With so many different technologies and products on the market are you still asking yourself, what exactly is wireless charging?
This is not an uncommon question as wireless charging really does come in all shapes and sizes, from toothbrush chargers to car chargers, from devices as small as a tennis ball to as big as your TV. Some require contact with a device, whereas others can charge through thick materials.
The Type of Charging You Will Most Likely Use
The most common form of wireless charger is the type we sell on our store at The Wireless Solution: inductive chargers. These allow you to charge your phone without plugging in a cable by utilising the physical process of electromagnetic induction.
As it stands this still amounts to plugging a wireless charging pad into a socket and placing your phone on top. However, this simple process actually provides various advantages including more convenience, safety and integration potential (we’ll go more in depth into these later on).
Unfortunately, inductive charging is constrained by distance, meaning that you have to place your phone with its back facing down on the pad for charging to occur, in some cases having to remove your case depending on its thickness.
There have been many attempts to create a charging process that occurs over longer distances that have had limited success. To many this represents the “holy grail” of true wireless charging whereby there are no visible wires at all. The problem is that the further distance you attempt to send an electromagnetic field, the more energy dissipates into the environment causing charging efficiencies to drop off significantly.
This is why, even though we support the future that the likes of Ossia and Wi-Charge are trying to create, inductive charging should still remain the most practical solution, at least for smartphones, for the foreseeable future.
By the way, if you see a kickstarter trying to claim otherwise without backing from scientific data, for the love of god please don’t give them your money!
The thing is, now that inductive charging has finally become unified under one standard, the distance problem is becoming less of an issue as we are now witnessing greater integration of inductive wireless charging in our environment. If this trend continues we can create the illusion that we really are charging without wires
How Inductive Wireless Charging Actually Works
While this all seems rather mystical, you might be surprised to hear how simple the science behind inductive wireless charging really is…
In fact, inductive charging is a technology that has existed in commercial products from as early as the 1990s:
Electric toothbrushes use weak electric currents generated between a transmitter coil in the charger and a receiver coil in the toothbrush to transfer electromagnetic power. This allows us to integrate chargers into a place that would otherwise be an electrical hazard.
Smartphone wireless charging adopts this approach but on a slightly bigger scale. Essentially, (don’t worry, we won’t go too deep into the science here) the wireless battery charging technology functions by generating an alternating current through a metal coil which resonates an electromagnetic field at a certain frequency.
The phone will then have a receiver coil of its own, which when close enough will be able to pick up the flux caused by the oscillations in the transmitter coil, inducing current into the device. This is known as inductive coupling. There you go, simple as that! Now you can sound like a tech boffin to all your friends.
The transmitter coil will only oscillate if it picks up a communication signal from a suitable device preventing energy being wasted when a device is not present or an unidentified object is placed on a charging pad.
To sum it up, inductive wireless charging operates via the principles of electromagnetic induction whereby if you move an electrically conductive material through a magnetic field, you make electrons flow. If you’d like a more in depth look at how this process works check out this video by AvE explaining some more of the science:
Why Wireless Charging Adds Convenience To Your Life
We here at The Wireless Solution haven’t built our business around wireless charging technology just by accident. We created this platform because we truly believe that wireless charging is the future and we think that the sooner the general population comes around to this realisation, the sooner we can create a world which benefits from the improved convenience it provides.
If wireless charging is affordable, effective and ubiquitous, the anxiety of low battery life will no longer be an issue.
Remember how in our previous post. we mentioned “nomophobia” – the fear that your phone will run out of battery?
Well whether we like it or not mobile phones are now a staple of our lives, and wireless charging is the key to maintaining this symbiotic relationship with man’s (and woman’s) new best friend.
I know what you’re thinking, this all seems well and great, but you want to know why you should adopt inductive wireless charging in your life right now. Until wireless ubiquity is a thing what’s the point in buying a so called “wireless” charger if the charger itself still needs to be plugged in?
Here are 5 clear reasons why you should be adopting inductive charging:
- Convenience – The ability to just “plonk” your phone down on a pad is an underrated convenience and the more inductive chargers you spread throughout your home the more this convenience can be multiplied. On the other hand, most USB and lightning plugs are small and fiddly, not to mention that the wires they come with are prone to tangling.
- Aesthetics – Inductive chargers just look cool, there’s no denying it – and there’s a different charger and colour scheme for every preference. If you really want to consider yourself down with the kids you need to have all the latest technology, and wireless chargers are the hottest gadgets on the market right now.
