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Wireless Power Is Still Pretty Useless

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The Powermat charging pad.

The technology industry has invested a lot of marketing energy and dollars into getting consumers excited about wireless power, the promise being that it will free us from the size and feature constraints imposed by batteries. There’s a consortium of bigwigs from Nokia (s nok)  to Dell (s dell) trying to advance a standard called Qi, and Intel (s intc) and WiTricity are trying to develop an even more compelling technology that will transfer power over the air. But we’re still a long way from cutting the cord.

Consumers intent on living a wireless life have two new options this holiday season — both of which are getting a lot of attention: mats on which they can wirelessly charge their mobile devices. Unfortunately this sounds far cooler than it really is. The two products — the Powermat, which goes on sale Sunday at Amazon, and the Duracell MyGrid, which went on sale earlier this month — use different techniques to charge a device, but both require the mat to be plugged into an outlet, which eliminates the wire to the device, but not the one to the wall.

Moreover, as I explain in a new report over at GigaOM Pro, (subscription required) these products aren’t likely to change the industry much unless consumers really want to shell out $140 or more to avoid inserting a micro USB adapter into the port on their phone. That’s a lot of money for convenience. As I note in my report:

Wireless power mats are a lifestyle technology, says David Baarman, the director of advanced technologies at Fulton Innovation and the lead inventor of its eCoupled wireless charging technology. And lifestyle technologies, like Bluetooth, have to be standardized, cheap to implement and dead simple to gain mass adoption.

For real innovation, we’re going to have to wait for Intel and WiTricity to bring their wireless charging over the air capabilities to the mass market (or until solar or kinetic energy harvesting become efficient enough to deliver sufficient power quickly).

For more on today’s wireless power options check out the report, or our 10 Things to Know About Wireless Power.

13 Responses to “Wireless Power Is Still Pretty Useless”

  1. Christoph Sullivan

    Isn’t wireless power, oh I don’t know, a little DANGEROUS!! I don’t know anything about this subject (please help me), but I don’t think that I would like electrical current (the stuff that’ll kill you if you stick a fork in the plug) going through my arm. Is this actually safe? Please tell me. (I’m 16, so I want to know if this will actually turn out well or if I should tell me friends and spread the word.)

  2. I understand that _consumer_ wireless power has not yet achieved its full potential. But those systems do not represent the entirety of wireless power…

    For example, RFID access cards (like those found in student IDs) use wireless power to transmit their ID. Quite ubiquitous, and definitely not “useless”.

    There are also examples of robots using wireless power to great utility — again, not “useless”

  3. That is bec. these pad folks don’t really solve the cord problem. They do provide a novel and convenient way to recharge devices but don’t really “cut the cord.”

    To do so, you need a long distance solution like the folks at Witricity and PowerBeam are developing. Witricity can transfer at about 7 ft max and PowerBeam can go at least 30 ft. and more. These guys are the real solution to freeing us from the tethered power cord.

  4. What this needs is incorporation with cars. If your center console had a built in wireless charging mat at a nominal cost, or as standard equipment, you’d think twice about buying a phone that had a built in capability, or a case that provided it as an add-on. That might generate enough of a tipping point to convince people to shell out more money for a charging pad at their nightstand or by the door.

  5. The part that attaches to the device to enable the wireless charging also frequently add to the bulk or overall size of the device. Is it worth having the added weight/size while you carry around the device all day just so that you don’t have to insert a plug or dock it in something? When you also factor in the price, I’m guessing not.

  6. anonymous coward

    Q: how environmentally responsible are these things ? 1: Is the mat plugged in and consuming power even when it is not charging any devices, and 2: How does the efficiency compare to a straight plug-in plain wire charger?

    • Michael C

      1) Yes, the mat WILL consume power while plugged in. These types of inductive chargers basically work like a transformer. When your device is close to the base or mat, there’s a magnetic field that the base/mat creates that the device uses to charge a battery. Now these bases or mats can be smart enough to know when a device is not present so it can turn off the charging field, but it will always be consuming power while it’s waiting to detect when a device shows up.

      2) Anytime you change states of power you lose some of it, through heat, radiation, etc. This happens when you charge a battery and it warms up. You waste some of the electricity in the process. The same happens when you run a current through a transformer. Some energy is lost through heat, and some through wasted electromagnetic radiation. The point here is that anything other than a direct electrical connection to your wall outlet will be less efficient…..period.

      If your concern is about environmental responsibility, then don’t buy this unnecessary gadget. Just use the plug-in charger your device came with.