By Alison K. Lanier
Apple recently filed a patent for a new type of wireless-charging technology which has the potential to unchain devices from cables as early as next year, according to a report from Wired.com.
Apple’s new product would create a magnetized field, extending about a yard from the “hub” device, where compatible products would charge by proximity. A vast step up from the wired, contact charging bases that are marketed under the “wireless charging” moniker now, the new system described in this patent promises a convenient advance to a typically streamlined Apple future.
What is in the Patent?
Current wireless charging tech, such as the LG Nexus 4 and the Nokia Lumia 920, need to be very close to the charging pad—essentially resting on it—to charge the devices. The Duracell Powermat, for instance, demands a set of separately-purchased components for consumers to use their charging pad system. While it is more convenient than actually plugging in the device itself, this method is not so very different, with the charging pad replacing a typical plug from phone to wall. The “wireless” here is a bit of an optimistic misnomer because there is still a device and a wired charger in the mix—albeit a charger which presents minimum effort and hassle.
Apple’s patent, “Wireless Power Utilization in a Local Computing Environment” proposes a technique that involves a new and far less cumbersome type of middleman device. A hub, probably inside an Apple desktop computer, would create a 1 yard charging area. The method would use near-field magnetic resonance (NFMR) to generate its transmitted charge. According to Wired, the magnetic field charges devices within about 1 yard, a convenient, fairly-large area for users to arrange their devices, rather than crowding them onto a single charging pad. Any device which includes an NFMR resonator would be able to charge off a given hub device.
What Sets This Tech Apart?
Wireless charging for devices isn’t completely new. It’s been attempted with the charging-pad technique, which more or less defeats the purpose by using a wired charging base. Apple’s new method echoes one released earlier this year. Last summer, Wired reported Intel’s announcement of a potential plan to implement a similar-sounding wireless charging technology to Apple’s. That technology would be installed, beginning in late 2013, in specific models of phones and Ultrabooks.
Apple, though, is renowned for its hyper-marketable, compatible, and easy-to-use tech. It’s easy to imagine Apple’s wireless solution trouncing the earlier version that Intel presumably plans to release. It’s unclear when Apple actually intends to put their new tech into production. If Apple does beat Intel to the punch, however, presenting a new family of sleek, futuristic products with a more recent version of Intel’s technology, Apple’s tech could appear on the scene with all the fanfare and admiration which the patent’s announcement solicited.
All a Part of the Apple Family
With its massively popular generations of iPods, iPhones, and iPads, Apple tends to set the standard for easy-to-use, wildly consumable tech. Part of the products’ appeal is their tendency to function as a streamlined group. Apple devices are designed to come in the complete bundle—families of products and chargers work together in a system, communicating and functioning with the same accessible apps, access to iTunes and iMessenger, and other similar services like the iCloud.
The danger of Apple’s wireless-charging marketing could lie in the convenient but insular nature of Apple’s advancing generations of products. With the potential release of these miraculously untethered devices next year, purchasers may get swept up in a wave of products that not only offer but rely on the NFRM tech, meaning that those infamous lines stretching outside Apple stores on release night could be composed of customers waiting to replace their entire compendium of i-devices.
Apple’s savvy marketers, though, will probably steer around that eventuality. No doubt Apple products will eventually hover wirelessly in the hub’s futuristic charging area, but at least for a little while users can anticipate continuing to grapple with the wired mess. It is easy to imagine, though, a new, streamlined vision of iPods arranged wirelessly around a Mac in next year’s Black Friday ads.
Unknotting the Mess
While wireless charging technology has been tried before, Apple as well as Intel’s potential new products promise a far less knotty, unwieldy future in battery life. Besides saving on the price of charging cables, this wireless tech has the potential to, say, transition to cars and save drivers the dangerous hassle of wired car chargers. While Bluetooth and other handless devices have been making cellphone use less cumbersome and less distracting, charging phones in cars remains a wrestling match. This wired approach presents a dangerous and inconvenient disruption to drivers trying to plug in. With implications for safety and for convenience, Apple fans can look forward to another user-friendly and hassle-free innovation from this masterful marketer.