It's time to evolve.

Every time I'm pawing through the detritus of my car looking for a lightning cord to resuscitate my dying cellphone, I can't help but curse the fact that it's 2016 and we're still using charging cords. It's especially frustrating because wireless charging has been on the table (pardon the pun) since 2008, when the Wireless Power Consortium held its first meeting, and has been available in smart phones since 2011. Now, five years later, iPhones still use lightning cables, and fewer than 30 other brands' models are Qi-enabled for direct charging (see the full list here). 

The worst part is that the wireless charging we're seeing introduced to market isn't very impressive, and it's not the answer we've been waiting for.

Starbucks has Qi wireless charging.


Last year, Starbucks announced its Boston-area stores would be equipped for wireless charging, and now you can find the wireless stations built into Starbucks tables in most metro areas. The process is pretty basic: you take one of the charging fobs from the box at the counter, plug it into your phone, then set it onto a dock built into the tables. After getting past the initial novelty of not having to use a cord, it becomes pretty apparent that wireless charging is actually more limiting than traditional charging: you can't pick the phone up off the dock, charging takes longer (the Qi 1.2 has faster charging, but is still new), and you're using someone else's charging fob (which undoubtedly winds up much of the time walking out the door with the customer). Granted, you don't have to hunt for an outlet, but you still need to nab a dock-equipped table.

Ikea's joined the fray by introducing a range of wireless charging furniture. If you have one of those Qi-enabled direct charging phones, you can simply set your phone on the + sign embedded into the furniture and the phone will charge (if you're using an iPhone, you'll need to buy a separate cover).

Of course, then the furniture needs to be plugged in.

So basically, the wireless charging technology that's coming onto the market still uses cords at some part of the charging process. It makes for less-visible cords, but if you're using direct wireless charging you can't even remove your phone from the dock, making it significantly more difficult to use. The entire system works similarly to wireless electric toothbrushes, which have been around since GE invented them in 1961. The technology has evolved, but the concept hasn't. It appears manufacturers see this sort of direct wireless charging as the end-all to the charging dilemma and it's not even close.

The evolution of mobile charging until now (click to expand).


Tesla figured out how to charge wirelessly in 1891. We've had over a hundred years to figure out how to perfect his technique and we're still fumbling around with fobs and charging docks. There have been some promising attempts to bring us up to speed though; MIT, most notably, has been working on its MagMIMO device. The concept works similarly to WiFi, but instead of transmitting data, the MagMIMO transfers power. As of last year, it could charge a phone at 30 centimeters away at any orientation. It doesn't require massive amounts of power to charge, but does require that the phone be "within range" of the magnetic field generated by the array of wire coils that allow the MagMIMO to sense a phone's presence. MIT still has some way to go, but the goal is to cover an entire room with charging capability; you wouldn't even need to remove your phone from your pocket. MIT doesn't have the market cornered on this, though: WiTricityOssia, Energous, and uBeam have all developed ways to transmit power through the air. These technologies are new, but investors are throwing millions at them. For the moment, however, it's mostly talk until the technology is mature enough to release to market.

uBeam transmits power through ultrasound transduction; a transmitter converts sound to electrical energy and data.

The other issue is that phones shouldn't need to be recharged often, anyway, and it's baffling that daily charging is still an inevitability. Integrating fuel cells into portable devices is a plausible solution. Apple filed a patent this year for a fuel cell system for mobile computing devices that would most likely implement a mixture of both conventional batteries and fuel cells. On the other hand, Apple files hundreds of patents and filing doesn't mean a subsequent product launch, so it may all be conjecture.

The bottom line is that it's time for meaningful, safe charging. It should have happened years ago, but trepidation trumped innovation. Now that the IoT is here, wireless charging is needed more than ever, and it's just not happening soon enough.


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  • johnbinsc 2016-01-01

    I guess I’m not sure I want to be continuously bombarded by electromagnetic radiation at a power level high enough to charge a cell phone (i.e. Watts), regardless of the frequency, just so I don’t have to deal with a cord occasionally.  IMHO, battery storage capacity and power requirements are converging to the point where the wireless mid-day charging of cell phones will be unnecessary.  As for the IOT, powering untethered devices off of ambient light should be a requirement.

    • geekman92 2016-01-02

      I agree, instead of investing in a technology that pumps out radiation just to save a wire from your phone lets invest in improving current technology. Phone batteries that don’t need charging every night, charging technology that smartly manages when your phone charges rather than trickle charging a battery that is fully charged for 6 hours a night reducing the lifespan of the battery and MagSafe-type, reversible connector to easily connect phone to cable. Then you can actually use your phone whilst it is charging.

      • kb50 2016-02-13

        But do you sleep with the lights on? Most people don’t so that is a fail!

    • kb50 2016-02-13

      Solar cells proved that without sunlight, fail. Can you predict that everyone lives in a sun filled room at night? You want your phone to charge overnight, but you typically sleep in the dark. And a light is not efficient way to charge a phone.

