Don't play power games: wait and see for wireless charging

Don't play power games: wait and see for wireless charging

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Wireless charging for mobile devices is close to reality but products are clumsy and don't interoperate. There's a drawer in our kitchen at home packed full of charger cables. Every home has a similar box, drawer or cupboard.

Each of the kids has a phone and PC or tablet charger. There are spares in the car and I don't go travel anywhere for work without a set of cables.

We've got a box in the shed with 40+ old iPhone, Nokia and Samsung phone, and old laptop chargers. As my Granddad used to say you never know when they might be useful.

Power games

A side effect of the boom in consumer electronics is that we're shackled to a multitude of incompatible power supplies.

The USB standard failed to fix the issue. The promised what that we would have a single charger and cable for any mobile device.

But manufacturers haven't universality adopted USB. For example, Apple has its own set of cable terminations.

A solution is within reach that could end the need for chargers and cables forever. It's based on the technology that powers your electric toothbrush.

Instead of plugging in a cable you charge your camera, phone, or tablet by placing it on a beer mat-sized pad.

The technology is already incorporated into new Google, LG, Motorola, Nokia, Samsung and smartphones.

Consumer confusion is standard

But it isn't straightforward. There are two standards.

The Wireless Power Consortium has created QI supported by more than 200 companies including Google, Microsoft and Motorola; and the Power Matters Alliance supported by 70 companies including Canon, Huawei, and Sony.

Competing technologies confuse consumers and will stall adoption. It's unhelpful but history shows it will shake out in time. Think Betamax and VHS.

Samsung isn’t waiting. It has incorporated both standards into the Galaxy S6 mobile phone. Apple has yet to adopt either.

IKEA, a supporter of the Wireless Power Consortium, is selling charging pads built into office furniture.

Starbucks, a backer of the Power Matters Alliance, is piloting power mats for customers in an ten outlets in London.

Wireless power to go

There's a growing third-party market of charging pads and receivers based on both standards.

An EC Technology QI pad costs £16 via Amazon. It’s 90mm x 6mm and connects to a USB connector via a micro-USB cable.

charging-pad

You can buy a case incorporating a receiver or embedded in an adhesive-backed label. Apple and micro-USB flavours are available.

charging-recievers

Both products plug into either the iPhone or micro-USB socket. It's a clumsy solution.

The cases increase the form factor of a device and the stick-on label receivers are ugly.

My iPhone rejected an ELEPHAS Ultra-thin label (£13.68 via Amazon) but worked okay with a Forrader Case (£14 via Amazon).

Indistinguishable from magic

Placing the iPhone on a wireless charging pad and seeing it charge for the first time is like magic but for now its hit and miss.

phone-charging

As Arthur C. Clarke said, "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

Wireless charging will be incredible once its embedded in all mobile devices and mats are universal in car, homes, offices and shops but there's some way to go.

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