With the announcement of the iPhone 8 and iPhone X being wirelessly chargeable, a lot more eyebrows have been raised towards this still quite mysterious technology. But what actually is wireless charging? What’s happening under the hood, and will it change how we charge our personal devices such as mobile phones on a massive scale?
Before we continue, I’d like you, the reader, to please bear in mind that this article isn’t offering a scientific explanation, and many of the topics discussed have been generalised or shortened. Hopefully you won’t find any crazy mathematical equations or overly scientific terminology. In fact it would be amazing if you did, because I don’t know any.
A Brief History of Wireless Charging
In order to consider where wireless charging might be going, it could help to take a look back at where it’s been.
The notion or idea of wireless charging has been around since the 19th century, when the bright minds of the world began talking about how to transfer electrical energy from one place to another. This isn’t overly shocking (pun most definitely intended) once we learn that the principles behind it are quite simple, and the technology to achieve this goal – at least theoretically – has been within our means for many years.
Nikola Tesla experimented with this transference of energy himself, and was actually able to illuminate a lamp from quite a distance. However, the means to achieve this were relatively rough around the edges; crude, dangerous, and certainly not ready for any real commercial or practical use. It was more a proof of concept.
Over the years since then, various other experiments were carried out with varying degrees of success. It wasn’t until the 1960s that, thanks to some advancements made in the technology during World War 2, some more practical uses for wireless power began to emerge.
Fast forward a few decades and wireless charging carved a quiet – yet widely used – place for itself across various industries. Electric toothbrushes, for example, have been charged wirelessly for years now. For practical and commercial use, this was great – but wireless charging took a back seat in terms of marketable selling points. It was just a background technology – something to get the job done quietly and with no real attention or fuss.
The Wireless Power Consortium
As wireless charging started to slowly gain some real traction, and the technology behind it became more refined across more devices, the Wireless Power Consortium (WPC) was established in 2008 to help introduce a standard. This is a structured and regulated set of rules and guidelines that helped the engineers and scientists work towards a common goal, sharing their knowledge and research, and generally furthering the cause for wireless charging. This standard is called the Qi standard (pronounced “chee”), and it serves to keep the technology moving forwards and, above all else, safe for use.
How Does Wireless Charging Work?
The technology behind wireless charging has evolved over time, and there are a number of different methods that can be used to achieve the effect, however the Qi standard uses a system called inductive charging. Inductive charging uses 2 separate objects – the transmitter and the receiver.
As has been mentioned, the principles behind this are relatively simple – in fact you could perform your own experiment using a simple loop of copper wire and a magnet. Moving the magnet back and forth, towards and away from the wire, will create a change in the magnetic field between the two objects. This will generate a voltage, which could provide a modest amount of power to, for example, a light bulb.
A wireless charging pad – such as the ones shown here – houses at least one copper coil, and a wirelessly enabled mobile phone will contain the other. Place the phone on the pad, and it will begin to charge wirelessly.
The Wireless Charging Market
Whilst wireless charging has certainly come a long way, arguably it still hasn’t quite had the commercial impact to catapult humankind into a futuristic utopia. Partly this could be due to the challenge that lies in changing consumer habits on a large scale. The other part could simply be lack of awareness.
I’ve said before that Apple are a great technology company, but they’re an even better marketing company. Now that they’ve jumped on board with wireless charging technology, it will be interesting to see what they can do in the next year what others have struggled to do over the last five.