The Wireless Charging Revolution Is Still a Ways Away!

Wireless charging is not as common as it should be

Wireless charging has always struck us as an intriguing feature. Not so much because of the feature itself, which has been around for a while, but because of how it has been treated.

What should be a much bigger deal than it is is frequently treated as an afterthought by some of the world’s largest OEMs. Wireless charging is still not as common as it should be, much to my dismay.

Wireless charging is available on a wide range of phones and accessories, but you won’t find it in many public places. That’s the kind of world I imagined in the early days of wireless charging, and I’m still hoping for it to come true.

The Grand Plan

My first encounter with wireless charging was with the release of the Nokia Lumia 920 in 2012. Despite the fact that Nokia was not the first OEM to include wireless charging on a phone, its inclusion on the device helped popularize the feature, which began to trickle down to more and more smartphones.

Nokia even went so far as to outfit one of its Bluetooth speakers with a charging pad on top, allowing you to listen to music while charging your phone, which I thought was the coolest thing at the time.

There were two major wireless charging standards at the time: PMA and Qi. The latter eventually became the dominant standard in 2018 and can be found on many of the best Android phones (and iPhones) available today.

According to Strategy Analytics, there are up to one billion smartphones that support wireless charging. According to the Wireless Power Consortium, which is in charge of the Qi charging standard, wireless charging accounts for “nearly a third of global smartphone sales.”

That’s a significant number, and it’s expected to rise to 2.2 billion by 2026. That has undoubtedly resulted in a large number of wireless charger sales for the home or office, with the market valued at more than $17 billion in 2021 and expected to grow further as the technology becomes more popular, particularly among wireless earbuds. Nonetheless, despite the projected growth, wireless charging in public places appears to be a rarity, at least for the time being.

When Nokia first introduced me to wireless charging, I imagined that one day I would be able to walk into any coffee shop, library, or even a movie theater and place my phone on a predetermined charging spot to charge it. Imagine being able to charge your phone while watching Thor: Love & Thunder without having to bring a charger or find a plug if your phone runs out of juice.

That’s the kind of convenience I’ve always desired, and it’s one I’ve yet to see outside of car manufacturers outfitting their latest models with wireless charging.

Wireless charging ain’t cheap

While it’s not impossible to find public spaces with wireless charging, you’d be hard pressed to find many. However, there are a few reasons why wireless charging hasn’t taken off as quickly as I had hoped.

The first is the cost. According to Next Move Strategy Consulting, “expensive infrastructure required for the integration of wireless charging is expected to impede market growth throughout the forecast period.” That means businesses must justify the cost of outfitting their spaces with wireless charging, whether that means purchasing entirely new integrated furniture or adding wireless charging to their existing setup.

This was echoed in my interview with Jitesh Ubrani, IDC’s Research Manager for Worldwide Mobile Device Trackers, who stressed the importance of companies being proactive.

“In general, a regular outlet that can serve multiple purposes is still less expensive than a dedicated wireless charger that only supports smartphones and other small devices,” Ubrani explains. “While the price of wireless chargers has decreased over time, it is still more expensive than a regular outlet and regular furniture (i.e., a table without a wireless charger).”

He also claims that there is a general lack of education about the feature, with many consumers unsure if their phones even support it. Smartphone owners may be disappointed if they discover their phones do not support wireless charging, or if their phones do not charge as quickly as they hoped.

Smartphone manufacturers appear to have contributed to the confusion, especially given their mixed treatment of wireless charging. Some companies, particularly those from China, have pushed the wireless charging speed envelope.

For example, the OnePlus 10 Pro has 50W fast wireless charging, which is faster than most phones can charge even when plugged into an outlet. Even the Pixel 6 series can charge faster than Samsung phones, but you’ll need the Pixel Stand (2nd Gen) to do so.

Meanwhile, Apple and Samsung, the market leaders in the United States, limit wireless charging speeds to 15W at most. Of course, these companies use more standard methods, whereas other OEMs create their own proprietary systems to achieve such fast speeds.