- Safety and Endurance – Wireless chargers are more stable and durable than your traditional charging cable, it’s no accident that we’ve all been through at least one charging cable in our lives that no longer works. If these cables are broken they can also become a safety hazard and have been known to cause painful shocks.
- Integration – Despite inductive charging starting out as the basic pad that we’ve come to know and love, the technology has actually grown to become something far greater than that. Thanks to standards like Qi we have now seen inductive charging be integrated into all kinds of products including car mounts, desk lamps and mouse pads. There has even been talk of integrating Qi into kitchen appliances.
- Price - The biggest gripe we still get from doubters is that the price of these charging products is not worth the added value. While this may have been true a few years ago, this is no longer a barrier to entry, as the price of inductive chargers has come down hugely. To prove it I’ll just link a £5 charger right here, although I’d highly recommend you invest in a better-quality charger, such as any of the products in our store for example.
Why Wired Charging is Still Hanging In There
You may be wondering what’s the catch here? If wireless charging is so great, why is a cable still the norm for charging your phone?
Well for one, it’s worth saying that we think wireless charging really should be the norm if we care about convenience, but its development has been plagued by a standards war that has left many consumers feeling uneasy about adoption.
However, a more practical explanation for why this isn’t yet the case is the efficiency:
Because you’re not charging the phone through a conductive medium, this type of charging can cause a greater leakage of energy, often felt through excessive heat production.
But over the past 10 years or so, wireless charging technology companies have been working hard to reduce this “leakage”.
We have now reached a point where commercial wireless chargers with a charging output of 15W can provide power to your device as fast as your average wired charger and with minimal heat or energy wastage.
General estimates put wireless charging at around 60% efficient compared with wired charging’s 75% efficiency. However, there has been a case made that if you consider end to end efficiency of a system, wireless charging could actually be more energy efficient.
The Wireless Charging Standards
It is important to note that, whilst all wireless chargers operate via the same physical principles, they are not all created equal.
Different charging standards mean that hardware can be made slightly differently so that the coils within different models oscillate at a different frequency. This means that if you have a phone which only supports one particular standard, it can’t be charged by the charging pad of a different standard.
There are two major competing inductive wireless charging standards you should be aware of:
Qi (pronounced “chee”) is the standard championed by the Wireless Power Consortium and is used in the majority of commercial chargers. It is utilised by more than 200 companies and since the 1.2 specification contains both inductive and resonant capabilities.
The main competitor to Qi has been a technology called PMA, devised by a company called Powermat and was the inductive standard of the Airfuel Alliance, the other major wireless charging alliance. It has managed to occupy the public charging niche by partnering with companies like Starbucks, this is most likely because Qi has managed to hold down most of the commercial market.
To find out whether your device is Qi or PMA enabled (or both) check out our wireless charging compatibility infographic.
Fortunately these competing standards are no longer an issue for consumers, since as of January 2018 Powermat joined the Wireless Power Consortium, effectively signifying the merger of Qi and PMA.
The Future of Wireless Charging
So where can this technology really go?
Inductive charging is constantly evolving. Whereas only a few years ago it barely amounted to a slow trickle of 5W of power, charging pads can now reach up to 15W and this will eventually become the norm as we start to move away from 10W fast charging.
While inductive charging doesn’t provide “true” wireless charging in the sense of charging from across the room, it is beginning to feel like this level of convenience the more that people buy into it.
As public charging companies such as Aircharge, Chargifi and Chargespot begin to grow, keeping your phone topped up will be as easy as putting your phone down on the train or in your favourite coffee shop.
Look out for greater integration, increased charging speeds and improved freedom of positioning as some of the coming advancements in inductive charging products.
If you’re interested in the future we really would recommend reading about the Wireless Power Consortium showcase at CES 2018 and their attempts integrate Qi charging into home appliances such as rice cookers and kettles – it’s exciting stuff!
The future really is wireless, that is no longer in doubt. The real question remains: are you making the most out of all this added convenience we have at our fingertips right now?
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- Tags: Aircharge, Airfuel Alliance, Battery Anxiety, Chargespot, Chargifi, Charging Efficiency, Charging Speed, Electric Toothbrush Charging, Inductive, Powermat, Qi, Resonant, RF, Starbucks, Wireless Charging Standards, Wireless Power Consortium, Wireless Ubiquity