Wireless Charging on the iPhone — Do We Care?

August 10th, 2017

So let me make this perfectly clear: The actual feature set of the 2017 iPhones has not been announced by Apple or anyone authorized by Apple. What you’ve read so far consists of rumors and speculation. So with that out of the way, let’s take a common rumor and give it a brief look.

To put this in perspective, let me take you back through time to the early days of the iPhone.

In 2009, I interviewed the CEO of a local company, WildCharge, for the radio show. They were located in a small office suite in the Airpark area in Scottsdale, AZ. Their system, as with more recent versions of inductive charging, consisted of a pad with metal strips. You placed a supported device on it to charge the unit.

Since Apple never supported such a charging method — and we do not know for certain that they are going to do it with the next generation iPhones — WildCharge developed cases to support the process. So you put your iPhone into the case, which had metal inserts compatible with the charging pad.

Unfortunately, the iPhone cases were prerelease, so I never had the chance to try it on my iPhone. I just tested it at their offices.

Last I heard, the company was in the process of moving. I can’t find any reference to them since 2010, which means they are either out of business, or renamed the company. Their site is not functional.

Other tech companies have introduced smartphones and other gear supporting wireless charging. Apple’s first foray into such technology was the Apple Watch, where it just seems to be the best option.

You can buy wireless charging cases for the iPhone, but will the new models support a charging pad natively? That’s one of the lesser questions about the feature set. Most of the chatter is how or whether Apple will manage to implement Touch ID on the alleged iPhone 8, or whether it’ll include facial recognition instead. Or maybe both.

Now to put wireless charging into perspective, you aren’t free of cables. The charging pad has to be plugged into something. So perhaps being able to charge several devices on a single pad might be a benefit. But don’t forget that, when you connect your iPhone or iPad to a lightning cable that’s plugged into a Mac, it doesn’t just recharge. It can backup and update your device as part of the process.

Wireless charging is just that — charging. It doesn’t free you of dependance on wires. I’m not referring to real wireless charging, which means there’s no connection between the charger and the device.

So a recent article from CNET mentions two wireless charging schemes from Energous and Powercast. Both are capable of charging a device without any physical connection, at distances of up to 15 feet. Now that sounds promising.

The obvious question is whether these technologies are safe. It’s not that we don’t already have waves of energy surrounding us, from Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and other technologies. And don’t forget the signals from radio and TV stations.

But charging one of these electronic devices in a reasonable amount of time will require far more current, and is it possible to do that without causing potential harm to living things? It appears, therefore, that the regulatory authorities would have to approve those charging methods and certify them as safe.

These systems are supposed to be available soon, assuming all goes well. But that doesn’t mean Apple would consider such a solution. Maybe it’ll invent one of its own, but remember we’re still talking about something that must not harm someone, even slightly. Think of a person expecting a happy event. Would the proximity to power waves of this sort cause potential harm to the mother or baby? What about a small child or a puppy?

But even if Apple goes the standard inductive charging route, or something similar, it may not be such an efficient process. CNET claims that the Samsung Galaxy S8 took nearly twice as long to charge on a pad than using the supplied USB-C cable.

That doesn’t mean that Apple’s system, whatever it might be, would be as inefficient. It’s not fair to assume that Samsung’s problems are theirs. Even if there is a wireless charging system of some sort, you may have to purchase an optional charging pad. It would be awkward to make it standard issue, requiring a much larger shipping box.

The unit will no doubt be supplied with the regular lightning cable. If you want fast-charging, requiring a USB-C connection to something, or a charging pad, you’ll pay extra.

So far as I’m concerned, that’s the way I’d like it. I’m not impressed with the existing wireless charging schemes. I’m perfectly happy to use a lightning cable. If they fray, they are cheap to replace. For example, I can buy an Anker Premium Lightning to USB Cable, the three-foot vision, for $5.99 at Amazon. It’s Apple MFi Certified, which means it has to pass the company’s tests for full compatibility. I’ve purchased three of them in the past year, and they are, in my experience, functionally equivalent to the costlier ones you buy from Apple.

Why would I need a wireless charger? Well, I suppose if it were truly wireless, maybe. But it’s otherwise not high on my list of priorities. Otherwise, I’m really not interested.

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