Wireless charging is still such a mess

Will we ever get real wireless smartphone charging? Don't look to the industry for signs of hope.

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Palm's rather unique wireless charging dock

Heard about the A4WP? Of course not. But you should know it is yet another team of mobile industry players, including Samsung, Qualcomm, and Powermat, working to create a wireless charging standard. Wireless charging, as in “lay your phone on something for a while, pick it up, it’s charged.” It’s one of those things you just assume is in the foreseeable future.

As Kevin Tofel at GigaOm points out, though, there already is a remarkably similar group out there, the Wireless Power Consortium (WPC), that was formed in 2008 and had about 100 members at the time. Samsung and Powermat, two founders of the WPC, are also signed on for the A4WP. Nothing wrong with that, really, except it’s awkward to announce that you believe in two standards for your industry. It seems akin to putting the stars and stripes on one door, the Union Jack on the other, and believing you can therefore drive on either side of the road.

Without an agreed-upon standard, any really neat wireless charging solution will be limited to just one phone, or at least one line of phones. That’s what happened to the Palm/WebOS Touchstone. Even if the Palm Pre/Pixi smartphones had turned out wildly popular, it likely would have remained a silo of a solution.

In case you’re thinking that a real, actual standard is just a few handshakes and contracts away, consider the fate of micro-USB chargers. They have come to be seen as the most standard and space-efficient means of charging a smartphone or similar device. Yet that’s more of an industry shrugging its collective shoulders than agreeing to respect customers. Apple, as a notable example, has ignored micro-USB connectors for the entire run of the iPhone. Even when they their proprietary 30-pin connectors, the nearly ubiquitous wide-headed cables, Apple likely will stick with a proprietary, only-for-Apple solution for which they can charge licensing fees and easily enable some hefty accessories revenue.

All of which makes me quite sad. Because I can see a future where the center console of my car has a slot in which you can slide almost any smartphone, allowing it to charge while you’re driving without an umbilical 12-volt connection. It feels like the future, but it could be tomorrow.

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