Two Different Kinds of Juice

Wireless Charging Standardisation Is Still in a “Painful” Phase

When Apple became a member of the Wireless Power Consortium (WPC) last month, it became a reasonable assumption that a future iteration of the iPhone would include wireless charging features. When Apple joins a standards body, it does so for tangible, commercial gains.

The WPC is the group behind the Qi wireless charging specification. The organisation lists more than 200 member companies and almost 600 Qi-certified products. From Samsung phones to Audi cars and Ikea furniture, Qi has been implemented in a range of products.

The WPC is not alone in developing so-called wireless charging technologies. A standards organisation called the AirFuel Alliance develops rival specifications. It lists about 120 member companies and close to 70 certified products.

At Mobile World Congress 2017, the AirFuel Alliance announced that 10 companies recently joined the consortium including Huawei and Bose. Earlier, the organisation officially welcomed Apple, not as a member, but to the world of wireless charging. AirFuel points out that the industry is still going through the “painful” phase of standardisation, and subtly hints that in the end, there will be just one group.

There’s no doubt that other types of technologies have competing standards bodies, and there is often room for several solutions.

Membership in these two wireless charging bodies is not mutually exclusive and several companies have hedged their bets, joining both. In fact, certain products are certified by both organisations. Samsung, for example, developed its flagship Galaxy line to be compatible with the standards of both the WPC and the Airfuel Alliance.

Wireless charging offers a subtle convenience, but one that takes charging a device from being a mild chore to a simple task, enhancing the user experience. Particularly in smartphones, devices which need constant battery attending, wireless charging is a smooth supplemental feature.

Most phones don’t support wireless charging yet, but if Apple begins to adopt this feature, we expect it to get implemented across the industry. Ideally, there would be cross-company compatibility. Interestingly, in November 2015, CCS Insight predicted wireless charging would be adopted by the mass market in 2017 on the expectation that Apple would integrate wireless charging into the iPhone 7. This proved premature, but we still maintain our view that Apple is the market maker for this technology even though other companies such as Nokia and Samsung have been integrating it for years.

As we’ve mentioned before, the consumer confusion caused by competing technologies is slowing adoption (see It’s Time for One Wireless Charging Spec). Apple could be sending a powerful message to the market later in 2017, making a choice that would push Qi to critical mass.