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Why you plug gadgets into the wall like a Neanderthal

Mike Elgan | Aug. 26, 2013
Wireless charging? We have the technology; what we don't have is industry vision -- or unity.

In the future, your phones, tablets and wearable computing gadgets won't come with chargers — they'll use inductive chargers built into desks, kitchen counters, bedside tables, cars and other surfaces. Just placing a device on any convenient surface will charge it.

This future will be great for us lazy people, and there are environmental benefits as well.

More than one-third of the "stuff" that comes with your smartphone — plastic, wiring and electronics — is in the charger.

Each phone has its own personal charger destined inevitably for the landfill or an environmentally unfriendly recycling center.

How dumb is that? Billions of needless devices are manufactured and discarded every year.

Also, when a mobile phone is fully charged, or when the phone is removed from the charger, the charger continues to consume energy if you leave it plugged into the wall.

The promise of wireless charging is that it could solve both of those problems. With ubiquitous wireless charging, devices would no longer need chargers and power could be managed intelligently based on the device — or on the absence of one — much more efficiently.

We have the technology. So what's the holdup?

What's it going to take for wireless charging systems to be so ubiquitous that they're built into our tables, countertops, cars and desks?

What's it going to take for smartphones, tablets and wearable computing devices to not need dedicated internal chargers?

It's going to take a miracle. Here's why.

Why wireless charging has no juice
Yes, a few wireless charging gadgets are emerging here and there. But mostly, the product category is stuck in the dark ages.

The problem is that the wireless charging industry has three competing standards organizations and thus three different sets of standards and protocols. As a result, multiple technologies are competing to become the one true standard.

One of the standards bodies is the Power Matters Alliance (PMA), whose members include AT&T, Duracell Powermat, HTC, Huawei, Kyocera, LG, NEC, Power Kiss, Samsung, Sharp, Starbucks, ZTE and dozens of other companies. The PMA's standards and protocols are known collectively as "Power 2.0."

Then there's the Wireless Power Consortium (WPC), which includes Belkin, Energizer, HTC, Huawei, LG, Motorola, NEC, Nokia, Panasonic, Philips, Samsung, Sony, Verizon and many others. You may have heard about the WPC's devices, which are marketed under the Qi brand (pronounced "chee").

The third wireless charging standards organization is the Alliance for Wireless Power (AWP), whose members include Deutsche Telekom, HTC, Intel, LG, Qualcomm, Samsung, SanDisk and others.

The PMA and WPC are the main players. The AWP was largely irrelevant in the United States until recently when, for some reason, Intel joined.


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