Wireless Charging: Is Our Smartphone Finally Untethered?
I was watching the Paul Potts biography, One Chance, starring James Corden last month and chuckled at a scene when an older couple entered the Carphone Warehouse store seeking a new phone. The couple asked Braddon, Potts’ assistant, “How far away from the house will the telephone work?” Braddon responds in a Valleys accent, “As far as you like.” The gentleman exclaims, “Oh, rubbish! With the last telephone we had, the cord wouldn’t reach as far as the back door.” Braddon, holding the mobile phone in his hand, gestures around the phone and retorts intoned with disbelief, “This doesn’t have a cord!” The curious gentleman quite innocently reaches into the handset packaging and pulls out its battery charger and asks, “What do you call this then?”
When is a Smartphone, a Landline?
Battery life: A feature that has beset smartphone manufacturers for many years and, despite the all new apps, with their glossy and animated icons, battery life still remains a priority ‘feature’ for many consumers. After all, every consumer wants to achieve a full day’s use out of their phone – as a minimum! Even better, if the phone is capable of stretching over a couple of days with moderate use, this will inevitably attract the power conscious consumer.
You see, my pervious smartphone (no names given) spent a huge amount of time on charge. To be honest, I think the battery itself seemed to have self-degraded over a year or so since my original purchase. It reached a point where I could, on some occasions, only achieve half-a-day’s use. In fact, bearing in mind the amount of time it spent on charge, I may as well have called it a landline!
We Have to Take Charge!
Well, we all want that independent use from a wall socket for as long as possible, yet it’s nowadays inescapable: We have to take charge! In the early days of tempting us into an untethered existence, Duracell brought us ‘myGrid’ a USB-based charger ‘mat’ that would accommodate most devices so long as their various phone housing adapters suited your device. To use the myGrid charging mat you would don the appropriate housing for your mobile phone and then place it onto the mat. Voila! No need for a cable and, whilst a little crude, it did remove the need to plug your smartphone into a wall socket.
But, what we really need is a utopian freedom, void of adapters, along with the untethered confidence of simply placing our gadgets onto our home or work desk to enable wireless charging.
Wireless Charging Standards
Duracell’s myGrid was perhaps a step in the right direction where we could, in essence, ‘wirelessly’ charge a device by simply placing it onto a mat. This form of charging is a notion that’s been bounced around for many years and Near Field Communications (NFC) has largely been touted as the technology to deliver our utopian freedom. The technologies involved use an induction technique that’s comparable with NFC, however, they do differ and are largely not compatible. In fact, in some instances, wireless charging has actually interfered with NFC functionality.
So, as usual, there are competing standards in this wireless charging domain, namely Powermat, which has been adopted by the Power Matters Association (PMA); Qi a standard promoted by the Wireless Power Consortium (WPC) and WiPower from the Alliance for Wireless Power (A4WP).
The Consumer and Commercial push
This power struggle (no pun intended) has seen varying manufacturers favour one standard over another whilst there has been a push to advocate wireless charging mats into stores, such as Starbucks and other venues. More recently, IKEA has excelled by claiming to deliver wireless charging in their forthcoming new range of furniture, such as lamps, chairs, tables and desks, banishing the often cluttered array of cables, while providing an on-trend ability to wirelessly charge your device. IKEA has chosen Qi as its preferred wireless charging technology, which was suitably celebrated by the WPC.
Naturally, handset manufacturers are now looking at the ability to wirelessly charge your device. The Mobile World Congress (MWC) is now a distant memory which, to be honest, was a little lacklustre this year. Some reports suggest that the ‘smartwatch’ triumphed, but I’m still not convinced that this is a viable long-term gadget; other repots place Samsung ahead of Apple at this year’s MWC, which has to be a first for the handset manufacturer.
Leading the Way
The biggest announcement that I witnessed from this year’s MWC was indeed from Samsung, who introduced to us their Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge products. Touting some amazing features from a new metallic design and curved screen to newly streamlined software, the company also boasted wireless charging. Incidentally, Samsung has included two wireless charging standards in its new phone, namely Qi and PMA, although Samsung has indicated that it will pursue the PMA standard in future products. Nevertheless, while the wireless charging standards find their feet, so to speak, it’s a clear indication from the manufacturer that the provision for wireless charging should be taken seriously.
It’s refreshing to see another tech giant leading us into a feature that should, nowadays, be standard. I’m sure most of us, when we initially search for a new mobile phone, habitually run through the list of features in an attempt to find some additional extras that other handsets don’t have. Admittedly, you can retrospectively add wireless charging to your handset, but you typically have to attach something to the back of your device that may interfere with other wireless technologies within your handset. So, for Samsung to include this as a ‘standard’ feature clearly sets a benchmark for other manufacturers to match - or beat!
Until Next Time…
The smart home and home automation is something that has been conjectured since the 1960s, often tainted with a science fiction flare that usually portrays a fanciful way of alleviating those tedious chores around the home. Today, the notion has shifted away from this science fiction approach and, instead, smart home industry leaders are beginning to create real-world and, dare I say, helpful gadgets and gizmos around the home. So, in next month’s feature I will take a closer look at the technology that’s both practical and ultimately offers a real perspective of aiding the home owner.
So, this is where a wirelessly charged Dr G, signs off.
Originally published in Technically Speaking.