Apple has joined the Wireless Power Consortium, hinting that the next iPhone will support wireless charging. This is the first time Apple has confirmed involvement with any wireless power standard body.
IHS Technology analyst Vicky Yussuff stated in a recent article that “the success of wireless charging adoption from Apple’s competitors (such as Samsung with wireless charging integrated in to its flagship handsets since 2015) is something that Apple can no longer ignore. IHS Technology consumer survey data shows over 90 percent of consumers want wireless charging on their next device. The world market for wireless charging is expected to exceed 350 million enabled receiver units shipped in 2017.”
While the news doesn’t offer absolute clarity of Apple’s future plans, it does reveal some things about the wireless power industry as a whole and how it will create ripple effects in many other industries.
*Apple adding wireless power in its phones seems highly likely now. The technology is proven, available and in demand by customers, and their competitors have done it for two-plus years.
*Apple including wireless power in its phone and, potentially, a broader array of its devices (iPads, MacBooks, etc.) will create an unprecedented level of awareness for wireless power transfer that will create ripple effects in many other industries that are related to the mobile industry, namely on the infrastructure (charger) side.
*In the automotive industry, the 20-plus vehicle models that have wireless power as a factory option will likely make this standard. Also, consumers will seek out the feature in vehicles, making it a key feature/decision point when buying a new car.
*Hotels, restaurants, coffee shops and bars will be installing and purchasing transmitter equipment to support wireless charging for their customers. With Apple and Samsung both including wireless charging in its devices, the hospitality industry will deploy rapidly to take advantage.
*Furniture companies will increasingly offer furniture that embeds wireless power since it is a cleaner, clutter-free, convenient way for consumers to charge their devices. Many new constructions are already planning to install wireless power at all workstations and in all conference rooms. Apple’s efforts will only accelerate this.
*Apple adopting wireless power in its mobile phones and/or other devices will create "table stakes" for all mobile phone/other device companies to include wireless power in its devices.
*Apple's inclusion of wireless power will also accelerate adoption of wireless power in unrelated products due to unprecedented awareness and reduction in component cost. Consumer electronics (non-mobile), medical device, industrial automation, inventory controls, energy and other non-mobile device businesses will be aware of the convenience, safety and reliability of wireless power due to the Apple devices, and will accelerate plans to include wireless power in their devices. Further, the economies of scale driven by Apple adoption (and other fast followers) will create a lower cost opportunity for new companies to adopt wireless power.
However, Apple’s decision also creates just as many questions.
Will Apple devices use the Qi, AirFuel or another standard? Currently it is too early to know which, if any, standard Apple will use. Based on them joining the Wireless Power Consortium, Qi would appear to be the front runner. However, I still believe it is more likely that Apple will have its own, proprietary charging protocol. Similar to their proprietary wired charging protocol which uses Lightning connectors instead of industry-standard USB.
Will Apple be interoperable with other devices (i.e. Samsung charging pads)? Again, it is too early to tell, but it is more likely that Apple will have a "walled garden" approach to its interoperability by using a proprietary communication feature so that MFi ("Made For i-product") devices are pre-approved and work together. This means that companies who build Apple-related products (auto chargers, furniture chargers, etc.) will need to gain access to the Apple technology and develop Apple-compliant systems (likely through Apple's MFi protocol).
What charge rate will Apple use for its devices? Likely, a 10-15W charge rate for its iPhones so that they can charge in under one hour, similar to wired charging. The technology is proven and available when using the right components, such as High Q, low-ESR receiver antennas. While the 10W-plus charging is a challenge to get right from a size, thermal and efficiency perspective, Apple can accomplish it assuming they work with the proper enabling technology.
Who do auto, hospitality, furniture companies turn to create this innovative new infrastructure to support Apple and Samsung devices? Whereas Apple has dozens of wireless power engineers working on integrating wireless power into its products, other companies will need to work with wireless power experts to implement wireless power into their auto, furniture, table-top, etc. products. Wireless power experts can help provide the best use case, performance, speed, cost and integration support for these companies.
No matter how you look at Apple’s move, IHS puts it best. “With these announcements, new partnerships and a reigniting of the industry interest in wireless power, the prospect of receiver shipments hitting 2 billion units in 2025 are stronger than ever.”
Jacob Babcock is co-founder and CEO of NuCurrent, a leading developer of high-efficiency antennas and modules for wireless power and wireless charging applications. You can connect with Jacob on Twitter and LinkedIn.