Why doesn’t the iPhone have wireless charging already?

By

fnf
Get a move on, Apple!
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

Apple is finally working to bring wireless charging to iPhone, according to a recent report, but we’ll have to wait until 2017 to get it. Why? Because Apple doesn’t think the wireless charging standards we already have are good enough.

Friday-Night-Fights-bug-2Instead, the company is said to be developing a long-range alternative that means you won’t need to place your iPhone down on a special charging pad. But is this really necessary? Will the technology be worth waiting for, or should Apple just deliver wireless charging already?

Join us in this week’s Friday Night Fight between Cult of Android and Cult of Mac as we fight to the death over this very topic. It promises to be… electrifying.

Killian-FNFKillian Bell (Writer, Cult of Android): So, Apple is finally going to bring wireless charging to the iPhone, but according to Bloomberg, we’re going to have to wait at least another year for it. Personally, I don’t understand why it can’t just deliver it already. I don’t know why we need to wait for some special “long-range” system when the one we have is good enough for now. Apple already uses Qi charging technology for Apple Watch, so why not bring it to iPhone, too?

I know wireless charging isn’t a big thing for a lot of people, but it is a feature that sells. It has that simplicity and wow factor Apple usually laps up, and if it wants to encourage more people to switch from Android, it needs to deliver all the features Android has. Once you’ve had wireless charging, you don’t want a phone that doesn’t have it.

cartoonluke_360.pngLuke Dormehl (Writer, Cult of Mac): I fear you can already guess which two words I’m going to pick out of this as being very un-Apple-like: “good enough.” The fact is that, as the smartphone industry leader when it comes to successful innovation, you’re quite right: Apple would no doubt love to feature wireless charging for its iPhones. It’s a great concept not only because it makes charging easier, which sidesteps the question of issue the iPhone battery noticeably bigger, but also because it’s an easy selling point. No matter how much or little you know about tech, everyone is aware of having to charge their phone. And the fact that the technology is already out there means that Apple wouldn’t even have to do much R&D to incorporate it into its devices.

So why hasn’t it? Well, I’d suspect it’s because the solution that currently exists simply isn’t good enough for Apple. The main downside is that wireless charging is currently slower than charging with a cable. A lot of Android device makers offer quick charging right now, which lets you charge your phone incredibly quickly, but wireless charging doesn’t support this. There’s also the issue of competing standards — with Qi, backed by the Wireless Charging Consortium, pitted against Rezence, backed by Alliance for Wireless Power, and Powermat, backed by the Power Matters Alliance.

Of these, I think the last one is probably least important. As we’ve seen before, Apple’s got enough clout that it could decide the standards war simply by choosing to go with a particular technology. But it still speaks of a technology that’s not yet properly matured.

On top of all of this, there’s the fact that no aluminum smartphone can, at present, use wireless charging, without having to add an extra plastic case on the outside. It seems that Qualcomm may have recently solved that issue, but it was no doubt a big sticking point for Jony Ive and his well-known love of building metal devices.

Today’s report suggests that Apple is looking to solve a lot of these problems with its own solution — which may actually be a truly wireless solution by getting rid of the need for charging pads altogether.

Could it be that Apple’s holding back to deliver the killer blow with the ultimate solution to a problem we all face? It wouldn’t be the first time. And if it means getting it right, I’m happy to wait the extra year.

Killian-FNFKillian: I had a feeling you’d climb upon your high horse and pretend Apple doesn’t release products that are “good enough.” But let’s not forget that this is a company whose flagship smartphone still ships with a 750p display, a 1,715mAh battery, and just 16GB of storage as standard. If anyone knows how to sell a product that’s just “good enough,” it’s Apple.

No, wireless charging isn’t as fast as charging with a cable, but it’s getting faster. And many prefer the convenience. You can stick a wireless charger on your desk at work, one by your bed, and another in your living room and topping up your phone is as easy as placing it down when it’s not in use. Most people charge their smartphones overnight anyway, so it doesn’t matter how long it takes.

Competing standards is a non-issue, too. The vast majority of devices just use Qi, so Apple could just adopt that and it wouldn’t be an issue. Or it could do what Samsung has done with the Galaxy S6 series and make the iPhone compatible with both Qi and PMA.

