How would Apple do wireless charging?


Apple’s iPhone is capable of providing one of the most well-balanced, polished experiences in a smartphone. While other manufacturers and operating systems, collaboratively, are encroaching on the excellent experience offered by Apple, the ecosystem, ease of use, hardware quality, and camera performance manage to keep the iPhone competitive with the rest of the industry.

That said, there are areas where Apple fails to compete, such as new standards which other operating systems and hardware manufacturers adopted long ago.

NFC, for example, is a useful technology which can be found on nearly every modern Android handset, most Android tablets, and a handful of Windows Phone devices. NFC is not – and likely will not be – supported on Apple devices in the foreseeable future. Apple’s iOS handsets and tablets are also the only notable mobile devices which do not adhere to the microUSB standard. Apple has yet to adopt significantly larger displays, as well.

Arguably the least likely standard in Apple’s (near) future, however, may be wireless charging. More than one wireless charging standard exists today, but by and large, Qi has the market.

Apple taking a pass on wireless charging isn’t surprising. Few manufacturers have actually dove in head first on wireless charging to date. And even those who have don’t include the feature in all models. Some, like Nokia, add aftermarket Qi cases, or swappable rear plates. And some clever enthusiasts have hacked Qi receptors in standard OEM battery doors for makeshift wireless charging.

Although to a smaller degree, Apple’s iPhone has been the recipient of similar aftermarket offers.

zens-flip-case-iphone-11For example, I reviewed the ZENS Wireless Charging Flip Case for the iPhone back in August. Essentially, it looked like any other flip case – it clung to the sides and had a rubberized flap which flipped around to the front. However, this one had a flexible Lightning connector along the bottom edge, which connected to a wireless charging module on the inside of the case. ZENS sells its own wireless charging plates, but it adheres to the Qi standard, so the case also works with any Qi chargers.

The product was relatively polished for an aftermarket wireless charging option, but over an extended period of time, we noticed some unpredictable battery drain.

The other problem is the style of the case. Not everyone likes the new fad of flip covers. If not done properly, a flip cover like the ZENS case can make one-handed use tricky and uncomfortable.

iqi-receiverThat’s where a current indiegogo campaign, iQi, comes into play. Like the ZENS case, iQi has a Lightning connector which stays plugged into the bottom of the iPhone at all times. However, iQi is simply an aftermarket wireless charging option, not a case. It comes as a standalone Lightning-enabled wireless receiver and is said to work with just about any style of case (preferably one with a little flex to it), with the exception of a bumper-style case. At its thinnest point, iQi is only 0.5mm thick.

Both of these aftermarket solutions come with a caveat, though. ZENS and iQi always take up the Lightning port. To charge regularly through Lightning, this means you will have to remove the case and/or the iQi or ZENS adapter from Lightning port. This is especially an inconvenience if you only have one wireless charging plate. For instance, if you don’t have wireless charging in your car and your iPhone is getting low on power, you will need to fiddle with removing the case and connector – not ideal for someone who should have two hands on the wheel.

And this is why the aftermarket solution will always fail from Apple’s perspective. No current iOS hardware has pogo pins for a simple dock connection or an aftermarket charging option without using the Lightning connector. And Apple certainly won’t settle for something so inelegant.

zens-flip-case-iphone-2No, official wireless charging on an Apple product would have to be inbuilt and polished. Apple will accept no less.

The question remains: will Apple use a wireless standard? Michael and I debated this shortly today before the Pocketnow Weekly. He says Apple adheres to Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and other connection standards. On the flip side, however, Apple uses its own charging and data connector, doesn’t (and has never) supported standard SD storage options, doesn’t include NFC, and loves the word “proprietary.”

Is there a chance Apple decides to go with the Qi standard? Yes, albeit very, very slim … for one reason. There are already dozens of Qi wireless chargers on the market.

ios-warning-lightningThat very reason, however, is the exact same reason Apple probably won’t go with an existing standard: quality control. Apple has and likes to uphold standards of its own. Creating an in-house wireless charging solution would not only generate more revenue (because we all know it would fly off the shelves), it would give Apple the utmost control over the quality of chargers for its products.

Qi is a standard, a standard Apple has no control over. Apple doesn’t create proprietary cables because it wants to be difficult or different (although that’s generally how it comes off), it simply wants to control the quality of peripherals being used on its mobile devices, sort of like a precautionary damage control.

My hopes are that Apple, for once in its existence, decides to take a more open path and use widely available standard. But the chances of that are pretty slim.

To that end, Apple will likely implement wireless charging in the same, unimaginative way everyone else currently is – an inductive receiving end embedded in the phone or tablet and a wireless charging plate. But rest assured, the product will be great. It may charge faster, or with less heat (to prolong the life of the embedded, non-removable battery). Or maybe it will parter with auto makers to have wireless charging as an optional feature in some luxury cars.

If there is one thing I’m absolutely certain of, it’s that the price will undoubtedly be astronomical. The price of wireless charging is finally beginning to come down, now that there is plenty of competition in the space. But Apple has a way of inflating the price in exchange for pure value and consistency.

At the end of the day, any Apple wireless charging mechanism will likely function similarly, if not exactly, like Qi or the WiCC platforms.

It’s highly unlikely Apple has found a way to tap into all the wasted energy floating through the air. Engineers have successfully used the minuscule amounts of energy to trickle charge or maintain power levels on mobile devices. Earlier this year students from Duke University created a metamaterial array which actually turns Wi-Fi signal into voltage which is actually said to be stronger than that which is supplied by current USB chargers. (Amps are what truly matter in charging, however.) Our own Joe Levi divulged the topic of Wi-Fi charging last month. As great as it may sound, I’m highly doubtful Apple will implement anything this futuristic if it includes wireless charging in the near future.

If, however, Apple plays the waiting game … who knows? Maybe Apple could re-revolutionize wireless charging. It’s certainly in need of true innovation. The buzz around Touch ID fizzled rather quickly.

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About The Author
Taylor Martin
Based out of Charlotte, NC, Taylor Martin started writing about technology in 2009 while working in wireless retail. He has used BlackBerry off and on for over seven years, Android for nearly four years, iOS for three years, and has experimented with both webOS and Windows Phone. Taylor has reviewed countless smartphones and tablets, and doesn't go anywhere without a couple gadgets in his pockets or "nerd bag." In his free time, Taylor enjoys playing disc golf with friends, rock climbing, and playing video games. He also enjoys the occasional hockey game, and would do unspeakable things for some salmon nigiri. For more on Taylor Martin, checkout his Pocketnow Insider edition. | Google+