Innovation of the Week: Wireless charging may be the future for iPhones | Crain's San Francisco

Innovation of the Week: Wireless charging may be the future for iPhones

  • Inductive charge pads come into direct contact with devices like smartphones. | Photo by James Whatley Flickr

    Inductive charge pads come into direct contact with devices like smartphones. | Photo by James Whatley Flickr

  • Shipments of wireless-charging-enabled receivers will rise to 300 million units in 2017, IHS Markit predicts. | Photo by Vernon Chan

    Shipments of wireless-charging-enabled receivers will rise to 300 million units in 2017, IHS Markit predicts. | Photo by Vernon Chan

  • A wireless charging pad. | Photo by Vernon Chan

    A wireless charging pad. | Photo by Vernon Chan

  • Samsung has been using wireless charging in its flagship smartphones since 2015. | Photo by Honou Flickr

    Samsung has been using wireless charging in its flagship smartphones since 2015. | Photo by Honou Flickr

  • Apple’s joining of an industry group indicates its next iPhone may adopt wireless charging technology, similar to the Lumia smartphone shown here. | Photo by Vernon Chan Flickr

    Apple’s joining of an industry group indicates its next iPhone may adopt wireless charging technology, similar to the Lumia smartphone shown here. | Photo by Vernon Chan Flickr

Apple Inc.’s name has been quietly added to a list of members supporting an industry group’s wireless charging specification, fueling expectations that the company finally will offer inductive battery technology with its iPhone line. The iPhone’s use of the technology is expected to boost the market of wireless charging receiver units, according to one market research firm.

On Monday, 9to5Mac reported that Apple’s name had appeared on the Wireless Power Consortium’s (WPC) membership list. Neither the company nor the organization issued a press release announcing the news, although an Apple spokesperson provided a statement to Business Insider, saying Apple made the move in order "to participate and contribute ideas to the open, collaborative development of future wireless charging standards."

The news of Apple’s WPC membership was widely reported as a likely precursor to Apple adding wireless charging to the iPhone, eliminating the requirement to recharge using a Lightning cable and power brick.  

Wireless charging charges ahead

Apple’s likely adoption of wireless charging will play a role in the rapid expansion of the market, according to analysis firm IHS Markit. IHS Markit predicts global shipments of wireless-charging-enabled receiver units—a category that includes smartphones equipped with the technology—will amount to 350 million units in 2017. This represents a 75 percent increase from 200 million in 2016.

While IHS Markit declined to specify exactly how much a new version of the Apple iPhone would contribute to this growth, it did confirm that the product will play a role in the market’s expansion.

Late to the party

While Apple employs a form of wireless charging technology for its Apple Watch line, the company has been behind the curve when it comes to adding the technology to its smartphones.

“It’s difficult to say exactly why Apple has waited this long to implement wireless charging, but it’s gotten to the stage now where Apple cannot ignore the success their competitors have had by integrating wireless charging,” IHS Markit Wireless Power Analyst Vicky Yussuff wrote in an email to Crain's.

Yussuff pointed out that Apple’s primary smartphone competitor, Samsung, has integrated wireless charging technology into its flagship handsets since 2015.

Wireless outlook

How exactly Apple will employ wireless charging technology in the iPhone is unclear. While it has joined WPC, history would indicate there’s no guarantee that the company will precisely follow the organization’s specifications. For example, the Apple Watch used a version of the WPC’s Qi standard that was slightly modified to work only with Apple products.

So what will wireless charging on the iPhone look like?

“Second guessing Apple’s exact product specification is a fool’s game, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re looking at more than one method of wireless charging as part of the overall experience,” Yussuff stated.

The Qi specification employs short-range inductive charging technology that works using charging pads that come into direct contact with the product being charged. However, other forms of wireless charging work at a distance, allowing devices to receive power at ranges varying from a few centimeters up to many feet.

Apple is expected to release new models of the iPhone this year, with rumors pegging the iPhone 8 introduction in September.

February 15, 2017 - 3:07pm