At CES 2012 Toshiba unveiled a tablet. Everybody did. But Toshiba’s was different. It was a tablet that offered wireless charging via inductive technology, even while completely submerged in water.

It’s got me thinking all the way back to the Palm Pre, and how wireless charging should, by all rights, be a part of our everyday lives by now. So how come it’s not?

The Palm Pre launched in 2009. While WebOS went on to enjoy a cult-like existence beyond that handset, the hardware’s standout feature was the ability to charge the phone by simply placing it on a magnetic block.

Inductive charging isn’t anything new, but this was the first phone to implement the technology in a phone. And it piqued my interest.

At almost the same time, a company called Powermat started selling a flat pad that would allow your mobile devices to charge wirelessly, so long as they were dressed in a bespoke inductive case. Energizer and several other companies now offer similar peripherals.

The future

At that time I remember getting excited about the future, and was absolutely certain that the technology found in these cases would worm its way into every mobile phone, just as it was in the Palm Pre.

I was convinced in 2009 that by the time my next smartphone was on sale I’d be able to pop it down on a charging mat and have it gleefully juice itself.

But it’s 2012 now, and that still hasn’t happened. In the time between then and now, the mobile phone industry seems to have become preoccupied with technologies that, to me, seem far less impressive and useful. NFC has been the talk of the industry for much of the past year, but its use in daily life has still yet to present itself to me.

Inductive charging has been forgotten. Or has it? While no handsets currently on sale have the necessary magnetic coils inside it to allow such electro-magic, there is some backstage work being done to get us there.

Establishing a standard

As with most things of this nature, the mobile industry requires a standard to be decided upon before everyone pays it any attention. That’s the job of the Wireless Power Consortium, a group effort made up of tech glitterati formed in 2008. A standard for inductive charging was sorted out in the dying days of 2009.

Qi (pronounced ‘Chee’) was the outcome: a way of implementing inductive charging technology into mobile devices that every manufacturer could use to avoid the kind of incompatibility issues that using several different methods would bring about. it’s the standard that most of the charging mat solutions use.

The fact that this consortium exists points out that the technology industry is, to some degree, interested in getting the ball rolling, but it’s taking its sweet time.

While the car industry is making headway in using the Qi standard to let you park your future Ford on top of a charging bay, the uptake in mobile phones is still beyond sluggish.

Oh, the possibilities…

Am I the only person who thinks that there’s a huge opportunity being missed? In its most basic state, having inductive charging crammed into the back of your phone will save you a job of trying to retrieve the charging cable from behind your bedside table every night, but it could go so much further than that.

What I want is to be able to go into Starbucks, put my phone down on the table and know that it’s charging. Even if the charging in such places was restricted to a dedicated strip of electro-magnetic goodness, rather than the whole table, having an infrastructure like that would forever end the battle for smartphone battery life.

The latest victim of the smartphone battery curse

That’s a battle that only seems to be getting more hard to win. Smartphones with brighter screens and more powerful processors than the previous generation are still being served by slimline batteries that haven’t evolved as much as the bits sitting around them. Having a world geared up to help you charge on the go just makes sense.

Physically placing your device on a charging pad is all very doable in the here and now, but the future will take that idea even further.

Newer implementations of inductive technology go even further. Witricity is a competing standard to the WPC’s Qi, but it has an arguably brighter future.

Using specially designed magnetic resonators that have much more power, Witricity’s “Resonant Magnetic Coupling” power source hubs at like WiFi routers for power – they can actually pump power out from the mains across large distances.

That means you could have a hub in your house that would throw power out to your mobile phone, laptop or tablet throughout the day completely sans wires. All that would be needed is for your mobile device to have one of Witricity’s receivers built into it.

If that were the case for all phones, who’s to say that all pubs, cafes, libraries, train stations and bus stops couldn’t offer free power just as most now offer free WiFi?

Wrongly ignored

It’s a bold vision for an always-on future, but it’s one that’s no longer science fiction; it’s completely doable with the technology we have now. But all of this requires the mobile phone industry as a whole to become interested in the technology all together, which sadly it’s not.

I have a feeling that all it would take in terms of a kick-start is for one of the major manufacturers to decide that it’s worth pursuing. If the iPhone 5 launched with Qi inductive charging built in and the power to charge it by simply placing it on a small space of work top, Apple’s rivals would react incredibly quickly. The same goes for Samsung and its next Galaxy S handset.

The Palm Pre probably would have jump started this itself, had sold more units than it did. As it is, the Pre seems a bit ahead of its time – a phone that was offering everyone a little taste of an amazing future, but one that was wrongly ignored.

I hear many people arguing that hardware in phones is reaching a plateau. We’ve now got quad-core devices with super-dooper AMOLED Retina displays, NFC, Bluetooth, HD cameras and all manner of other top-end components, so the focus for new mobile tech has, over the past year or so, turned to the advances in software.

But there is something else that can be added to the spec sheet. Inductive charging is a real-world piece of tech that could be added to the current mobile phones today, and it massively enhance their appeal. I just don’t know why it’s being left to the likes of Energizer and Powermat, rather than becoming a truly mainstream technology.

  • Hashishbob

    This is NOT WIRELESS !!!!!! You need the plug/cable/power mat & a receiver. This is MORE complicated than just plugging it in. I’d rather use the ‘Bluelounge MiniDock’ Once again – THIS IS N.O.T. WIRELESS.

    • Lloyd Arkell

      of course it’s wireless, yes you plug in the transmitter – the power has to come from somewhere! but any device with the receiver built in will receive power without wires – WIRELESS

    • Rob Hunter

      So are wifi, bluetooth and infra-red not wireless technologies either because their transmitters and receivers are connected to wires?

  • Anonymous

    It took years before bluetooth got implemented in all mobile phones, hopefully this year or at the latest 2013 we will see more wireless charging.

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