Apple hires wireless charging experts, hinting at tech for 2017 iPhones & iPads

Posted:
in iPhone edited May 2016
Apple is hiring a number of people with experience in wireless charging, a technology it could be planning to build into 2017 iPhone and iPad models.




In the past four months, the company has picked up two people from wireless charging firm uBeam, The Verge noted on Tuesday. In fact Apple has hired over a dozen people with similar expertise in the past two years.

While most devices supporting wireless charging still require some form of direct contact which a charging mat, puck, or dock, uBeam has been working on using ultrasonic waves to charge devices from further away. The company has been controversial, especially since last week a former engineer claimed that its technology doesn't work as advertised and indeed may not be practical in a shipping product.

Apple has filed patents on distance charging in the past however, and in January a report claimed that the company was actively working with suppliers in the hopes it could upgrade iPhones and/or iPads sometime in 2017. One 2012 patent suggested charging at ranges up to three feet, but the January story said that Apple would like to go further still, requiring only that a device be in the same room.

The main issue may be energy loss, since while far-range charging is theoretically possible, power levels tend to drop off quickly. Even modern direct-contact wireless charging tends to be slower than hooking up a USB or Lightning cable, particularly compared with the "quick charge" features present on many Android phones.

At the moment the only Apple device with wireless charging is the Apple Watch, which comes with a magnetic puck that latches underneath.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 18
    hjmnlhjmnl Posts: 31member
    "The main issue may be energy loss, since while far-range charging is theoretically possible, power levels tend to drop off quickly. Even modern direct-contact wireless charging tends to be slower than hooking up a USB or Lightning cable, particularly compared with the "quick charge" features present on many Android phones." The premium android phones do wireless charging as fast or faster then iPhone on cable. The iPhone 7 has to have wireless charging or fall behind to others.
  • Reply 2 of 18
    Within the same room? Audacious.
  • Reply 3 of 18
    larryalarrya Posts: 602member
    This is the right approach. If I need a puck or mat, it's no different from needing a cable. 
    larz2112[Deleted User]1983
  • Reply 4 of 18
    larrya said:
    This is the right approach. If I need a puck or mat, it's no different from needing a cable. 
    One advantage of the puck/mat over cables is that it can be invisibly installed in furniture, like the Ikea pieces and at Starbucks. It's not revolutionary but just a little more convenience in the same way that bluetooth and wifi are vs wires
    propod
  • Reply 5 of 18
    evilutionevilution Posts: 1,399member
    One advantage of the puck/mat over cables is that it can be invisibly installed in furniture, like the Ikea pieces and at Starbucks. It's not revolutionary but just a little more convenience in the same way that bluetooth and wifi are vs wires
    So the 1 "advantage" is being forced to place your phone in a specific place on a piece of furniture. Even a portable mat seems a better idea than that.

    If you have a mat, you may as well have a wired charger.
    bobschlob[Deleted User]
  • Reply 6 of 18
    larz2112larz2112 Posts: 291member
    larrya said:
    This is the right approach. If I need a puck or mat, it's no different from needing a cable. 
    Exactly how I've always felt about the majority of current wireless charging technologies that use a charging mat or puck. You're device is still basically tethered to a static spot in order to charge.  In fact, I'd rather use a 6-foot charging cable and still be able to use my iPhone as I normally would rather than it laying horizontally flat on a charging mat, thus making it more difficult to use while charging. 

