It feels like technology out of "Back to the Future: Part II," but wireless charging is more real than the hoverboard and it's growing rapidly in the smartphone market. It does seem a bit like magic — set your phone on a pad and somehow an electric current safely moves into your smartphone without any sort of wired connection — but the science behind the wonder is actually quite simple. Phone manufacturers are scrambling to implement the tech into their phones for the future.
How it Works
If you use a Phillips Sonicare or similar electric toothbrush, you've already seen wireless charging in action. A charging pad or station plugs into an outlet and charges the device when it's set down on the pad or in the proper slot. Though we all know it as wireless charging, inductive charging is the technical term. It uses an electromagnetic field to transfer energy from the source to the device, all done completely safely. The charge ends when you remove the device from the source.
Right now, there must be direct contact for a charge to take place. Some charging stations have a very small "sweet spot" that will deliver a charge. But with advances in the technology we could be able to charge our phones with inches of space between the device and the source.
The Qi Standard
Pronounced "chee," Qi is the most popular standard by which most smartphones with wireless capabilities are charged. Think of this like the USB or Bluetooth of the wireless charging world — it's simply a standard. However, Qi isn't the only player in the game and other standards are working on faster charging with bigger "sweet spots" that can charge multiple devices at once.
Every iPhone user reading this article is probably thinking, "I've never heard of this." While popular Android smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy S7 have adopted the technology, Apple has yet to jump on board. But when it does, the wireless charging industry is going to jump from niche to mainstream. Android was the first to introduce wireless mobile payments, but it wasn't until Apple followed suit with the iPhone 6 that the industry truly adapted.
However, if you have an iPhone and don't want to wait for the iPhone 7 or beyond to use wireless charging, there are third-party accessories that have you covered. Mophie, known mostly for battery packs designed for both iPhones and Androids, makes a wireless charging case (and battery pack) for the iPhone 6 and 6s. The pack includes the case and a charging pad to keep your battery full without the wires.
Wireless Charging Criticism
No new technology isn't without its downsides and criticisms and there are some valid points with wireless charging. Wireless charging is still very slow compared to using a cable — sometimes less than half the speed — and it uses more power and generates more heat. You also can't pick up and use your phone without it losing a wireless connection, whereas a USB cable can stay plugged in so you can fiddle with the screen and keep a charge at the same time.
Is this enough of a deterrent from wireless charging? It's helpful to keep your USB cable around just in case, but wireless charging will only get more popular and keep improving to the point that eventually we'll all be using it.