Back in 1891, inventor Nikola Tesla demonstrated the ability to transmit electricity wirelessly, a process known as inductive transmission. As much as users resent the inconvenience of having to recharge device batteries by tethering their mobile phones and tablets to a power source every day, it is frankly a wonder that the 124-year-old technology hasn’t been put to widespread use to free users from this inconvenience.
Device makers are coming around slowly – That appears to be changing, as some smartphones, such as the Samsung Galaxy S3 and S4, can be fitted with devices that enable inductive charging. Newer models, such as the Galaxy 6 and S6 Edge, will have the capability built in. And Nokia offered wireless charging on its Lumia 920 almost three years ago.
Public wireless mobile charging stations are beginning to appear – Even some businesses, such as select McDonald’s restaurants and Starbucks locations in the UK, are beginning to provide wireless charging pads in their facilities.
Where is Apple? – Ironically, Apple, which has usually been a leader in implementation of new technology into its products, has been noticeably absent from the move to wireless charging of its devices. Given the relatively short battery life of the Apple Watch – 18 hours under optimal (as in minimal) usage – one would think that wireless charging would be a no-brainer.
The main obstacle, it would seem, rests in Apple’s longstanding independent approach to technology, insisting upon setting their own technological standards rather than adopt those established elsewhere in the industry. Apple, which has been insistent upon maintaining backward compatibility in new products, is likely sitting back and waiting for the ongoing competition between different wireless charging standards to resolve itself before committing to implementing wireless charging technology into its products.
The wireless charging standards war – The tech industries have a long history of developing competing standards by which to address various user demands, then allowing the market to decide which one becomes the defacto standard. These marketplace wars have often been bloody when competing standards have each offered their own unique strengths and weaknesses, and the technologically superior approach has not always won out.
For example, the first standard for home video recorders and players was Sony’s Betamax. While admittedly superior to the VHS format, Sony’s decision to restrict licensing of the technology allowed the more widely licensed VHS to dominate the market, which ultimately resulted in the death of the Betamax as a consumer product. The same happened with the Blu-Ray versus HD DVD, and it appears that the same kind of standards war is taking shape with wireless charging.
In February of 2014, two of the major wireless charging initiatives, the Power Matters Alliance (PMA) and the Alliance for Wireless Power (A4WP) agreed to pool their technological resources to the point where their two standards, the Powermat and Rezence, respectively, would function with each other. The major syndicate in the field, the Wireless Power Consortium (WPC), feels that its level of success in the marketplace, along with having major manufacturers such as Samsung and Microsoft onboard, as well as McDonald’s decision to implement WPC’s Qi wireless stations in 600 of its restaurants, renders such an affiliation moot.
It will likely be another year before a clearly dominant standard is achieved, but all signs point to the WPS’s Qi standard prevailing. History has shown us, however, that those seemingly clear signs can be wrong.
Just imagine how much more convenient it will be for your phone or watch to begin recharging the minute you get into your car, sit down at your desk, or relax with a latte. No more worries about your mobile phone or watch going dead on you because you failed to plug it in. It might take a few years – estimates range from 2016 to 2018 – before a universal or near-universal standard is agreed upon, but within the foreseeable future, it is quite possible that your new smartphone won’t even come with a charging cord.
The days of trying to squeeze the last few moments of usability out of your phone before it goes blank will be but a quaint memory of days past. For now, however, you can keep an eye on the newest features that the different mobile phone manufacturers are offering or working to develop, as well as available network plans on sites like Mobile Phone Deals. Stay informed, and you will likely be able to un-tether that mobile phone sooner than you might have thought.