    Now if Apple could pull off wireless charging that only requires that the device be in the same room as the charger, that would be a game changer for me. ...but I'd also start to get a little concerned about the cumulative affect on my body from the constant exposure to all these radio, wifi, micro, and ultrasonic waves. Maybe it's not a big deal, or maybe in 20 years scientists will discover that the synergistic effect of this wave cocktail is a dangerous thing.
    jbishop10391983
  • Reply 7 of 18
    slprescottslprescott Posts: 765member
    I  wonder about the environmental and financial side-effects of energy loss from "in the same room" wireless charging.

    i.e., you still need to generate and pay for 100% of the energy sent from the charging transmitter, it's just that some % disapates in transmission to the receiving device (e..g., iPhone).  There's systemic waste in the solution (albeit for the benefit of convenience); that's troubling, depending on the magnitude of the waste.
  • Reply 8 of 18
    volcanvolcan Posts: 1,799member
    With the Watch it was about making it more water resistant but on the iPhone you still have the Lightning port so there is no advantage in that regard. For many users a cable or a mat is no big deal because the battery lasts all day in most cases, at least for me it does. I do notice an increased drain when using FaceTime over cell network, especially when the signal is weak, like 2 bars. A distance charging beam would probably not be able to keep up with that type of battery drain anyway, unless it was really powerful and then I would be concerned about health risks. If you were at home where you might find a distance charger you would probably have WiFi which would be less drain than cell anyway.
    edited May 2016
  • Reply 9 of 18
    MarvinMarvin Posts: 15,273moderator
    evilution said:
    If you have a mat, you may as well have a wired charger.
    The mat setup's only real advantage is being able to put multiple devices down to charge at once without plugging each one in. The more devices that people have, the more important this gets but it has the limitation of having the charger in one spot.

    There have been a few practical examples of wireless power at a distance made:

    http://www.wired.com/2015/06/power-over-wi-fi/

    The FCC limits the power to 1W so that's already 5-10x slower than a wired charger but it would be continually charging. It's about convenience and not speed e.g sitting at an airport for hours and your watch, phone, tablet, fitness devices are charging as soon as they are in range. The powifi people published a paper about it here:

    https://homes.cs.washington.edu/~gshyam/Papers/powifi.pdf

    They mention two other companies in the paper, saying that their implementations wouldn't pass FCC certification:





    They have to avoid blocking normal wifi and they can't transmit too much power for safety reasons:

    http://techcrunch.com/2011/03/23/man-creates-microwave-gun-from-small-appliance-starts-burning-things-video/

    Using directional waves helps reduce power falloff. One of the above videos shows the device sending a location beacon to the power transmitter, which can then focus the energy waves on the device.

    This technology is better suited for the internet of things rather than main devices like wireless kb/mice, cameras, Apple Pencil, watches, fitness trackers, headphones, other wearables - things that are annoying to have to keep charging regularly. Higher power devices like laptops, iPhones, iPads would probably be better off just getting fast charging batteries so you could plug them in and have them full in seconds/minutes:

    http://money.cnn.com/2016/01/07/technology/ces-2016-storedot-charger/

    That is expected to arrive next year in some form. They are focusing on fast charging batteries for electric vehicles. That's a good way to get started as it's low volume, high value and the battery size doesn't matter so much. They can make upwards of $10k per battery and then use that money to fund mass production for electronics.
  • Reply 10 of 18
    irelandireland Posts: 17,798member
    larrya said:
    This is the right approach. If I need a puck or mat, it's no different from needing a cable. 
    One advantage of the puck/mat over cables is that it can be invisibly installed in furniture, like the Ikea pieces and at Starbucks. It's not revolutionary but just a little more convenience in the same way that bluetooth and wifi are vs wires
    True. It's just too slow it's current implementations and the device needs to be placed down. It's certainly not good enough when you examine the problem.
  • Reply 11 of 18
    nikon133nikon133 Posts: 2,600member
    larrya said:
    This is the right approach. If I need a puck or mat, it's no different from needing a cable. 
    Puck, probably... but mat/pad, I'd disagree. I keep my charging pad where I leave my phone overnight. I'm a person of habit, my phone always rests on same spot on my night table (within couple of cm). No need for 2nd hand to find/plug cable, especially in the dark. Also reduced chance to forget charging, which did happen in the past with cable charging. Works really well for me.
  • Reply 12 of 18
    nikon133nikon133 Posts: 2,600member
    ireland said:
    One advantage of the puck/mat over cables is that it can be invisibly installed in furniture, like the Ikea pieces and at Starbucks. It's not revolutionary but just a little more convenience in the same way that bluetooth and wifi are vs wires
    True. It's just too slow it's current implementations and the device needs to be placed down. It's certainly not good enough when you examine the problem.
    It is not that bad. My old Lumia 920 fully charges in around 2h through wire... 2h 30min (ish) on Nokia's charging pad. Generic USB pads take longer.

