If you’re still charging your smartphone with a cable, enjoy it while it lasts. The way ahead seems to be wireless.
Most flagship smartphones now have wireless charging capabilities built in, and it seems likely that others will follow.
But oddly enough, wireless charging is nothing new.
Back in the late 19th century, Nikola Tesla tried to pioneer the transmission of electrical power without wires. He didn’t get far, and the concept was largely ignored until the 1960s.
By the 1980s, vehicles were being wirelessly powered. In 2006, the use of resonant coupling made it possible to transmit power safely without wires for several metres.
This was the dawn of inductive charging, which is at the heart of today’s wireless charging.
But what does it mean for our phones?
Cable and wireless
More and more high-end smartphones are being built with the tech to support Qi wireless charging.
Qi is an open interface standard that describes wireless power charging over very short distances up to 4cm. It has been around since 2008, and is now the industry standard.
Usually, Qi-standard wireless charging at low power is used for small devices like phones. It involves a smartphone and a pad, dock or stand.
The phone is placed on the pad, which transmits the power to the device through resonant inductive coupling.
This has several advantages.
One is safety: all of the electronics involved are enclosed so there is less risk of short-circuiting or dangerous wear on connection points.
No need to plug and unplug means no hunting around for a power source, and no more damaged cables. You just put that phone on the pad – and that’s it.
But wireless charging is currently slower than using a cable. If you’re used to turbo charging, that’s going to be a big drawback.
It’s also not uncommon for advice to fail to charge (or to charge extremely slowly) if it’s not precisely positioned on the centre of any pad smaller than the device’s own chassis.
At the moment, wireless also means taking the charge pad wherever you go, although there are an increasing number of ‘power pads’ being built into public buildings and spaces.
Some cars are now being built with Qi charge pads incorporated.
And there are lots of charge pads on the market that will charge any brand of phone, so you aren’t necessarily tied to one manufacturer.
A (very) few smartphones are even being made with not only wireless charging, but also reverse wireless charging.
That means you can top up your friend’s phone charge, or the charge of any wirelessly chargeable device, from your own smartphone.
But at the moment, it’s slow.
Will we all go wireless?
The fact that most flagship phones can now use wireless charging suggests its widespread use is imminent.
Whether the use of wireless pads and docks will completely replace the cable is not clear yet.
The current crop of ultra-fast charging cables will be hard to beat.
But with everybody from car makers to furniture firms building Qi pads into their wares, wireless charging may simply become too easy and convenient to ignore.
Just as headphones and speakers are often Bluetooth and wireless now, it seems likely that if Qi can be made faster and a little more efficient, it will become the technology of choice.
But until that day comes, it’s probably best to hold onto those cables for just a little longer…