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Wireless Charging
Posted: August 21, 2009
Last Update: 12/01/09 - Powermat Product Release

We are all used doing things a certain way. Some turn into habits over time and others we do because there is no better way. Until we find a better one - even for a trivial task.

Here is an example and ultimate gadget of the sixties: the TV remote. We improve our living space step by step. It's the repetitiveness of trivial tasks that drives us to innovate. Though we still wait for the automatic door opener at home, we do have the convenience of unlocking the car and start the engine by pushbutton.

What's next? What's bugging us? Or better - what's begging for re-innovation?


A few companies believe they found the next holy tech grail: charging all those mobile devices we carry around. In addition - the latest generation of smart phones requires a lot more time with their charger. How can we make that easier?

When we come home in the evening we drop things - literally. Keys, wallet, cell phone. Wait - there's one more step. We better plug the phone in. Forget it and we have a problem the next day. And it happens. So over time we buy additional chargers. One for the office, a third in the bedroom, and a fourth for the car! It helps, but there's still the plug to deal with! It becomes a chore.

Here is a video showing how wireless charging should work:




Cordless, wireless, wire-free
How can we make charging easier? Ultimately we just want to drop off the phone in the house or car and charging should just magically happen. A few engineers took on the task eliminating the cables and connectors. Wireless was the answer. And so it went.The first couple of products are out and more are coming in a few months. Let's look at the available products - the Palm Pre TouchStone and the WildCharge pad:

Palm Touchstone™ optional Charger for the Palm Pre

The TouchStone works only with the Palm Pre.

Implementation:

  • Wireless transmission of energy via induction.
  • Fully integrated into the Palm Pre phone.
  • No change to the physical size of the phone.
  • Triggers software features when used

What's in the Box:

  • Charger: built into a mouse-sized case that holds the phone magnetically.
  • Receiver: integrated into the phone back panel.

Software:
Palm added software features that are enabled when the TouchStone charger is used:

  • speakerphone on/off function
  • auto answering when phone is picked up from charger
  • when on charger phone displays Time and incoming notifications

Result:
Perfect integration of a new technology and we recommend it to everybody ( with a Pre ) who has some discretionary slush money to spend - and everybody who, after a few weeks realizes how much fumbling with a side-mounted micro-USB charger plug can take away from an otherwise pretty good experience.
Remember - this is now a once-a-day or even twice-a-day chore, which - come to think of it - probably triggered the development and integration of the wireless TouchStone technology.

Here is Palm's TouchStone Web page.


Update: November 21, 2009.

Powermat Wireless Charger

The company released its wireless charging product line. See the review here.

 

Wildcharge Wire-Free

The Wildcharge Pad works with multiple devices.

What's in the Box:

  • Charging Panel: mouse pad-sized panel with spaced metal contacts.
  • Receiving Part: comes in multiple shapes. - a) replaces the back panel of the phone, b) a skin for Blackberry and iPhone, or c) a contact disc. All connect the contact pins of the panels/skins to a connector that plugs into the charge connector of the phone.

Implementation:

  • The company calls the product wire-free - the electricity is fed from the charger pad to a set of contact points that are in the back panel of the phone. The back panel is then used to replace the phone's original back.
  • The back panel or skins are adding bulk to the phone - no physical integration.
  • The contact pins are wired into the phone's charging connector. Depending on the phone, the connector sticks out to the side or bottom of the phone.

What's in the Box:

  • Charger: built into a mouse-sized case that holds the phone magnetically.
  • Receiver: integrated into the phone back panel.

Software:
Since the WildCharger is an after market and plainly replaces the charging cable only, the phone "will not know" of the type of charging that is used. Therefore - no additional software features.

Result:
Does the WildCharger work? Yes.
Does it work for most of us consumers? No.

Technically it works - but who wants to have a phone in the pocket that has a connector sticking out or has an awkward looking 2" plastic disc attached? Only a few tech geeks.
The iPhone integration is an acceptable solution since the skin looks as many other skins with the exception of the small hump on the bottom where the electrical contacts plug into the phone.

One advantage of the WildCharger is that it's scalable - meaning if you buy adapters for all your mobile devices they all can be charged in this - convenient way.

But see for yourself. Here is Wildcharge's Website. Their products are available at Amazon.

Update: 12/01/09 - Wildcharge has been picked up by DuraCell ! WOW.

In Comparison:
Looks and style count. Phones, iPods, cameras all have evolved from their early years. Cell phones have become style elements. We show them off, they are part of our lifes. So any additional feature can't really be added on. Look at the pictures. To gain market acceptance these additional features have to be designed into a phone from the get-go.

So - Kudos to Palm. They made the right decision. Sorry - WildCharge. We buy into the skins for Blackberry and iPhone, but you have to find your way into the design studios of the manufacturers.

For all other wireless manufacturers - make it your goal. There is a big challenge ahead, since Europe wants you to standardize phone chargers by 2010. Their goal is to reduce electronic waste with this decision. The connection of choice will be wired micro-USB.

It will be very interesting to see where wireless charging will fit in...
We sure hope it finds its place. Re-inventing the charging world would be the ultimate success.

 

 

Related Articles:

Apple's Rumored iPad or iSlate Tablet

Related Sites:

The Wireless Power Consortium


Released Products with Wireless Charging:

Palm Pre with Touchstone Charger

Dell Latitude Z
(added 10/01/09)

PowerMat - available at Target stores nationwide - early October 2009.


Wireless Charger Design Firms:

eCoupled - Products on concept level, though the video on the left is from ecoupled.

Mojo Mobility - Products in the pipeline for release in early 2010

PowerBeam - Supporting wireless power beaming to picture frames, lights and speakers using Light. Let's watch these guys...

 





 

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