With new iPhone hardware just around the corner, this is the time of the year when everyone who follows the world of Apple's mobile handset gets to create a mental wishlist of new features they'd like to see when Tim Cook walks onto stage on September 9.
This year's upcoming announcement has already been met in the press with a litany of expected improvements, from larger screens to all kinds of environmental sensors. But there is one particular feature that has been topping my wishlist for several years now: wireless charging.
Fighting for USB
Thanks to the nature of my job, my family owns a higher-than-average number of mobile devices: All four of us use some kind of iPad (some of which we've handed down to the kids), and both my wife and I have our own iPhones.
As you can imagine, this makes USB ports a precious commodity in the Tabini household. A few years ago, I presciently installed power outlets with built-in USB chargers, but despite that tussles over who exactly unplugged whose device are a frequent occurrence.
To make matters worse, cables tend to break at an alarming pace — and Lightning cables, in particular, seem to be far less robust than their 30-pin predecessors. Despite buying a few extras, both directly from Apple and from third-party vendors like Monoprice, the connectors continue to fail every few months — typically while I'm on a business trip.
Who needs cables anyway?
Up until three years ago, cables were a fact of life for all iOS users: without one and a copy of iTunes, you could not activate, synchronize, or backup your device.
With recent versions of iOS — and, particularly, with the launch of iCloud — all these operations can now be performed over the air, which means that the cable's only essential purpose (at least for most users these days) is to provide a way to charge your device's battery. This, in turn, makes me wonder whether it might finally be time for Apple to eliminate the need for cables altogether.
Though that might sound like a pipe dream, the technology that makes wireless charging possible is both well established and widely available. In fact, its basic principle — electromagnetic induction — goes all the way back to the work of scientist Michael Faraday in the 1830s.
Induction takes advantage of the curious way in which magnetic and electric forces interact with other: A current running through a conducting wire creates a magnetic field around it, and a changing magnetic field that traverses a conductor will induce — hence the name — a current into it.
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