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Why Apple may go its own way with wireless charging

Lucas Mearian | March 16, 2015
When the iPhone 5 was launched in 2012, I wrote an analysis about what it had and what it lacked; most notably, it didn't support wireless charging.

When the iPhone 5 was launched in 2012, I wrote an analysis about what it had and what it lacked; most notably, it didn't support wireless charging.

At the time, the first of the big-name smartphone makers — such as Nokia — had just rolled out wireless charging. Since then, scores of other smartphones and mobile devices have adopted native wireless charging.

And still, Apple stands fast.

Neither of last fall's iPhone 6 models offer resonant wireless charging. Nor does the just-announced Apple Watch. Instead, the Apple Watch offers tightly coupled, magnetic inductive charging, which still requires a cord.

Notably, there's a wireless charging standards war going on with three industry groups touting their own specifications — some more widely adopted than others. Some experts believe Apple is waiting for the dust to clear before choosing one.

Apple, however, is not big on adopting someone else's standards. Case in point: the Micro-USB connector. While most major smartphone manufacturers were adopting it, Apple rolled out its own Lightening connector.

Even in Europe, where the European Parliament's internal market and consumer protection committee voted in a resolution to require all companies to make the same type of charger — the Micro-USB — Apple stuck with its own flavor.

"Apple has never bowed to a standards war. Apple does what they want," said John Perzow, vice president of market development for the Wireless Power Consortium (WPC), which promotes Qi, the most widely adopted wireless charging standard.

Qi currently supports inductive, or tightly coupled wireless charging; that means a device must be placed in a specific spot on a charging pad. However, a soon-to-be-released extension to the Qi specification will support resonance, or loosely coupled charging, which will enable greater spatial freedom on charging pads and other devices.

"Let's say for a second that Qi already launched its extension and could charge resonantly from a couple inches away," Perzow said. "I still don't think Apple would use it; then anyone could make a cool wireless charger for the Apple Watch, and Apple would lose revenue."

"I don't think they'll adopt anybody's standard," Perzow added.

Apple's own flavor

Over the last decade, Apple has filed several patents on wireless charging.

In 2005, an Apple patent described technology for an iPod using zero-contact induction for not only charging but data transfer — most likely to manage device charging.

In a 2012 Apple patent filing, the company described a near field magnetic resonance (NFMR) power supply "arranged to wirelessly provide power to any of a number of suitably configured devices."

Apple's patent description indicated a charging distance of about one meter, which could be projected out from a desktop computer such as the iMac to power peripheral devices such as a wireless mouse.

 

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