Over the past few years, wireless device-charging solutions have come and gone, never really becoming the promised holy grail of ease and convenience one would hope. In theory it sounds great: Just drop your gadget on a little mat, which itself is plugged into an outlet, and your phone or MP3 player sits there and charges away.
So what’s the problem? Too many cooks in the kitchen, as different companies back different standards. The latest effort is a brand-new group called the Alliance for Wireless Power, or A4WP.
On Monday Samsung, Qualcomm and Powermat Technologies announced the newly formed group, which is also backed by Ever Win Industries, Gill Industries, Peiker Acustic and SK Telecom. According to the A4WP press release, here’s the goal:
The independently operated organization’s mission is to promote global standardization of a wireless power transfer technology that offers spatial freedom, to develop product testing, certification and regulatory compliance processes, and to foster industry dialogue with regulators on wireless power policy development. The alliance is targeting a broad base of consumer electronic devices to establish a worldwide wireless power technology ecosystem.
The A4WP will focus on a new wireless power transfer technology that provides spatial freedom for charging of electrical devices in cars, on tabletops and for multiple devices simultaneously.
Now consider this “about us” blurb from the Wireless Power Consortium, which was formed in 2008 and has 100 members:
The members of the Wireless Power Consortium cooperate to make it possible that their mobile phones can charge wirelessly on each other’s chargers. Proprietary and incompatible chargers are a waste. Consumers get the most from wireless charging when their phone can charge everywhere. That is our dream. An open standard, free for all to download, easy to implement with broad support from the entire industry.
Aside from the A4WP bit on spatial freedom and more types of devices mentioned, it sounds to me like we already have a wireless-charging standard: The WPC backs a standard called Qi, and ironically after a few years of using proprietary technology, Powermat actually joined the WPC and backed Qi just last year. Samsung too is currently one of the 109 WPC member companies.
So what gives here? The only reason I can see for the new group is that Samsung, Qualcomm and Powermat feel the WPC efforts to be too limiting. It’s not just phones that these companies want to charge wirelessly but tablets, cameras and gadgets in cars, perhaps. Either that or Powermat sold Samsung and Qualcomm on its own proprietary technology, which uses custom device backs and/or batteries to provide the wireless-charging capability.
Either way, more groups trying to do the same basic thing is bad for everyone. There’s a reason we use standards for communications, wireless networks and even electricity. Trying to break out different ways to wirelessly supply electricity to a nearby device only fragments the products and confuses both the market and consumers.
Don’t get me wrong. I loved the Touchstone wireless-charging dock for my old Palm Pre in 2009, but for all of my other devices, it was as effective a charger as a hockey puck would be. One-off charging solutions specific to a certain device or a particular brand of device don’t add value. Perhaps to the device manufacturer they do, at least in the short run, but it’s bad enough that our devices are locked in by apps. Let’s not cut the cord and be locked in by how we get electricity to them too.