    I do charge overnight in 99% of cases, so charging time is quite irrelevant for me anyway.
  • Reply 13 of 18
    bobschlobbobschlob Posts: 1,074member
    nikon133 said:
    larrya said:
    This is the right approach. If I need a puck or mat, it's no different from needing a cable. 
    Puck, probably... but mat/pad, I'd disagree. I keep my charging pad where I leave my phone overnight. I'm a person of habit, my phone always rests on same spot on my night table (within couple of cm). No need for 2nd hand to find/plug cable, especially in the dark. Also reduced chance to forget charging, which did happen in the past with cable charging. Works really well for me.
    My Apple iPhone Dock works better than any of those.
    Holds the device at a visual, and usable angle.
    edited May 2016
  • Reply 14 of 18
    clock07clock07 Posts: 39member
    Cordless charging for phones and likes is just a starting point for later shift into other areas, say EVs. It would be foolish from Apple, having such a huge R&D resources, not to fully develop such wireless ch in-house. All electric devices are inherently steered towards the critical meeting point - cordless chargers. 
  • Reply 15 of 18
    evilution said:
    So the 1 "advantage" is being forced to place your phone in a specific place on a piece of furniture. Even a portable mat seems a better idea than that.

    If you have a mat, you may as well have a wired charger.
    No it's different. It's subtle but one is tethered and one is not and the practical design possibilities offloading that legacy headphone jack in 2017 in favor of an all lightening or (please) USB C connector for a smart connector charging capability and an audio loss less lightening earphone sold along side it? Bluetooth Wireless apple branded beats 2 wireless headphones for 50$ less

    but yea just because ph makes an f sound doesn't mean it's an f

    so there different.

     
    edited May 2016
  • Reply 16 of 18
    Could work for cars, other vehicles, all sorts of devices.
  • Reply 17 of 18
    I agree that wireless charging tech today is tech for techs sake with no real advantage to a simple plug in. But honestly if they do it right, I'd have them drop the lighting port as well as the headphone jack. Put a series of magnets into the case back, have the smart connector. Would be like MagSafe for the iPhone. A magnetic puck on a cable would let me use the device while charging. Accessories like square readers could magnetize to the back and either connect with the smart connector or via Bluetooth perhaps. Docks could work the same way, magnets to secure and Bluetooth/smart connector to connect. Then a good set of Bluetooth headphones and I'd be set. Magnets and Bluetooth are nice and universal as well. And then you'd have the perfect beautiful portless iPhone, that is completely sealed. Remove the home button at the same time, and go as close to edge to edge as is possible for the screen, and that'd be a hell of a dramatic redesign for the 10 year anniversary next year. 
  • Reply 18 of 18
    evilution said:
    So the 1 "advantage" is being forced to place your phone in a specific place on a piece of furniture. Even a portable mat seems a better idea than that.

    If you have a mat, you may as well have a wired charger.
    No it's different. It's subtle but one is tethered and one is not ... 
    How does the power GET to the charging mat/pad? A wire, i.e. it's also "tethered".

    I used to have a powermat which charged 3 devices at once, I had powermat cases on my ipod touch and my iphone 3G. The mat still required to be plugged in with a trailing cable, it took up more space than a cable itself on my bedside table and even though it was magnetic, I'd wake somedays to find it wasn't exactly on the "spot" for charging and the battery had died through the night.

    Now, I have a weighted dock on my desk, I can plug and unplug my 6S one handed, even without looking now.

    Until wireless charging doesn't require precise positioning and a tethered 2nd device, I don't see the point in it.
    edited May 2016
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