We are on the brink of the future. We are so close we can almost taste it. It is right around the corner. In fact, it was already here, but then it went away. It came back, and then it went away again. The future I’m referring to is …. wait for it… Wireless charging.
Now hold on there buckaroos. I just heard about 5,000 heads slam into their desks and another 10,000 intakes of breath from people who are about to shout, “There is no such thing as wireless charginnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnng!” Ok fine, I’m willing to concede that the wireless charging I’m referring to is not in fact truly 100% wireless. There is a wire that travels from a power source to a power dispensing source. Get over it. You know what I’m talking about. Stop mincing words.
And the head bangers are all saying “GAWD that’s not the future. Move on….” And you may be right. Except you’re not. Sorry about that.
Wireless charging is an awesome, but little used feature in the mobile technology space. And the primary reason is every company that has tried it recently has done it wrong. One company did it really close to correctly, but it too fell short. Yes, I’m talking about Palm. Palm was really close to a model of how to do wireless charging correctly. They were very close, but their platform couldn’t sit at the big boy table, so their wireless strategies fell along with the platform. This is a shame, but we can use them as a starting point and proceed from there.
The challenge of making wireless charging a “thing” is a daunting one. But it can be done.
The first thing an OEM needs to do to make wireless charging ubiquitous is to embrace it fully. 100%. They need to have a one-way ticket on the wireless charging train with all their possessions in a suitcase. Most OEMs today take a pretty half-baked approach to wireless charging. For the most part, this means one or two of several things, which we’ll discuss later. But to make wireless charging successful, an OEM needs to embrace it and tout it as a very important feature in their product line.
Part of embracing the technology means you have to integrate it. This is not negotiable. Wireless charging coils need to be integrated into the phone. This serves two purposes. One, it cements your commitment to the technology. If you believe in a technology so much you’ll build it into your device, and you’ll dedicate precious millimeters and grams to it, you’re sending a message that this is worth having. Secondly, it sends a message to the consumer that it is a part of the phone and it’s worth using. It becomes basically the difference a suggestion and an order. Unless you tell people to use it, directly, many won’t. Geeks will, but consumers won’t. Integrating the technology tells the consumer, “It’s here. It’s awesome. Use it.”
This is where Nokia lost its way. When the 920 debuted with wireless charging integrated, it was a victory for Windows Phone users. We can speculate why Nokia retreated from its stance of wireless charging technology integration; one of the biggest criticisms of the Lumia 920 was its thickness and weight. Maybe Nokia panicked. Sure, they offered an ugly hat for their phones which allowed one to charge, sans wires, but by doing so they showed little faith in the tech and stopped telling people to use it. Fail.
But fools are so ingenious
Another thing our wireless championing OEM needs to do is make it fool proof. The charging pad, orb, stone, doohickey whatever needs to be simple and quick. Drop it on and walk away. Palm attempted this with magnets which worked pretty well, but were prone to occasional hiccups. A safer approach would be to use a form of cradle to set it correctly every time. The problem with that is, form-fitting cradles are good for one device only. Of course if every device you make is the same size, you’re good. Except you’re boring, so you’re not good. Moving on.
Free for all!
Now, here’s the toughie. Remember the whole order vs suggestion thing? Well ordering someone to use something that costs them an extra 30, 50, or 70 dollars is a pretty tough sell. Don’t get me wrong, $30 is not by any means a major deal breaker, but to make the technology really work, one charger has to come in the box. You can make the costs up later selling additional chargers for work, or for the car, but the first one has to be in the box. “It’s here. It’s awesome. Use it.”
While not strictly necessary, but a great way to get wireless charging into the minds of the public would be to partner up with a national or better yet international chain. I’m thinking Starbucks/McDonalds kind of partnership. Charging tables with your mochachino latte! This kind of partnership would put the technology in front of anyone who came in for a Frappe. “It’s here. It’s awesome. Use it.”
Finally, in addition to convenience you need to give your users a reason to use it. Yes, I fall back on Palm again. When you set your phone on the touchstone, it switches to Exhibition mode. If you’re on a call, it automatically turned on the speaker phone. This made the touchstone not only convenient, but useful. Software enhancements can be a major determining factor in the success or failure of an accessory. Along a similar line of thinking, one can look at the Samsung GS4 flip cover. When it closes, information is displayed though the window in front. “It’s here. It’s awesome. Use it.”
None of this is particularly easy. I’m not expecting it to happen tomorrow. I’m laying it out there – if we want wireless charging to succeed on a grand scale, this is likely a blueprint for how to make that happen. But regardless of how an OEM moves forward with it the first step is 100% critical. It must be embraced, cuddled with, and nurtured from the very beginning. “It’s here. It’s awesome. Use it. The End”