After cancelling plans earlier this year to launch a wireless charging pad, Apple appears poised to release an iPhone that will not only charge other Qi-enabled mobile phones, but also Apple AirPods and the Apple Watch.
Apple’s version of phone-to-Qi-enabled-device wireless charging has been expected in what’s likely to be called the iPhone 11, according to Bloomberg. The Apple event at which the device, and perhaps other hardware, will be unveiled begins Tuesday at 1 p.m. ET/10 a.m. PT.
The company has had mixed success with wireless charging in the past.
Apple originally announced plans for a wireless charger – AirPower – in September 2017, saying it would ship the multi-device wireless charger by the end of 2018. But as 2018 came and went, AirPower was a no-show. Each time Apple announced plans to showcase new products, industry experts speculated one of them would be AirPower. This past January, Hong Kong-based website ChargerLAB tweeted that a “credible source” in the supply chain had confirmed AirPower was already in production.
Actually, it wasn’t.
Three months later, the company finally threw in the towel on the wireless charger. Apple’s senior vice president of hardware engineering, Dan Riccio, said in a statement at the time that the AirPower wireless charger “would not achieve our high standards,” so Apple had canceled the project.
“We apologize to those customers who were looking forward to this launch. We continue to believe that the future is wireless and are committed to push the wireless experience forward,” Riccio wrote.
The company on Tuesday is widely expected to unveil a trio of phones, including “Pro” upgrades to the current iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max and a replacement for the popular iPhone XR.
Despite the expectation that reverse wireless charging would be among the phones’ new features, analyst Ming-Chi Kuo late on Monday appeared to throw cold water on the prospect. In a new analyst note on what Apple users can expect from Tuesday’s event, Kuo said the charging feature might fall short of Apple standards and therefore not be included in this year’s models. (Kuo does expect Apple to include an 18-watt power adapter for the Pro models, however.)
If reverse charging is offered, “devices like AirPods and the Apple Watch will be charged by laying them on the back of the phone,” according to Bloomberg. “It’s a Samsung-like feature that is more important since Apple scrapped its AirPower multi-device charger. The Apple logo on the back of the new phones will be centered, so users know where to put their AirPods and Watch for charging.”
Apple did not return a request for comment, but it would not be unusual for the company to follow competitors who’ve already launched smartphone-to-smartphone wireless charging.
“This is Apple catching up to the competition who have had wireless charging for some time,” said Jack Gold, principal analyst with J. Gold Associates. “Qi is the industry standard, so I assume that will be the case here as well (although Apple does do things in conflict with standards on occasion). And the only way it can offer charging to non-Apple devices is if it uses Qi.”
The first handset to offer device-to-device wireless charger was Huawei’s Mate 20 Pro, launched last October. Earlier this year, Samsung announced Qi-based, device-to-device wireless charging on the Galaxy S10 and Note 10 phones.
In 2012, Nokia was the first to adopt the Qi-based wireless charging in its Lumia 920 phone. The Qi specification, the industry’s most popular, allows for power transfer ranging from 5 watts to 15 watts in the latest v1.2 release. Apple chose 7.5W of power transfer for the iPhone 8 and the iPhone X – just two years ago.
Charging one iPhone with another will deplete “a lot” of power from the charging device, according to Gold. But, fully charging one smartphone from another is not really the main benefit handset makers are pitching.
“The intent really is not to do that, but to offer a quick charge, say 20%, to friends who are about to lose their devices due to dead batteries,” Gold said. “Or as I said, charging things like my watch or earbuds that really don’t need a lot of battery power even to fully charge, relative to the increased size of the batteries in the phone.”
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