The iPhone revolutionized mobility 10 years ago, and is set to repeat history this year with the addition of wireless charging. News broke early this week that Apple has finally joined the Wireless Power Consortium (WPC), the organization responsible for the leading wireless charging standard, Qi. Now poised to bring wireless charging to the masses, Apple is already causing ripple effects across the tech world.
The Wireless Power Consortium was founded in 2008 and has since championed open wireless charging standard Qi. Supported by high profile technology brands including Samsung, Lenovo, Dell and Nokia, Qi has dominated the wireless charging arena, featured in high profile devices such as Samsung Galaxy S6 and S7 series.
Apple however, had been notably absent from WPC’s membership. Owning 40% of the US smartphone market, Apple’s participation in the WPC now brings wireless charging technology into the spotlight and solidifies the technology in the market.
One Unified Standard
Apple usually prefers to go-it-on-their-own with proprietary technology, such as the lighting cable vs. USB-C. Yet there are certain standards that the organization has chosen to adopt when they see the benefit and relevance moving forward. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth have been two examples of this and it appears that Qi wireless charging is set to join these ranks.
The move endorsing Qi gives the WPC a decisive win in what had been an ongoing standards war. This benefits the industry as a whole, as the battle between the WPC and Airfuel Alliance had divided investments and resources. The battle had also sidelined those investors waiting to see who would emerge victorious before opting to move forward with the technology.
Investment is now set to funnel into Qi as the globally accepted wireless charging standard. In turn this will foster the widespread adoption that users have been clamouring for. One IHS tech analyst has noted that 9 out of 10 users want wireless charging on their next phone.
Why Apple Held the Key
While wireless charging has been available in smartphones since the early Google Nexus line, it’s struggled to gain widespread adoption, even with flagship phones like the Galaxy S7 embracing the technology. Part of the reason we haven’t seen Qi charging pads in the same way that we see outlets is because those investing in any type of wireless charging infrastructure were waiting to see what Apple would choose to do with its next iPhone.
The move marks a watershed moment for the wireless charging technology. For groups managing infrastructure that were waiting on making long term investments, the sign is a welcome relief that allows projects that had previously been shelved to move forward.
A unified standard is particularly important in commercial spaces where furniture lifecycles don’t align with tech lifecycles. This causes hesitation before any investment in infrastructure is made. With a single way forward for users to charge their mobile devices, everywhere from offices to public spaces now have a viable alternative to USB charging.
It means that you’ll begin to see a lot more wireless charging in spaces from airports, to restaurants and hotels, to your desk. You’ll be able to leave your house without worrying about a charging cord or low battery. Seamless Qi charging pads throughout our built environment would provide power everywhere from a cafe to a classroom.
Leaders in the workplace like Google, Oracle and McKinsey & Co. have already adopted Qi wireless charging throughout their offices with solutions like ChargeSpot. Now those that didn’t want to bet big can roll out the plans they were holding off on until an announcement came out.
The Apple Effect
Apple isn’t always the first to adopt new technologies. They didn’t invent the computer, mp3 player, smartphone or tablet. What they did was refine it and create a product that employed a simple, user friendly design and explained the benefits well to their customers. Like their products, their customers communications are simple and elegant.
By supporting Qi, Apple will bring the same electricity built by their product launches and features to the wireless charging industry. It’s because they can market their products unlike anyone else. Apple doesn’t sell the product, they sell a dream. No longer will wireless charging be sold as convenience. Rather, Apple can position it as complete freedom: the ability to interface with our world in a more seamless manner. It’s something that the company has already done by phasing out the headphone jack on the iPhone 7 line and the move fits well with the user experience that Apple has created and refined in all of their products.
The market for Apple accessories is massive in it’s own right. Countless other companies have been built from imaginatively tailoring solutions to the iPhone range.
With the successor to the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus set to launch this fall, we should see creative solutions that employ wireless charging in the later half of the year and into 2018. In the same way that we saw docks come out tailored for the first the iPod and now iPhone, similar Qi enabled stations should emerge alongside the latest iPhone.
What this means is more variety and options to consumers. This could range from at home accessories like nightstands to business solutions like monitor stands that include wireless charging. The increased competition should also benefit consumers in keeping pricing competitive.
The new technology won’t be limited to mobile phones either. A unified standard means we could see universal charging for devices like computer mice and keyboards. We’ll probably see wireless charging become more mainstream in larger devices like laptops in late 2018/early 2019.
Changing the Way That We Work and Live
Before 2007 we couldn’t have imagined the extent to which smartphones would impact our daily personal and professional lives. We now can’t live without them. As the company that brought us the iPhone embarks on a new effort that will likely involve wireless charging, we will see a similar shift as the technology becomes more widespread. On our journey to a more wireless world, we are going to see a change in not only the ways that we interact with our devices, but our entire environment.