As the 2015 holiday ads rolled across our screens, it was easy to see that wireless charging is going more mainstream. But besides a few cell phones and Cadillacs, what does the future of wireless charging actually look like?
I attended the first Wireless Power Consortium to find out. Held for the first time in North America and aptly hosted in Detroit (you’ll know why in a minute), this premier event for wireless power showcased the latest trends, demos, and specification updates.
Read on to get industry-insider information about what’s in the air for wireless charging.
What are the biggest changes coming to wireless charging?
Cost is coming down, and power is going up. That means wireless charging is becoming more accessible and more useful for consumers.
Developers are working to give wireless the same power capabilities as wired charging. As the gap closes, more users are eyeing it as an alternative to power their devices. The number of products on Amazon and Alibaba has increased, and there are decent options for $25-$40.
What makes wireless power different is that it becomes a lifestyle. You have one charger on your desk, one or two in your home. You casually pick up your phone and set it back down on the charger as you move between spaces and tasks.
For the average user, the concept of grazing power throughout the day makes sense for their texting, emailing, phone calls, and Internet browsing. I typically leave the office with 100 percent battery after grazing at the office. It’s probably not the best option for power users who want a fast, high-voltage charge for heavy app use. But there are plenty of other good options for that.
What was the most surprising news at the conference?
Vehicle integration is really taking off. Hence, the Detroit host city! Right now, there are 22 models of cars with built-in wireless chargers. From imports like Toyota, Audi, and Lexus, to American-made favorites like Jeep, Cadillac, and Chevy, we can expect to see a lot more brands betting on wireless integration.
There’s also potential to implement wireless power in the home. At the show, there was a model kitchen with all cordless appliances – blenders, rice cookers, and coffee makers. It’ll be interesting to watch as developers explore other opportunities for wireless power in the home.
Are other big brands buying in?
Yes. Cisco, Facebook, Google, and Deloitte have all installed Qi inductive charging stations in their offices. McDonald’s in London also has wireless power tables. And more than 120 Marriott hotels have wireless charging options.
At the moment, we’re seeing adoption from big brands more in European countries than in the U.S. But I think we’ll start to see that pop up over here soon, too.
Have there been significant changes to the technology itself?
Qi and AirFuel Alliance (the Power Matters Alliance/Alliance for Wireless Power merger focused on magnetic resonance charging) are working to make wireless charging more powerful, and the show revealed a newly developed 15-watt specification. It’s not available to consumers yet, but it’s likely to be the spec that takes wireless from power “grazing” to “gorging.”
While Qi had a huge presence at the conference and is clearly the inductive charging leader, AirFuel Alliance is leading the charge for resonant power. The two standards created a fair bit of discussion around multi-mode chargers, but it’s not likely these developers will merge. Ultimately, phone manufacturers will make the choices that dictate the direction we head.
And there’s still constant discussion in the community about finding other ways to charge wirelessly. Work’s being done with some very interesting concepts, like using light frequencies for charging.
Any future predictions you can make?
The WPC says the tipping point is now. I think we’re close. For device manufacturers, there are more software than hardware changes to make, so we have to wait to see who commits to wireless. Samsung is in. Now we’re waiting on Apple, and its decisions will have big influence on how this plays out in the market.
Prices also have to drop. Manufacturers need to be able to buy in bulk, then start selling at affordable consumer prices. Wireless charging stands to change how we interact with power, but if prices keep it out of reach, we won’t ever see its full potential.