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Samsung matters more than Apple in deciding wireless charging's future

Lucas Mearian | June 17, 2014
Samsung and Apple are the leading handset manufacturers in the world, but when it comes to which one can drive the mobile market for wireless charging, Samsung looks like the bigger player.

In the wake of Starbucks' decision last week to roll out more than 100,000 wireless-charging stations in its 8,000 U.S. cafes, smrtphone makers have taken to promoting the few devices that actually work with the technology.

But the two heavyweights in the smartphone world — Samsung and Apple — have yet to jump into the arena. When they do, the direction each takes could tip the scales toward one of three industry specifications vying for supremacy in wireless charging.

An iPhone with a wireless charging case charging on a PMA-style pad (photo: Starbucks).

Mobile handset maker Kyocera Communications on on Monday trumpeted that it's "proud to be one of the first manufacturers to bring PMA-enabled smartphones to the U.S. market." The "PMA," or Power Matters Alliance, is one of the three groups vying for market dominance with its Powermat wireless charging specification — and it's the technology Starbucks is using.

The other two wireless charging groups are the Alliance For Wireless Charging woth its Rezence spec and the Wireless Power Consortium (WPC), which touts the most popular version of them all, the Qi (pronounced "chee") standard.

Since May, Sprint and Virgin Mobile US have both been offering the Kyocera Hydro Vibe, a low-end smartphone, with PMA wireless charging built in.

Kyocera is launching its Hydro Icon with Boost Mobile on June 18; it can come enabled for both Powermat and Qi-style wireless charging.

Kyocera is exclusively a member of the PMA, but many of the other handset and internal processor makers — as members of all three wireless power groups — are hedging their bets. For example, Samsung and wireless charging processor maker Texas Instruments are members of all three groups.

AT&T now offers an upgrade for the Samsung Galaxy S5, which supports the PMA specification. And an add-on case for the Apple iPhone is available from Duracell Powermat.

However, of the 20 million consumer devices estimated to have shipped in 2013 with wireless charging capabilities, nearly all were built with the Qi specification, according to IHS. The bulk of that Qi technology went into devices such as the Google Nexus 4 and 5 smartphones, Google's Nexus 7 second-generation tablet and a number of models in Nokia's Lumia line-up.

Rumors have been percolating for months that Apple will offer wireless charging on the iPhone 6, which is expected out this fall. Of course, that and $1.65 will get you a Starbuck's grande coffee.

What has frequently accompanied the iPhone 6 wireless charging rumors are concerns that Apple will use its own proprietary specification rather than one of the three currently being touted by industry groups.

"Makes sense," said Mikey Campbell, an editor with AppleInsider. "They already require their own cables (Lightning, the erstwhile 30-pin). Why not make some cash with a new standard, license it out through MFi. Money!"

 

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