Is wireless charging finally going to take off?

Lynne Kiesling

Since the pioneering research of Nikola Tesla (have you contributed to his museum yet?) we’ve dreamed of wireless transmission of electricity, including wireless charging of devices. Tesla’s magnetic induction experiments gave us proof of concept almost 140 years ago, so where are the wireless chargers? We were promised wireless charging!

Jessical Leber at Technology Review suggests that it’s not a lack of supply, but rather slow consumer adoption that’s the reason why we don’t have ubiquitous wireless charging.

Why hasn’t cord-free charging—where a device gets charged when you place it on a charging surface—caught on? It’s not due to a shortage of products, nor from a shortage of companies that want to sell them. More than 125 businesses have joined the Wireless Power Consortium, formed in late 2008 to create a global charging standard. While the consortium hopes the technology will one day become as common as Bluetooth in most devices and, like Wi-Fi, available in many public spaces, wireless charging has been slow to take off.

I think a common, open standard, like we have for Bluetooth and USB, will reduce adoption hurdles, although she does discuss toward the end of the article the current set of two competing standards. History tells us, though, from rail gauges to DVD formats, convergence eventually occurs.

This article is full of valuable and interesting information about the technical hurdles of getting induction receivers in devices, investing in charging mats for public places, and so on, but it’s frustratingly oblique in its answer to the question in the quote above. Leber doesn’t offer any specific answers to the question of why consumers have been slow to adopt wireless charging, although she implies two reasons: non-binding power requirement constraints and the coordination-complementarity bottleneck between devices and charging pads. As more consumers bump up against the constraints of battery capacity, wireless charging will become more attractive. The article also mentions the potential inclusion of charging mats in cars, and the investment involvement of automobile manufacturers in wireless charging companies.

Note here the interaction of three different innovation processes — device, battery, and charging pad. Devices are becoming more functional, requiring more power, draining batteries faster. Batteries have become more robust and longer-lived, but have been outpaced by the power demands of the increased functionality of mobile devices. Layer that on top of the innovation process in charging pads and you have quite a moving target, technologically and economically.

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