As you rightly mentioned, Qualcomm has developed wireless charging systems that work through metal, and Apple has had plenty of time to adopt them for iPhone 7 this year. Qualcomm announced this technology last July, so by the time the iPhone 7 enters mass production, Apple will have had over a year.

Maybe Apple will be able to deliver a “long-range” wireless charging system, but we should get too excited by the phrasing there. It’s not like this system will let you charge your smartphone upstairs while the charging transmitter is plugged in downstairs; this will have its own limitations, too, and you can be sure you’ll have to be pretty close to it.

To me, it seems like this could complicate things. What if you accidentally put your phone down an inch outside the charging range and you come back an hour later to a dead battery? At least with today’s wireless charging technologies, you don’t have to worry about that — you know your phone’s going to charge so long as it’s sat on the pad.

cartoonluke_360.pngLuke: But existing “wireless” charging, with Qi pads, still comes with its own problems. The main one is that, unlike regular chargers, not only is it slower, but you also can’t easily use your phone while it’s charging. Right now, I’ve got my iPhone plugged in on the desk next to me. I can respond to messages, or pick it up to use Twitter or take a call, and nothing about that stops it from continuing to charge.

Wireless charging is definitely something I’d love to see with a future iPhone, but I’d like to see Apple get it right — not rush out a slap-dash solution just because that’s what Samsung’s doing.

This iPhone 7 concept has wireless charging, but the real thing (probably) won't.
This iPhone 7 concept has wireless charging, but the real thing (probably) won’t.
Photo: Ivo Marić and Tomislav Rastovac

Killian-FNFKillian: The pros still outweigh the cons. Unless your battery is almost entirely dead, you can afford to pick it up off the wireless charger to reply to a text message, then put it back down. And you need to buy a third-party cable to take calls on your iPhone while it’s charging anyway, because the one Apple provides isn’t long enough; you basically have to sit right next to the power outlet. At least you don’t have to worry about fumbling around for cables — which is a real pain at night — and replacing cables that break with wireless charging.

I just feel like the iPhone has gone from a product that revolutionized smartphones and paved the way with innovative new technologies to a device that’s always behind the competition. Rival devices have better displays, better cameras, bigger batteries, more storage, and more features. The only clear advantage the iPhone has is iOS, and that’s subjective.

With iPhone demand falling, I’m not sure Apple can afford to fall behind like this long-term.

cartoonluke_360.pngLuke: Fall behind? iPhone growth may be slowing, but let’s not forget that Apple continues to sell more iPhones than ever. We’re hardly talking about a product that is crashing and burning.

But that seems to be the difference between companies like Samsung and Apple. Apple takes longer to introduce certain features, but more often than not they turn out to be elegant, well-thought-through, and ultimately copied by the rest of the smartphone industry. Samsung just throws concepts at the wall and hopes one of them sticks. Wireless charging’s not perfect yet and, as much as I would love to see it, I’m happy to wait the extra year if it means that it lives up to the promise the technology has.

But maybe I’m just being an Apple apologist. What do you say we turn things over to the readers to chip in? Do you all think Apple should rush to release a wirelessly charging iPhone, no matter what? Leave your comments below — and have a great weekend!

Friday Night Fights is a series of weekly death matches between two no-mercy brawlers who will fight to the death — or at least agree to disagree — about which is better: Apple or Google, iOS or Android?

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  • wardmundy

    My car already has a wireless charging pad. No trouble at all to buy a new car to support yet-another Apple proprietary “standard.”

  • Scott Noble

    I find it silly that it is even an issue. Connecting to a port on the phone or a charging contact point is the same thing, you still have a wire somewhere to an outlet. 100% pure gimmick and marketing.

    • The Werewolf

      Fair enough – so the magsafe connector on MacBooks is pure gimmick and marketing? I mean – every other laptop just uses a plug shoved into the power port.

      Some reasons wireless charging is a win:
      1. You don’t have to remember to plug it in or unplug it – which you’ll appreciate when you’re in a hurry to get to work and forget to unplug it…
      2. No fiddling around finding the cable to plug it in – or handling the cable when you disconnect.
      3. It’s so easy to put the phone down on the charge pad and pick it up when you’re ready to use it that you quickly get into the habit of just always dropping the phone on the pad – keeping your phone always charged.

