In less than three weeks, the iPhone has caught up with the Palm Pre in the one area where the Pre held an undisputed lead: wireless charging. The ability to charge without wires is an idea that's been teasing us for a long time, with Palm the first company (I am aware of) to take it mainstream. The feature will soon be available for iPhone users, too.
The iPhone solution, from WildCharge, requires placing the iPhone or iPod touch into a gel skin inductor that looks pretty much like any other form-fitting other case. It includes a small connector that plugs into the iPhone. Once installed, the user places the iPhone onto any WildCharge charger pad and the phone starts charging.
The iPhone charging skin and charger pad combination costs $80, while the Pre wireless charger is a $70 add-on from Palm. One important difference: The WildCharge pad and skin are part of a system that works with other devices, such as the BlackBerry Curve and Pearl as well as the Motorola RAZR phone.
The iPod touch skin is available now, with the iPhone version available "in early July," WildCharge officials said.
The company also recently introduced a "universal" swing-arm adaptor that looks a tad clunky, but extends wire-free charging to an additional 150 devices. How many users have multiple phones and would benefit from such compatibility is questionable.
The Palm Pre "TouchStone" charger only works with that device.
Wireless charging is an idea that has been tossed around for years and, I seem to remember, has been introduced in several add-on products that failed to excite the market. The lack of a widely supported standard--so one charging pad can work with many devices--has kept the feature from going mainstream.
The ideal solution would charge not just phones but also laptops, netbooks, and all the other mobile devices a user owns. WildCharge says its technology is capable of these things, but has yet to find its way into products beyond add-ons for some handsets.
Is this the future of mobile phones? Is wireless charging a real feature that matters--or may someday--or just another semi-useless accessory? It's a feature many would appreciate, but becomes useful only if manufacturers adopt a common standard and implement it widely.
CORRECTION: This story was updated to correct pricing information on the Palm Pre's wireless charging accessory.