  • bassbindevil 2016-01-05

    I agree too.  What I want is a sensible smart DC power connection, something that is electrically and mechanically as foolproof and indestructible as possible.  A connector that will not damage an expensive portable device if it is yanked at the wrong angle.  It should allow the power source and device to negotiate the most efficient supply voltage, to eliminate unnecessary DC-DC conversions.  And, ideally it should also have some kind of high speed serial data bus to facilitate external connections like wired ethernet, USB, video and audio I/O.  This connector should have a higher-current “big brother” that can replace the archaic cigarette lighter plugs which are bulky and inefficient (notice how hot the plug gets if it supplies a 4 amp continuous load like a thermoelectric cooler).

    • kb50 2016-02-13

      Yet nobody has one. Magnetic port still restricts you to using the phone only near the charger, but not able to move about the room it is in.

  • Medved 2016-01-25

    I hope i’ll never get to live with powerful wireless charging hubs in my home. It’s a suicide. Instead, we should be looking to making batteries that can be charged less frequently… Or not at all. I mean, heard of Orbo? This can be a scam, but if not…

    • kb50 2016-02-13

      Must be a scam like the self powered motor. Science says you cannot get perpetual energy.

  • kb50 2016-02-13

    I disagree with all of the comments posted here.
    There is no such thing as a battery that never dies unless it were perhaps nuclear powered.
    Maybe one that lasts a very long time, but you cannot get something for nothing.
    Besides no manufacturer is going to invest in that technology.

    Wireless charging will require you to put a receiver onto your existing phone, until the cell phone manufacturers develop low cost ways to add it into new phones. Nobody is going to go out and purchase a new phone for a device that costs little or nothing to add to your phone. Also the devices can probably be made to complement the battery in your phone by being able to slip into place inside the battery compartment of phones that allow access to the battery (Iphone excluded however).  The idea of having wireless charging without the use of a pad, or using solar cells, is that you do not have to think about it, and your free to use your phone while it is charging.
    Sorry ask ANY cell phone store what is the number 1 part that breaks on a cell phone and it is the charge port. Since it can be physically yanked, tripped over, and physically wear out, it is a problem. Even Iphones magnetic charge port which is a great idea, but still means you have to connect it. Yes screen breaks ranks right up there for phone failures, but you dont drop your phone to be able to charge it.
    Phones can transfer data over WiFi so with the right apps, there is no reason to have to use a data cable.
    Cloud storage solves that problem anyhow.

      Bombarded my radiation at a power level of watts? No does not require watts.Do your research!
    The power levels are safer than your microwave oven, the phone itself, and many other devices in your home that emit as much if not more radiation. Its at a frequency that is not harmful to animals, or humans otherwise you would not be able to be in the same room, which is plain ridiculous.

      Face it, its not for everyone, but it is for someone who does want it. I want it, and it would be especially nice to have it as an option (aftermarket or otherwise) in your car.
    They already have wireless TV sets, small appliances (blenders and so on) and I did not see the demonstrators being sent to the hospital. Its not Chernoble technology. Nothing nuclear. Its IMHO totally harmless, and less likely to cause cancer than many other items in the average household.

    Cell phones charge at about 1/2 watt of power, but they emit up to 1 watt of power,  so the phone itself is more harmful in use than the amount of power present in the room that the wireless charger is being used in.

    The frequency by the way is in the 800 to 2.4 GHZ range, but it is not at such a high power level to cause cancer.

  • kb50 2016-02-13

    Your research in the amount of power a phone uses to charge. Your basing it on what a typical wall plug charger can deliver to the phone is about 1 amp maximum and cell phones never consume more than 500 ma, to charge even a dead battery. Data cable to your phone, but your not removing the charge port, so you can still connect a data device, and make use of it i.e. to tether or data cable connection into your computer etc. No restrictions need to be made there.  DC-DC conversion, well the battery operates at 3.5 volts, and the usb port is 5 volts, so your already using a DC-DC conversion inside the phone. The charging port chip, is a smart charger device, so it safely charges the battery.  Asking to quick charge a Li-Ion battery is suicide. It could easily explode. If your charging connectio is getting hot, then you better replace the phone as it is unsafe. Iphone magnetic charge ports are still electrically connected. Its a magnet holding the contacts in place. It is not a wireless charge port. Should dirt/dust get in there, it could actually overheat and catch fire.

  • sensacell 2016-10-24

    Any wireless charging technology is going to introduce substantial inefficiency into the process, all going in the wrong direction for humanity, energy efficiency should trump lazy convenience.

    Any kind of energy transfer method that can deliver 5+ watts in the middle of a room makes for a room that I would not want to enter, the inverse square law tells a scary story there.

    • ege124 2017-02-10

      Actually it’s a dipole so it’s inverse cube.

    • mrred128 2017-05-15

      Then away from microwave ovens. Any leakage (they all do, to some degree) would be more dangerous than this. Then there are light bulbs….... we can go on.

  • mrred128 2017-05-15

    I can honestly say that I love charging wirelessly. Since I got my wife to use it too, her destruction of her cell phones has dropped considerably. She not only destroys the cords but the socket on the phone too.

    By keeping pads in convenient places, the phones tend to keep topped up all the time. With the point of “cant use while it is charging” mentioned frequently here, our phones don’t get low enough to be a concern.