Powering up a phone, no cords needed

Written by New York Times | Updated: Aug 14 2014, 07:24am hrs
It may not seem hard to plug a cord into the wall to charge your mobile phone or tablet. Nonetheless, a number of companies are trying to figure out how to save us from the effort. While still in a nascent stage, wireless charging is becoming a reality, with recent announcements by Starbucks and Cadillac that theyll both be offering the technology. Set your smartphone down on a small mat at a table or in your cars dashboard, and your device will charge.

Its a paradigm shift, said Daniel Schreiber, president of Powermat, one of the industrys major players in this technology. Once you have wireless charging in cars, your bedroom and a coffee shop, you dont have to think about power.

There are two main competing versions of wireless charging trying to gain market share. Both use a similar technology that allows users to place smartphones or tablets on a charging mat and power up in no more time than using a cable would take. For the wireless connection to work, a receiver which could be in the device but at this point is more likely to be in a special case that you have to buy picks up an electrical charge from a transmitter coil in the charging mat.

The Wireless Power Consortium, a trade group, is promoting one technology, Qi (pronounced chee). The consortiums members include LG, Philips, Samsung, Sony and others, with more than 500 Qi-compatible products now available.

Its competitor, the Power Matters Alliance, has joined up with a third group, the Alliance for Wireless Power, or A4WP, which uses a slightly different technology, to create one interoperable version that will also allow the transmitter and receiver to be placed at greater distances from each other.

Powermat, the alliances most prominent member, is supplying the technology that Starbucks will use when it embeds charging stations in all its company-owned stores in major US markets by the end of 2015. Each shop will have about 12 charging stations.

So which technology is better According to Schreiber of Powermat, neither. At a technology level, the differences are not that pronounced, he said.

Unfortunately, charging a device wirelessly does not mean you can simply plop any smartphone down on a power mat; a compatible receiver is essential. Although those receivers may one day be built into phones, for now, they usually require some sort of case.

Samsung, among other manufacturers, offers replacement wireless charging backs for its Galaxy S4, S5 and Note 3 phones. Googles Nexus 7 tablet includes built-in wireless charging. If you use an iPhone and some other Android models of phones and tablets, youll need to ditch your current case and wrap them in what could be a bulkier receiver that is compatible with either the Qi technology or the one endorsed by the power alliance. Cases are a steppingstone to raise awareness of wireless charging, said Ryan Sanderson, an associate director at IHS, a research firm.

In addition to Starbucks, wireless charging stations can be found in some hotel rooms, airport clubs and restaurants. Automobile manufacturers are beginning to embrace wireless charging; not only does it help drivers keep their devices charged, but its ease of use theoretically encourages car owners to put away their distracting cellphones when in motion.

Audi will introduce wireless charging worldwide soon, said Anupam Malhotra, Audi of Americas senior manager of connected vehicles. By creating a phone box with wireless charging, the ability to gain access to smartphone apps on the vehicles display and a connection to an external antenna to improve reception, we can incentivise the customer to put the

device away, he said.