ANALYSIS: Wireless charging has been around for some time, but the iPhone X and iPhone 8 will take it to the mainstream
The accusation made against Apple over the past few years is that many of the innovations it has introduced – fingerprint scanners, Near Field Communication (NFC), etc. – have already been pioneered by its rivals.
When FaceTime first arrived, there were sarcastic remarks that Apple might claim to have invented video calling, but there was no doubting the application popularised it by making it easy to use – long before other services closed the gap.
However, there is no doubting that Apple has the ability, with its tight integration of software and hardware and comparative ease of use, to popularise a technology more than any other manufacturer.
The iPhone X has enough innovation to disprove this conventional wisdom, but one feature included in all three smartphones announced by Apple yesterday adds more strength to the argument – wireless charging.
Wireless charging has been around for almost a decade and most notably was one of the main selling points of Nokia’s ill-fated Lumia range.
“It is amusing that today’s announcements may prompt many people to think that Apple invented wireless charging, even though the technology was first debuted on smartphones by Palm in 2009 and Nokia, LG, Samsung and others have supported it for years,” said Geoff Blaber, analyst at CCS Insight.
“The difference is that Apple has the gravitas and marketing clout to kick-start widespread adoption of an area where others have failed.
It has been adopted by a number of other smartphones since, and McDonalds and Starbucks have been among the retailers to hold trials of wireless-enabled furniture in their branches. Even IKEA has got in on the act.
But the cult of Apple, combined with its unparalleled marketing ability, mean wireless charging is about to go mainstream. People will become comfortable with using the technology, while the arrival of the iPhone X and iPhone 8 will stimulate the accessory market.
One of the biggest barriers to widespread adoption has been a standards war.
At one point there were three competing standards – Qi, the Power Matters Alliance (PMA)’s ‘PowerMat’ and Alliance for Wireless Power (A4WP). Each standard differed according to whether they used the ‘induction’ method, which requires a device to be placed on a charging plate, others worked over short distance and allows the charging of multiple devices or cars.
Fortunately, a number of mergers took place over the years to facilitate the creation of multi-mode wireless chargers that can use both methods.
Apple has gone all-in on the Qi specification, promoted by the Wireless Power Consortium (WPC) and plans to launch its own multi-device power charging surface called AirPower in 2018. Apple might have been waiting for a winner to emerge, and with numerous other smartphone makers backing Qi already, Apple’s support will make it a clear leader.
“The announcement of Qi supports clears the way for accessories makers to focus their efforts on developing for a single wireless charging standard that is supported by the two leading smartphone makers: Samsung and Apple,” said Jeff Orr, research director at ABI Research.
Will You Get An iPhone X?
- No, never (46%)
- No, but maybe in the future (27%)
- Yes! Shut up and take my money now! (20%)
- Yes, when my contract is up (8%)
Do we need it?
Wireless charging is not going to change people’s lives. After all, it’s not difficult to use a phone charger. But it will open up new possibilities and perhaps make life more convenient.
Café’s, hotels and airports will be able to offer charging pads, and it will be a relief to people who are out and about, only to find their phone is running out of battery.
It may not excite everyone, but in a few years, wireless charging could be something we just take for granted.
One group definitely excited about Apple’s move is the accessory industry. The company has been a goldmine for its ecosystem, not least with the use of proprietary ports and the elimination of the headphone jack, and wireless charging represents another opportunity to sell more stuff.