Even though wireless charging has been around for a while, it has yet to gain mainstream popularity. Adoption of a new technology also takes time, but part of what is taking so long is the fact we are in the middle of a good old fashion standards race. Unfortunately for the consumer, 2015 is the year when they get caught in the middle.
You’ve probably heard of Qi Wireless charging. Right now it’s the only wireless charging solution that’s really available on the market. They have a multi-year head start on their competition, the Rezence Alliance for Wireless Charging aka A4WP.
Earlier this year, there were 3 different standard bodies: Qi with the Wireless Charging Consortium, A4WP with Rezence Alliance for Wireless Charging and Power Matters Alliance (PMA). Lucky for the consumer, this turned into a 2-horse race when the PMA decided to adopt the Rezence standard.
Right now the only shipping products are using the Qi standard. Rezence has one product on the market and that’s only because PMA shipped the Duracell Powermat. Qi currently reigns supreme on Amazon – if you search Qi Wireless Charger you get 17,369 hits. So right now Rezence is the underdog, but one with quite a lot of fight.
Intel detailed plans for their wireless future at the Wireless Charging Technology Forum in Taipei. It’s a 3-part approach; Wireless Display with WiDi that is already shipping on many Ultrabooks, WiGig which is going to get your Wireless up to Wired speeds making Wireless Data transfer blazing quick. And so the final step in cutting the cords is Wireless Charging. The Alliance offered a 40% discount to the 30 potential manufacturers in the room aiming to get their membership up from 135.
Intel is ‘the’ company in the Laptop space, AMD does rear its head in low-end budget devices, but Intel has 85% of the Laptop market and they will be aiming to roll these features out on their partners’ high-end devices. In 2015 we’re likely to only see a few examples of this rollout. Similar to how on Intel’s Reference Designs they offer NFC, it’s up to the manufacturer to decide if they are going to include it. On a side note, I wish that NFC was on all devices, rather than have everything sync to the cloud I’d love to tap to transfer my photos to my computer. Not all brilliant ideas are adopted, so fingers crossed we see someone other than ASUS come out with one.
A4WP certified devices are going to be rolling out in 2 stages. Smartphone solutions in the form of accessories and likely a handset at MWC, which are going to be announced at the beginning of the year. Tablet and laptop solutions are coming in the middle of the year. Not to get to technical, but it does not look like Qi is going to be fit to charge larger devices. It’s not that it can’t, think induction cooking, but for our gadgets the Rezence standard offers more flexibility to consumers.
In 2015 Rezence will also be looking to roll out ‘charge by’, not ‘charge on’. What we have today is ‘charge on’ – the smartphone sits on top of a charging pad. ‘Charge by’ means you could place your smartphone beside a laptop and it would charge. That our devices will have positional freedom is huge for usability. If you’ve even put your phone on a wireless charging pad overnight, only to find it dead in the morning, you know how essential this evolution is to the technology.
The Rezence A4WP technology also has a huge advantage when it comes to enterprise. One charger can charge multiple devices intelligently. Meaning if you are offering free wireless charging for an hour with purchase, the system is smart enough that it can terminate the charge to your device when your hour is up, and it can even send you a warning that termination is about to happen.
2015 also signals a massive push into the mainstream for Rezence as Starbucks plans on rolling out the charging pads in their stores. The San Jose and Boston pilot, last year, was successful enough for Starbucks to consider a wider expansion of the program to the Bay Area. Eventually the chain will install about a dozen wireless charging stations in each of its stores throughout the US.
Starbucks’ choice here is an important one, as it could give PMA/A4WP the critical mass it needs to force widespread industry adoption of its specification.
Where the Consumer Gets Caught in the Middle
This is where we are going to start feeling the pain. There is no good way to tell if your phone is going to charge, other then just placing it down. You just need to know what standard you’re using and the standard will have to be advertised. Perfect, not only are we now going to have to promote a new technology, but we’re going to have to specify which type.
The conversation around Wireless charging is an exciting one. It not only eliminates charging cables or plugs, but it has to potential to globalize power. Have a drawer full of travel adapters? If you’re a road warrior you’ll be on the look out for some that have integrated USB ports. If Wireless charging takes off you might be able to get away with never having to check and make sure you’ve got an adapter.
Lucky for us, the players in the industry aren’t as polarized as many members of the media (including myself) first assumed. Qualcomm has been an advocate and member of the Wireless Power Consortium, which promotes the Qi standard, but Kamil Grajski, President and Board Chairman of A4WP and Rezence, is actually a VP at Qualcomm.
So why join both Alliances, which is what many companies did (including Qualcomm & Samsung)? Fence-sitting was my initial thought. However, I didn’t know that a common strategy is to promote from within. If you want to see the industry grow, the end goal for both technologies is the same. If one standard can’t offer, or is unwilling to adopt certain standards, it can become clear to members which will work better for the consumer. Charge Beside is a logical step in the progression of the technology, and if Qi isn’t going to go there, Rezence can essentially lobby from within.
My next question was: when has Qualcomm been sure a promoter of the Qi standard if they were a founding member with Samsung of A4WP? The response is simple – Rezence wasn’t ready and Qi was. Qualcomm is in the business of enabling their partners to make competitive and bleeding-edge products. The manufactures wanted to include wireless charging. Who was Qualcomm to say no?
So who is going to win? Well, since the Wireless Charging Forum was sponsored by A4WP and Intel, the amount of kool-aid I drank for Rezence is strong. However, if we just look at the technology, it doesn’t make sense to go with something that doesn’t have a vision for the industry that aims to redefine our relationship with all devices and how they receive power.
Industry analysts IHS also provided projections for where they saw the industry heading, and it is still a two-standard race. Qi will plateau at its current levels, but won’t be going anywhere. If they are right you’re going to be dropping your phones into a lot of bowls hoping they will charge.
Intel’s future is an exciting one, and one that I want to see realized. In the meantime, 2015 is going to be the year when you try to love this future tech. You’re going to run into the same downfalls that we’ve seen when deciding between Beta-Max & VHS. The only thing that is certain is that the consumer is going to be left with a bunch of gadgets they can’t use.
If you want to know more about how wireless charging works, Phoneareana has a great post detailing the standards and how exactly they differ. Kamil also did an interview with Fortune back in the summer, detailing why the industry has been slow to adopt the new standard. It’s quite an interesting read.