CES 2015: Why wireless smartphone charging might actually, seriously grow this year

Consumers will soon start encountering wireless smartphone charging in their daily lives. Could that be what it takes to get them to start using it?

broadcom wireless charging

We've said this before. A lot of people have. And although it needs to be said with as many grains of salt and as much caution as possible, it still needs to be said – wireless charging for smartphones and tablets could become a reality for mainstream users as soon as this year.

Two years ago at CES, the Wireless Power Consortium’s (WPC) booth looked like one of those cellphone case stands you’d find in the center of the aisle at your local mall. This year, the WPC’s booth was in the exact same location, but this time it looked like the rest of the mall: a café next to a home appliance store next to a mattress store.

That underlines the shift in approach for the wireless charging industry. The companies that are using the technology are making inroads with large consumer-facing companies, which will start offering the technology to their smartphone-wielding customers.

On Monday, the Alliance for Wireless Power (A4WP) announced a merger with the Power Matters Alliance (PMA), just under a year after the two organizations announced they would be collaborating on their standards. Geoff Gordon, the A4WP marketing committee chair and a senior manager of product marketing at Qualcomm, says the alliance will continue to focus on wireless charging for smartphones on surfaces and furnishings that employ technology based on its Rezence standard.

On Wednesday, Air Charge, a wireless charging company that employs the Qi standard, announced that it will soon deploy more than 600 wireless charging hotspots in more than 50 McDonald’s restaurants in the UK.

Representatives of both the WPC and the A4WP pointed out that each standard can be useful in different environments, and neither ruled out the possibility of collaboration in the future. However, the one constant in the wireless charging market – competition – remains the same for the time being.

What has changed, however, is the approach that wireless charging companies are taking to the market. Although smartphone cases with built-in wireless charging capabilities have been around for a few years, consumers largely ignored them. But by targeting partnerships with large, consumer-facing businesses, the wireless charging companies increase consumers’ exposure to the technology without putting the onus on consumers to seek it out and buy it themselves.

Wireless charging hotspots could soon start popping up in hotel rooms or at bars, offering consumers a chance to drop their phones and let them charge without bringing their charger chords everywhere they go or searching for an accessible outlet. And the technology has already started appearing in new cars.

Once consumer awareness of the technology increases, it should gain momentum quickly. John Perzow, vice president of market development for the WPC, points out that it’s in the best interest of the smartphone makers to embrace wireless charging. If users have constant access to easy charging, smartphone makers can reduce the size of the batteries they install in the phones, cutting production costs and making for thinner smartphones in the process.

The potential expands beyond smartphones, too. Home appliances are being built with wireless charging capabilities, and given the current revolution of the smart home, the ability to remove wires from lamps and blenders could easily make for an extra selling point.

Some have speculated over the past few years that competition within the wireless charging industry has held the technology back. But now, with technology based on two major standards finally making progress in a market with serious potential, that competition could be exactly what thrusts wireless charging into the mainstream.

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