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Why I wish I could charge my iPhone wirelessly

Marco Tabini | Sept. 2, 2014
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.

Thus, if you take a charging station that runs electricity through a coil, thus converting it into a magnetic field, and then place it near a device equipped with a conducting transducer that performs the same operation in reverse, you can effectively transfer power from one point to the other without requiring any wires.

Mr. Faraday's darker side

To be fair, induction charging does have a few limitations. First of all, the transducer and charging station need to be fairly close to each other in order for enough power to flow from one to the other and charge a battery. Although some techniques allow for distances of up to two meters, most chargers only have a few inches' worth of range.

Wireless charging also tends to be less efficient than a cable, which would make charging slower, and also potentially a higher source of heat, as power is dissipated by the various components.

Finally, the complexity of the various inductive components has the potential to increase the cost of a device, though it's hard to say exactly by how much on a large scale. After all, a single Lightning cable — hardly a complicated piece of technology — will set you back anywhere between $20 and $35, indicating that price doesn't necessarily follow cost.

The future, today

Still, these problems are not insurmountable. There's no reason why Apple couldn't continue providing a Lightning port on its devices while also supporting wireless charging — and offering a base station as an optional accessory that can be purchased separately. (Other smartphone models, including the late Palm Pre, have gone this route.) This would give those for whom inductive charging is an important feature an opportunity to invest in it, while providing everyone else with the proven backup of a Lightning cable.

Perhaps the best indicator that the day of wireless charging may finally be near is the fact that the mobile industry is beginning to rally around it. For example, a number of Windows Phone and Android devices already support a charging technology known as Qi, and a competing standard called Power Matters Alliance, backed by Duracell, will soon begin installing charging stations at many Starbucks locations throughout North America.

Third-party manufacturers already produce iPhone and iPad cases that are compatible with both these standards, which means that you can actually wirelessly charge your handset or tablet today. Compared to a built-in solution backed by Apple, these cases are bulky and inconvenient, but they certainly prove that a day without cables may be just around the corner — and maybe, just maybe, this will finally be the year my wish comes true.


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