Many Android phones, like Samsung’s Galaxy S7, have some form of built-in wireless charging. But the only way to charge an iPhone remains through an old-fashioned cord.
But there’s a growing amount of evidence that this will change soon.
Bloomberg reported in January that Apple has been working on a wireless charging technology with partners that would allow its devices to siphon power from “further away from than the charging mats used with current smartphones.”
A Morgan Stanley analyst note from February says the same thing: it expects wireless charging to be added to the iPhone in the next 1-2 years, based on industry experts.
Apple has filed a few patents describing wireless charging, and The Wall Street Journal reported that it was looking into “a new way of charging” back in 2012. Given Apple’s tepid approach to wireless charging so far, it’s unlikely that Apple is working on implementing the same tech that’s currently on the market.
All signs point to one partner: Energous, a publicly traded company that’s firmly in its R&D phase at the moment. It’s come up with a system called WattUp that enables smartphones and other small gadgets to charge from as far as 15 feet away from a wireless transmitter.
Here’s why so many people think Energous’s wireless charging system is going to end up in Apple products:
Energous CEO keeps alluding to a “key strategic partner” that sounds a lot like Apple
In early 2015, Energous said that it had signed a deal with “one of the top five consumer electronics companies in the world.” That narrows the possibility down to only a few companies: Apple, Samsung, Hewlett Packard, Microsoft, and Hitachi.
During a conference call on Thursday, Energous’ relationship with its “key strategic partner” kept coming up.
“The whole relationship and the internal development are really shrouded in secrecy. They’re compartmentalized even within our key strategic partner,” Stephen Rizzone said. “There is an element of secrecy to them and so we really just can’t speak to any component or any specific as it relates to the milestone or development.”
But Rizzone did confirm that Energous continues to hit milestones for its #1 customer. “One path is to actively support our key strategic partner as the adoption process moves to their organisation,” Rizzone said. He believes Energous tech will be in consumer hands “late this year early next year.”
Also key: whoever Energous is working for is going to help shepherd the company through the tricky FCC approval process. Apple’s compliance team shepherds hundreds of products through the FCC.
It’s the only long-range wireless charging technology ready to ship
While Energous isn’t the only startup trying to crack wireless power, it may be the only company that can deliver a working product for production in the next two years.
Essentially, WattUp sends focused signals on the same frequency as Wi-Fi. A chip connected to a small device captures those signals and converts them into power. It’s safe, which is important as it and its partner companies attempt to secure FCC approval.
uBeam, for example, is often considered a close competitor, but its ultrasound technology is firmly in the prototyping stage as physicists and experts question whether its wireless charging is even physically possible.
Another potential competitor, Witricity, uses technology that is an enhancement of the current magnetic-field based approach used in phones like Samsung’s Galaxy S7, and counts Intel as an investor. However, its approach seems like a much better fit for electric cars or laptops, and not phones. Plus, its range tops out at only a few feet.
Energous has been giving full demos of its technology for the past two years and it appears to work just fine. CEO Stephen Rizzone said that it’s already shipped development kits to partners. According to the company, its wireless charging system is about 70% efficient already and still improving.
Apple and Energous are on the same standards group for designing wireless charging tests
Disruptive Tech Research analyst Louis Basenese said in a research note that a compliance manager at Apple, Michael O’Dwyer, is on a standards committee to develop standard ways to “test wireless power transfer products.”
As Basenese says, it’s unlikely that Apple would be on such a committee unless it saw a scenario in which it would have to test a wireless charging product it makes. And guess who else is on that committee? Energous’ director of regulatory compliance.
Additionally, an analysis of LinkedIn profiles finds multiple engineers who have moved from battery development at Apple to roles at Energous — one of whom wrote that she “specialised in major accounts.”
If Energous is Apple’s wireless charging partner, it just gave a few major hints about when you can expect the technology to hit the market. It’s sticking to its “late 2016” timeline for its technology to make it into consumer products, but it’s the “mid-size and the full sized transmitters” that its key strategic partner is interested in.
The “mini” transmitter is geared towards wearables and other smaller devices, according to Rizzone.
“They are more complex, they are going to take longer to both integrate into the products of our key strategic partners,” Rizzone explained.
So while the evidence is stacking up that Apple may be working on wireless charging technology, it probably won’t be ready in time for the iPhone 7 that’s expected to come out late this year.
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