Phil Kearney, one of the engineers tasked with creating the first iPhone.
But beyond all of that, Apple hasn’t always embraced standards that they didn’t have a hand in creating. They did so with FireWire, the iPod 30-pin connector and the Lightning connector. Though Apple uses some outside standards, such as near-field communication (NFC), it has limited its use to Apple Pay.
While wireless charging hasn’t made its way into most of Apple’s products, the company has certainly explored the technology, according to its patent filings with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. In one instance, Apple has explored the use of wireless charging by sharing circuitry with an NFC antenna.
In the meantime, iPhone users will continue to be tethered to a Lightning cable when they need extra juice.[divider]The Others[/divider]
With many of the big smartphone manufacturers including Samsung, LG, Motorola, and Nokia investing in the technology, what is it and how exactly does it work?
Wireless charging (also known as inductive charging) uses an electromagnetic field to transfer energy between two objects. Inventor Nikola Tesla was the first to demonstrate wireless power transmission in 1891, when he succeeded in lighting electric lamps without wires.
It took over a century for the technology to find its way into the mainstream, but over the past few years wireless charging has finally emerged onto the consumer electronics market.
Some smartphones and smartphone accessories now have wireless charging capabilities built-in, and the technology is being integrated into all sorts of devices, appliances, public spaces and even vehicles, as companies look to make power cords obsolete.
Most of these commercial products use the magnetic-inductive method of charging, which involves coupling a device to a physical dock. If you have ever used an electric toothbrush or shaver, for example, then you may be familiar with this type of inductive charging.
The technology requires two coils: a transmitter and a receiver. An alternating current is passed through the transmitter, generating a magnetic field. This in turn induces a voltage in the receiver, which can be used to power a mobile device or charge a battery.[divider]Pros and Cons[/divider]
Besides the obvious benefit of removing the need for power cords, wireless charging has the advantage of being more durable (there is significantly less wear and tear) and more eco-friendly (there is no electronic waste, and energy transfer is non-radiative).
However, there are also some disadvantages to wireless charging. For example, it can be slower, less efficient and more expensive than traditional wired charging – although newer approaches reduce transfer losses and improve speed through the use of ultra thin coils and higher frequencies.
One of the goals of the consumer electronics industry is to provide consumers with the ability to use one wireless charging dock that is compatible with all the devices they already own, as well as all the devices they buy in the future.
Standardisation would allow the ecosystem for wireless charging to grow and mature rapidly. People would be able to charge all of their devices wirelessly in restaurants, airports, public spaces, cars and living spaces, freeing them from the burden of carrying all of their power cords.
It is expected that 2015 will be a landmark year for the growth of wireless charging, as the technology begins to appear in more and more public places.