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Will Wireless Charging Ever Take Off?

If your ultrabook could charge your phone, would you care?
June 7, 2012

The Verge got a hands-on with Intel’s vision for inductive charging. The idea is to have your smartphone charge straight from you ultrabook. No wires required, just “close proximity.” Check out the video, and then let’s mull the thing.

I’ve written about wireless charging before–most recently, I think, when a controversial Apple patent surfaced on the matter. (It was unfavorably reviewed, that patent application; folks called it “incredibly impractical” and “ridiculous,” among other things.) Intel’s vision of wireless charging is intriguing, but there are a number of reasons why this technology–which has been foreseen since the days of Nikola Tesla–hasn’t taken off.

For one thing, the gains here with Intel’s offering seem to be very incremental. Though it’s true you wouldn’t have to carry around a wire, you do have to have a transmitter on your laptop (not a big deal), and a receiver on your phone (a slightly bigger deal–my phone’s already straining my pocket as it is). Also, in this arrangement, your phone is just drawing down battery power from your laptop, creating something of a zero-sum game. More often than not, it’s my laptop that could use spare juice from my phone. And if the laptop’s plugged in, then is it that much of a hassle for you to plug your phone in as well?

There are considerable drawbacks to wireless charging in general. It’s slow, and not especially efficient, and can often generate a lot of heat. The idea is eye-catching, but when you tally all the strikes against the technology, suddenly that tiny iPhone charger you can neatly roll up into a pocket of your briefcase doesn’t seem like such a nuisance after all.

Kevin Bullis gave a good run-down on inductive charging, its drawbacks and its promise, in this February story on Witricity. Certain realms seem potentially more suited to wireless charging than others; there’s a compelling case for using them with electric vehicles, according to Bullis’s report. Certainly, the space is compelling enough that not only Intel and Witricity, but also Panasonic, Samsung, Chrysler, and others are looking into it.

For the time being though, I haven’t seen wireless charging technology that I’ve been ready to run out and buy it myself. Wires may be a nuisance–but they’re a nuisance that works.

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