Wireless Charging Powers Forward for Mobile Devices

Gadgets are increasingly becoming more mobile and wireless, and we're breaking free of cords and wires--or so we wish. Even wireless devices have to be plugged in every so often to recharge their batteries. Wireless charging technology could change that, though, and enable us to live in a truly cord-free world.

What if you could travel with just one charging option for all your digital devices, instead of lugging around a tangle of charging cables? Wouldn't it be nice if you could set down your smartphone on a special charging table or car dashboard to power it up without any cords?

Major growth is coming soon for the wireless charging market, according to market research firm iSuppli. The company predicts a 65-fold increase in the overall market in the next few years, and estimates that more than 230 million electronic devices with wireless charging functionality will ship in 2014.

In this article, I'll discuss the pros and cons of inductive and conductive wireless charging technology, and I'll describe how three wireless charging products worked for me.

Why Wireless Charging?

Plugging your device into an electricity source with a cord is a tedious pain--especially when you consider the diverse array of connector types and power cords involved. Traditional charging relies on electricity conducted directly between a device and a connecting physical wire or through contact with batteries. On the other hand, inductive charging uses magnetic and electromagnetic energy to induce a transfer of power wirelessly. Many electric toothbrushes charge this way.

Most smartphones rely on old-fashioned conductive charging, requiring you to plug in the handset. However, you can charge the Palm Pre by placing it on the HP Touchstone wireless charging base, because inductive charging technology is built into the Pre's case. Both HTC and LG announced smartphones at the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show that include wireless charging capabilities built into their batteries.

Other wireless charging options include the Energizer Qi, the Powermat, and the Duracell MyGrid, all of which enable users to wirelessly charge a variety of gadgets and devices.

It's awesome to be able to charge a mobile gadget without the hassle of untangling cords and plugging it in; you just set the device down on a charging pad and walk away. A single charging system can work with devices from different manufacturers, and in some cases it can even charge multiple devices simultaneously.

The technology still has some kinks to work out, though. For each of your devices, you need some sort of charging sleeve or a connector to a charging module; unlike the Palm Pre, other gadgets don't have inductive charging technology built in.

Another drawback is that you must have access to the charging mat. The convenience of not having to worry about cords is lost when you must ensure that you have both the right proprietary inductive charging sleeve and the appropriate charging mat.

In Video: Wireless Power Charges Ahead

Wireless Charging Standard

Imagine if hotel rooms came standard with universal charging mats. Instead of having to carry the bulky chargers for your laptop, mobile phone, tablet, e-reader, and music player--and being out of luck when you forget one at home--you could simply set your gadgets on the charging mat.

That's the goal, more or less, of the Wireless Power Consortium. The organization--consisting of more than 70 companies--is developing the Open Inductive Charging Standard, more commonly known as Qi. Named for the Chinese word for "life force," the Qi standard enables devices from different vendors to charge interchangeably as long as they are Qi-compliant. Only a handful of Qi-compatible products are available currently, and the standard has existed for just a few months, but so far it's showing impressive momentum.

The key to the long-term success of wireless charging is standardization. As long as charging systems such as the Powermat work only with their own proprietary hardware, the concept will continue to be a niche novelty. But if many vendors agree to standardize devices and to make charging systems interchangeable, as is the case with the Energizer Qi, the possibilities are nearly limitless.

Next page: A look at three wireless charging mats

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