Apple buoys wireless charging industry with WPC membership

apple phone (Pixabay)

The wireless charging industry is clearly invigorated by Apple’s decision to join the Wireless Power Consortium (WPC)—including a rival charging consortium.

Apple’s disclosure that it has joined the WPC is seen as lending weight to rumors that the company will add wireless charging to the iPhone 8. WPA touts Qi (pronounced Chee), an inductive wireless charging technology where the coils need to be aligned to make the connection, although WPC says some Qi transmitters use a multi-coil system, eliminating the need to align the device on the charging area.

“After several years of increasing rumor, Apple’s membership with the Wireless Power Consortium points strongly to the expectation that the next iPhone will include wireless charging technology,” wrote Vicky Yussuff, analyst at IHS Technology.

The Apple Watch was the first device from the company to support wireless charging out of the box; it also was based on the Qi standard.

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If indeed Apple incorporates Qi into smartphones, it will finally answer a lot of questions for hotels and other venues in terms of which technology to incorporate into their furniture. Ikea and Marriott are a couple examples of companies that are already incorporating Qi charging into their offerings.

Samsung and other handset makers are also members of WPC, which confirmed that Apple joined within the past week.

“The companies with the largest market share in mobile phones are now members of the WPC and discussing the standardization of wireless charging,” said Menno Treffers, chairman of the WPC, in a statement. “As we have seen in the past year, Qi has become the de facto standard for wireless power, and this year we expect to see even more momentum by the entire ecosystem.”

The wireless charging industry has had a history of supporting myriad technologies, which some speculated may be holding it back in terms of getting widespread support. Indeed, Yussuff noted that many in the industry have been cautious to move forward until they knew the direction for any wireless charging on iPhone devices.

"Although shipments of wireless charging devices grew by 40% in 2016, the continued absence of the iPhone and the continued wait for the launch of magnetically resonant devices meant shipments were lower than expected for 2016 overall,” Yussuff said.

IHS Markit expects that at least one other major mobile phone handset OEM will also announce a new smartphone device with wireless charging technology during the upcoming Mobile World Congress 2017 in Barcelona.

And in the spirit of a "rising tide lifts all boats" mentality, another organization advocating for a different path to wireless charging said it’s encouraged by the news that Apple is looking at wireless charging for their upcoming devices. The AirFuel Alliance is the result of a 2015 merger between the Alliance for Wireless Power (A4WP) and Power Matters Alliance (PMA).

A recent AirFuel Alliance survey report showed that consumers not only want wireless charging, they want it to be second-nature, available when and where they need it. 

However, “we've also seen that spatial freedom is of top importance (i.e., consumers want to be able to charge at-a-distance),” the AirFuel spokesperson added. “This is one of the many reasons AirFuel Alliance continues to support all wireless charging technologies, from inductive (which Qi also uses) to resonant to RF—as each produces its own clear advantages. Resonant, for example, is more advanced and more practical for mobile devices and public venues, as it allows for a wider charging area with less cost and complexity. Inductive is good—we support it and many members use it—but it requires exact placement and has little to no spatial freedom.”

While it remains to be seen which wireless charging technologies Apple will ultimately incorporate into its next-gen phones, “this is great news for consumers and for the industry as a whole,” the spokesperson said. “There are lots of WPC members who are also AirFuel members, so we're excited to welcome Apple to the wireless charging table.”