You might be thinking, “What wait, it’s here now?” Well yes, and no.
Over the years there have been gadgets like electric shavers, toothbrushes and even the Palm Pre (optional) that can be charged without ever plugging them into a power adapter. Just plop them on their bases and a few hours later, they’re charged. The problem is that the are, for lack of a better term, single minded. They won’t charge any other devices except for the ones they were designed for.
This leads me to the inspiration for this post: the Powermat (pictured above). I saw one today at Target, and overcoming my early adopter/impulse gadget buying tendencies, I just walked away from the enticing endcap empty handed (the spendy price tag helped too). While it’s a step in the right direction, it suffers from what’s preventing wireless charging systems from taking off.
Like Stacey at GigaOM Pro noted in her piece “Wireless Power: Beyond Charging Mats and Solar Panels” (subscription required) wireless charging technologies are, and will likely remain, a niche technology. One problem that’s holding the technology back, and that the Powermat somewhat addresses, is the lack of device compatibility. Powermat solves this with adapters (called receivers, one included) and tips that allow popular devices like iPhones, iPods and Nintendo DS/DSi’s to use the mat.
On the downside, the adapters that people really want for their iPhones and BlackBerries add considerably to the cost of the system, which starts at $100.00. Plus, some of the adapters just replicate the functionality of plug-in adapters by requiring that the gadgets you want to charge are, well, plugged in. Also, the product’s vampire power reducing smarts are somewhat negated by the inherent inefficiencies of wireless charging technologies (70 percent is the best that they can do currently).
On the plus side, it does reduce the number of wall warts you’ll have plugged in, it’s ultra-convenient to keep your gadgets charged and it’s just plain cool. Sadly, it’s not enough to justify dropping $100-plus for me, at least not until charging efficiency improves and more handset and portable electronics makers settle on a universal, integrated standard.
I’m hugely optimistic about wireless charging, but the approaches to banishing cables and chargers (thereby reducing e-waste) is a piecemeal in the here and now. Let’s hope device makers can improve wireless charging efficiency and cook up some standards for easy, cost-effective integration into all portable electronics. They will earn the esteem and eternal gratitude of anyone that forgot to pack a charger or nearly got electrocuted by those funky hotel lamps with the power outlets in the base.