Wireless charging, or inductive charging, has been in use for many years in certain industries; for example: electric toothbrushes. Wireless charging uses an electromagnetic field to transfer energy between two devices. Within a base station, an inductive coil creates an alternating electromagnetic field, and a coil within a device is able to capture energy from that field and then transform it back into an electrical current that charges the battery. Thus eliminating the need for any physical plug-in between the charger and device, all the device needs is physical contact with the base station.
As simple and as cool as it is, wireless charging has had a very hard time breaking into wide use in the consumer electronics industry. Even back in 2009 manufacturers like Palm were trying to use this type of innovation to breath new life into their fading brand, but it just wasn’t widely available enough, or on a popular enough device, to really stick. Even in 2011, less than 1 percent of smartphones that shipped were equipped with wireless charging capabilities per estimates from IMS Research. Challenges for this technology range from price to technical issues as measures have to be taken to prevent the wireless charging from interfering with other wireless radios and chips in the device.
The other missing piece with earlier attempts at wireless charging was some sort of standard so that third-party manufacturers could provide consumers with other accessories, such as speaker systems or car-chargers, that would work with more than one brand of phone. Fortunately that has also been resolved with the Wireless Power Consortium having established a standard for wireless charging called Qi. Much like the Bluetooth logo, the Qi logo identifies devices and accessories that will work together.
Now that chip manufacturers like Intel and big brands like Nokia are announcing products that use this technology as well as the biggest name in the game, Apple, is being issued patents for using this technology in a docking station, wireless charging may be ready for prime time. Nokia’s latest phones, the Lumia 920 and 820, are shipping with wireless charging and boast an assortment of wireless charging accessories to choose from. The rise of ultrabooks may also fuel the adoption of wireless charging as manufacturers need to streamline ports and users demand further innovations to justify spending for new devices.
Like most new technologies, it isn’t likely that every new device will start using wireless charging in the next 12 months, however all indications are that by 2014 the worry about multiple chargers for different brands of mobile phones may be a thing of the past.