Following the European Union’s decision to make USB-C the standard charging cable for smartphones and other devices, I wondered if government intervention would be required to spur wireless charging innovation around a single charging standard (Qi). According to Ubrani, it could be beneficial, but there aren’t enough supported smartphones to justify any action.

“Because the feature is typically only found in premium products, the government would be acting on a subset of users rather than the general public.” As a result, Samsung, Oppo, Xiaomi, and others have no reason or need to implement interoperable standards; rather, having separate standards works in their favor because it allows them to differentiate themselves and boost accessory sales.”

Of course, there’s the act of wireless charging. Wireless charging is useful in some situations, but not all, and due to the nature of the technology — you have to line up the charging coils just right — you can’t always use your phone comfortably while it’s charging wirelessly. For many, this could make wireless charging in a society quite inconvenient.

Where we’re going

However, it’s not all bad, and there are plenty of practical applications for wireless charging. For example, it’s simple to place your phone on a pad while sleeping or working; this way, you don’t have to worry about finding or fiddling with wires.

Having wireless chargers in more public places could save us from having to remember to bring our own chargers, find available outlets, or deal with incompatible charging cables (looking at you, iPhone), at least until USB-C becomes the standard for all smartphones.

A few companies are working to address the lack of usability. OEMs such as Motorola, Xiaomi, and even OPPO have demonstrated remote over-the-air charging, which eliminates the need to physically place your phone on a wireless charging pad.

These devices would charge a device from a distance using a series of antennas that beamform waves to it (as many as four devices with Motorola’s solution). It’s not a perfect solution because the stations have a limited range and can only charge at 5W, which is much lower than many of our favorite wireless chargers. Nonetheless, companies appear committed to improving the technology in order to make it more reliable and, hopefully, faster.

However, Ubrani warns that there is still a long way to go and that it will face more challenges than standard wireless charging. “We’re still years away from over-the-air charging being safe, perceived as safe, and affordable, so I don’t think it’ll be the saving grace or play a critical role in adoption.”

On its FAQ page, the Wireless Power Consortium echoes Ubrani’s concerns about over-the-air charging.

“While far-field techniques are intriguing in concept, they have significant cost, efficiency, and safety issues that limit commercial applications.” Near-field wireless charging has been shown to be more appropriate for consumer electronics.”

Meanwhile, Apple has its own solution, which has gradually spread to Android phones. MagSafe is an intriguing type of wireless charging that uses magnets to attach to the back of a compatible iPhone, allowing you to wirelessly charge your phone while using it. There are even MagSafe compatible power banks that allow you to charge your phone while on the go without having to plug it in.

While it would be nice to see this feature on more Android phones, so far, RealMe and OPPO are the only Android OEMs to unveil their own solutions, but a Samsung MagSafe charger would undoubtedly make a splash.

But until then…

According to reports, the wireless charging market could be worth up to $185 billion by 2030, implying that there is still plenty of time for it to take off. While adoption has been slow, it is still a useful feature that smartphone owners should take advantage of.

Given the lack of 3.5mm headphone jacks on newer smartphones, wireless charging car mounts can be useful for anyone who would rather use their USB-C port to connect to Android Auto in their car. It’s also not a bad idea to keep a few pads around the house, such as next to the bedside table, on the kitchen counter, or even on a coffee table.

If you want to splurge, you might be able to find work desks with built-in wireless charging. But, of course, it all comes down to costs, not just for businesses but also for consumers.

With many top Android phones shipping without charging adapters, consumers are likely to opt for a wall adapter over a wireless charger, the latter of which is frequently more expensive despite many being capped at lower speeds, ranging from 5W to 15W.

Even if a new wall adapter isn’t required, consumers must decide whether it’s worthwhile to purchase a wireless charger, which Ubrani believes is more superfluous than necessary.

“Ultimately, if wireless charging costs more than regular chargers and raises device prices, it will not be widely adopted because it is still a nice-to-have feature rather than a must-have.”

The Wireless Charging Revolution Is Still a Ways Away!

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