Why I want a smartphone that can charge other Qi devices

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The summer of smartwatches is upon us, and new Android Wear users everywhere are just starting to settle into life with their mobile accessories. The Moto 360 is standing by in the wings, ready to jump onto the retail scene in just another month or two, and entries by Apple and Microsoft are anticipated for a little later on. No matter which platform you call home, or what style smartwatch you prefer, you’re going to have some good options to choose from.

And as more and more of these wearables arrive, we’re seeing how the decisions being made by manufacturers are shaping out expectations for these devices. Despite Pebble’s early success, for example, bright, colorful (power hungry) displays seem to have become the norm. And since no one wants a smartwatch that’s overly big and bulky, batteries have remained on the petite side.

moto-360-leather-bandThat combination leads us to an uncomfortable reality: battery life ain’t gonna be great. “OK,” perhaps, giving us a solid day of use, but week-long operation on a single charge seems like it’s going to be a pipe dream for the foreseeable future.

This means having to charge our smartwatches regularly. With how frequently we’ll be doing it, making this process as convenient as possible is going to be a big deal, and we’ve already shared with you the sort of complaints that happen when manufacturer efforts fall up short.

But at least some of these OEMs seem to really get it, and Motorola looks like it’s talking the promising step of equipping its Moto 360 with support for wireless Qi charging.

That sounds great: just drop your watch on a charger, as easily as you’d set it on your nightstand before bed. But one issue that’s come up as we’ve discussed smartwatches the past couple weeks on the Pocketnow Weekly podcast has been what that requirement for a smartphone-specific charger means when you’re traveling.

nexus-4-charger-qiMost wireless chargers today are single-device models, so even if your phone supported it too, you’d either be carrying around at least two chargers with you (one phone, one smartwatch), or swapping back and forth between charging your phone and watch as the need arrived – not exactly the paragon of convenience.

And then a lightbulb appeared over my head: why can’t the phone charge the watch?

Here’s what I’m thinking: there’s not a lot-lot different between the charging coil in a phone that receives wireless power and the coil in the charger that transmits the energy. We’d need some additional driving circuitry in place (and maybe even a second coil – but honestly, there’s room), but it’s not a crazy idea that we could use our phones to wirelessly charge accessories like smartwatches.

Remember that ZENS Qi Wireless Charger we shared with you a few months back? Think that, instead of just a dumb battery, it’s your phone. And instead of lugging around a bulky wireless charger with you while traveling, you’d bring a regular old micro USB charger.

At the end of the day, you’d plug your phone into the wall, but then set your smartwatch right on the phone itself. And as your phone fills up its 2x00mAh battery overnight, it wirelessly shares some of that juice with the smartwatch and its smaller 3-400mAh cell.

qi-coil

Hell, why even constrain this to use with smartwatches? Every smartphone with  wireless charging should support transferring power as well as receiving it. Just as we can tap phones together to transfer content thanks to NFC and Bluetooth, what if sharing power was as easy as sharing photos? Set your fully-charged phone down, place your friend’s phone with a dead battery on top, and send it some of that power!

I realize I’m probably getting wildly ahead of myself here – wireless charging has still only flirted with mainstream acceptance by this point, and demanding ambitious new features might be something more worth considering after we’ve reached milestones like getting wireless charging support on all flagship devices by default (hell no, add-on charging backs), and getting the industry to decide on one standard (I mean, it already is Qi, but a few bad apples just can’t seem to accept that).

Just as smartphones evolved from devices we used to consume content to ones we use to produce it, let’s have an evolution that moves them past being mere consumers of power to devices that can act as conduits, sharing it with other products in our lives.

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About The Author
Stephen Schenck
Stephen has been writing about electronics since 2008, which only serves to frustrate him that he waited so long to combine his love of gadgets and his degree in writing. In his spare time, he collects console and arcade game hardware, is a motorcycle enthusiast, and enjoys trapping blue crabs. Stephen's first mobile device was a 624 MHz Dell Axim X30, which he's convinced is still a viable platform. Stephen longs for a market where phones are sold independently of service, and bandwidth is cheap and plentiful; he's not holding his breath. In the meantime, he devours smartphone news and tries to sort out the juicy bitsRead more about Stephen Schenck!