      That last one is particularly interesting to me because for the last week, my iPhone has had troubles with the Lightning connector I’ve been using and I get up, unplug the phone, shove it in my pocket and on the train to work realise that the phone is completely discharged.

      I also have a Nexus 6 which is my main phone and it’s always charged.

      Is wireless charging a *necessity*? Nope.

      But if Luke is right and Apple isn’t about ‘good enough’, then relying on the cable alone is ‘good enough’.

      • Gabriel

        1) You still need to remember to plug it in… you can’t just leave it in your pocket… You have to remember to put it on the base as much as you need to remember to plug it in.
        2) & 3) are the same. Yes it is easy, but as you sit on the desk you’ll have to put the phone always at the same spot, otherwise it won’t charge. With a cable plugged in I just plug it once and use it normally. I can use AND charge at same time and it is FASTER than wireless charging.

        And your problem with the lightning cable could easily be applied to wireless charging, as both are susceptible to problems…

        Wireless charging is yet another gimmick, it is not that useful besides the WOW factor.

    • itfa

      Perhaps its a gimmick to you, but I haven’t had to go looking for a cable between my bed and nightstand in years. I have a nice leather valet on my dresser that has a built in inductive charger in a smartphone size cubby right next to where I place my wallet, keys, pens, and pocket knife. I simply put my phone in its place when I empty out my pockets and I never have to give it a second thought. To me, knowing that when I pick up my phone there is absolutely no chance it will have less than a full days battery ready to go is worth the 20 bucks I spent on the charger.

  • Peter Sherriff

    Whilst Apple may indeed implement solutions in an elegant way, although often I would say even that’s subjective, the reality is that Apple’s business model and continued revenue growth is predicated on locking people into the Apple hardware and software ecosystem. They can’t do that using a standards-based approach so they have to come up with a proprietary solution then put their marketing muscle behind it and charge third parties a fortune for certification.

    Never forget that Apple is a massively commercial enterprise that’s looking out for its shareholders first and foremost and that any decisions they take are focused on maximising profits.

  • Tallest Skil

    Because it’s wasteful and a stopgap to real wireless power.

    • The Werewolf

      How is it wasteful? You really think Apple is going to invent some magical beamed power that transfers 100% of the electricity to the phone? I hate to break it to you – that doesn’t exist.

      All wireless power systems transmit more power than the receiving device can capture.

      • Tallest Skil

        >>How is it wasteful?

        Inductive charging loses something like half of the energy to the air.

        >>You really think Apple is going to invent some magical beamed power that transfers 100% of the electricity to the phone?

        Or you could just NOT argue from absurdity instead.

        >>All wireless power systems transmit more power than the receiving device can capture.

        And yet true wireless power is more efficient than this. I’d rather wait for that.

      • itfa

        What exactly is this “true wireless power” that you’re referring to, and how in the world do you know how efficient it will or won’t be?

      • Tallest Skil

        The stuff that’s actually wireless? Any of the various technologies that don’t require you to set your device down in a specific place to charge? Come on.

      • itfa

        So you are talking about a strong alternating electromagnet field filling a room. So you think that is going to waste less electricity than a charging pad?

      • Tallest Skil

        Nope, but you don’t actually care about the topic at hand.

      • itfa

        I use a charging pad, and if it could magically work throughout my entire house, that would be great. That being said, I don’t want to be living in an intense electromagnetic field that is capable of turning anything with a coil into a voltage carrying piece of metal. It wouldn’t play nice with everything from the springs in my pistols, to my key chain, and to my speakers. In addition to that, there is already significant evidence that living near such electromagnetic fields is tied to childhood leukemia and lymphoma.
        So yes, I do care about the topic at hand, and it would seem that I have put significantly more thought into it than you have.

      • Tallest Skil

        And yet you don’t even know what wireless power is, for fuck’s sake. Try harder next time.

      • itfa

        I apologize, I didn’t realize I was dealing with a child. Look, whatever you are envisioning here, it is both not wireless nor is it power efficient. Take a few physics classes.

      • Tallest Skil

        Hey, enjoy being wrong.