How 'Qi' wireless battery charging could help people ditch the cords

The growing Qi standard, which has been adopted by more than 200 companies, can charge more than 55 million electronic devices wirelessly. Adoption is growing, but some devices – such as Apple's iPhone – currently don't support the standard.

Craig Ruttle/AP/File
Tunisia Wragg, a staff member with former New York Assemblyman Sheldon Silver, checks a cell phone at a charging station in New York's Chinatown in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in November 2012. A wireless charging standard called Qi embraced by more than 200 companies promises to make wireless charging available in homes, offices, cars and furniture.

With cellphone batteries typically lasting about a day because battery technology hasn’t kept pace with the ever-increasing power of many feature-rich phones, reaching for a cumbersome charger is a necessary chore.

A new standard for wireless charging that’s becoming increasingly prevalent in furniture, cars, and some airport lounges and hotels wants to change that.

The concept behind the chargers is straightforward — a base plugged into an electrical outlet emits a constantly-varying magnetic field, which causes a receiver in the device to vibrate, powering the battery and allowing it to charge.

The technology, known as resonant inductive coupling, has been used for more than a century — it was used in inventor Nikola Tesla’s Tesla coil, which produced very high voltages at a high frequency — but in recent years, a move to develop a common standard for consumer electronics has been growing.

So far, more than 200 companies — including Microsoft, Samsung, LG Electronics, Verizon, Sanyo, and Phillips — have agreed to use a standard for the chargers called Qi (from the Chinese word for “air” or “natural energy”).

The market for wireless chargers has been growing steadily, with companies shipping 55 million devices that charged wirelessly in 2014, which grew to an expected 160 million this year, or $1.7 billion in sales, according to the market research firm IHS. That market is expected to grow to $8.5 billion in sales by 2018.

The furniture maker Ikea recently introduced its own line of wireless-charging products, including a desk lamp featuring a wireless charging pad and a standalone pad that can charge three devices at once.

So far, the Ikea products take slightly longer to charge a smartphone than a standard cable, writes Digital Trends’ Jenny McGrath.

“It was a bit of a drawback that I had to hover over the lamp whenever I got a message, so as not to interrupt the charging process. Yes, cords are a leash, but at least they give you some leeway. I could never read in bed on an almost-dead phone using Ikea’s technology,” she notes in a review.

There’s also been a growing consensus among a variety of suppliers — with wireless charging stations appearing in McDonald’s restaurants in the UK and the lobbies of hotel chains such as Marriott, Sheraton, and Four Seasons. Meanwhile, a Toronto-based company called ChargeSpot is currently working to retrofit offices and commercial spaces to use wireless charging, reports Entrepreneur Magazine.

Since the technology is relatively new, there are some catches — Apple’s iPhone doesn’t natively support wireless charging, for example, with Ikea including a special case to permit the devices to work with its products. It's generally supported by Android devices, notes Digital Trends.

Carmakers are taking notice of the technology, with Toyota offering wireless charging in its popular Camry and Toyota models and in Lexus cars, while BMW and Audi have begun offering it in some vehicles. Qi charging could eventually become a common standard across all automakers, IHS suggests in a study.

While some desktop-based models, such as Ikea’s lamp, still include a bulky adapter, as wireless charging continues to be adopted for use with more devices at home, at work, and in the car, it looks to be a key way for users drowning in cables to cut the cord and eliminate clutter.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.