Wireless charging has struggled for years to gain ground in consumer electronics. For one hot second, it looked like the option would be available in every smartphone, then manufacturers started to bail out, then it started to come back. And now, we have the biggest confirmation yet that Apple is jumping into the game. Has the time finally come?
Today, the CEO of Wistron, which has signed on to assemble Apple products in India, sent the tech press into a frenzy when he appeared to confirm that the new iPhone will feature wireless charging and be fully waterproof. Apple recently partnered with Wistron to assemble older generations of the iPhone as a method of expanding its presence in India. CEO Robert Hwang’s comments are a bit confusing. Following a shareholder meeting, Hwang told reporters, “Assembly process for the previous generations of [iPhones] have not changed much, though new features like waterproof and wireless charging now require some different testing, and waterproof function will alter the assembly process a bit.”
His statement certainly appears to mean that his company is figuring out the logistics of adding wireless charging and waterproofing to the assembly process. But at the moment, Wistron is only producing the iPhone SE. Apple, of course, isn’t clearing anything up.
The addition of wireless charging to the new iPhone has been a rumour for quite some time. The biggest confirmation we’ve had before today was the fact that Apple has joined the Wireless Power Consortium and was throwing its weight behind the “Qi” standard.
Standardisation has been one of the biggest issues plaguing the adoption of wireless charging tech. It seemed like we were making some real progress in sorting it all out when the folks behind the PMA and the A4WP standards came together to form the AirFuel Alliance. But that group is still promoting multiple technologies. Qi is the oldest wireless charging standard and therefore has had more time to be adopted by accessory manufacturers. IKEA has even been incorporating Qi-certified tech into its furniture.
Some devices support both PMA and Qi, most notably Samsung’s Galaxy S8. Reviewers found that the S8 could actually fully charge its battery faster with “fast wireless charging” than the iPhone could charge its lower capacity battery with wired charging. But the rollout wasn’t perfect and many users found that wireless chargers that were manufactured before the S8 was released wouldn’t work in fast-charging mode, including Samsung’s own chargers. This seems to indicate that Samsung made some adjustments to its wireless charging since the S7 was released.
Google notably offered wireless Qi charging on the Nexus 5 and the Nexus 6, but then decided it wasn’t worth it with the subsequent Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P. A survey at the time found that 16 per cent of consumers were charging their devices wirelessly. The option increases manufacturing costs and if users aren’t using it, what’s the point?
So, if Apple is joining the wireless club, why not just offer both standards like the Samsung Galaxy S8? There’s no way to say for sure, but offering dual-mode charging is slightly more expensive and does add a little bit of bulk to the phone. More likely, Apple has been waiting for the time that they feel the technology has matured. Perhaps it believes the time has come to pick a side and throwing its 16.9 per cent market share behind the Qi standard could solidify a tipping point in the wireless charging wars.
Another question is: Do people even want wireless charging? The obvious answer would seem to be yes. Why wouldn’t you? Well, you have to place your phone on a wireless charging plate in a specific location and that limits your ability to easily use the phone while it’s charging. Full on, midair wireless isn’t viable yet.
But what’s the harm in having both wired and wireless charging? There isn’t really a downside apart from the aforementioned extra bulk and cost. One annoying scenario would be that wireless catches on, standards still aren’t worked out, and manufacturers drop wired charging altogether. One of the beautiful possibilities of wireless charging is going to various locations and having the unobtrusive powermats widely available. Starbucks has rolled out this option at some of its US locations, but it went with the PMA standard. Again, this is just annoying, not the end of the world. But it’s way easier to carry around a small cord than it is to always have a charging plate.
Maybe Apple’s move will be just the push that the industry needs to work out the kinks in this tech. Maybe this rumour is totally unfounded. We’ll find out soon.