We waited two years for AirPower and in the end, Apple could not deliver. Numerous engineering challenges forced Apple to do something it rarely does – give up.
But the hurdles facing the team producing Apple’s first multi-device wireless charger are not insurmountable.
Consider the Source – a wireless charger and first product by tech startup Spansive that goes on sale today for $189. Its multiple charging coils allow a person to simply set their phone on the surface without having to move it around until a precise charging point is engaged.
This was the idea behind AirPower. Apple wanted a small, no-fuss mat that could simultaneously charge an iPhone, Apple Watch and AirPods
But heat and magnetic field issues ultimately doomed AirPower, according to reports.
Source wireless charger can handle heat
Spansive claims it has solved this problem with a four-phone wireless charger that closely resembles a small toaster in size. Co-founder John MacDonald said designers and engineers settled on a design and size that could effectively vent the heat coming from both charger and devices.
Apple, if patent filings are an indication, tried to fit several charging coils in a small space.
Source, according to MacDonald, uses less than 10 coils. Fewer coils cover more surface, he said, because of proprietary software-defined induction technology. It is capable of charging a phone in any thickness of case, even Otterbox, and goes through PopSockets.
“It’s an incredibly hard problem to solve,” MacDonald, one of two founders of Spansive, told Cult of Mac. “We knew the heat was going to be an issue. There’s a reason why every magnetic charger today is point-based. If you want to do a surface you need multiple coils. It’s hard to design the circuitry for this, way harder than (for) one or two.”
Source’s design is A-shaped with two phones fitting on each side (iPhones can charge alongside Android handsets). The space between the two decks allows heat to pass through. The charging surfaces have ridges, creating space for heat from devices to vent away.
MacDonald said the Spansive team came up with the shape to keep the power circuitry in the base and separated from the charging coils. This, too, keeps overheating at bay, he said.
There is a fan that activates automatically if the charging station gets too hot, but MacDonald said the fan stayed off in “99 percent” of the charging scenarios in testing.
Source also connects to WiFi for automatic software updates to make it compatible with the latest devices. It also has two USB ports in the base for charging other devices.
Lixin Shi, MacDonald’s partner, was working on wireless charging technology at MIT as a Ph.D. candidate when the two met. MacDonald, a physician from Toronto, was at MIT to get an MBA with an interest power for small medical devices.
The two formed their company in 2015 and two years later, won TechCrunch Disrupt with a prototype of Source.
For its first product, Spansive wanted to focus on a product for multiple smartphones in shared spaces, like kitchens, living rooms, and offices. MacDonald knows there’s demand for a single charging station that can handle more than just phones.
“From Day 1, our focus has been on multi-device charging,” he said. “The future is a multi-device world and one charger per device doesn’t cut it. We wanted to begin here, with phones, but keep expanding on what we can support.”