Mobile // Mobile Devices
Commentary
2/12/2013
09:11 AM
Eric Zeman
Eric Zeman
Commentary
Connect Directly
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

Wireless Device Chargers: Right Idea, Wrong Price

Google's new $60 wireless charger for the Nexus 4 smartphone exemplifies a problem facing the entire industry.

Six Ways The iPhone 5 and iOS 6 Amp Up Social Opportunities
Six Ways The iPhone 5 and iOS 6 Amp Up Social Opportunities
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
There's a showdown looming between two wireless power industry organizations and it will be consumers who are caught in the crossfire. The Wireless Power Consortium (WPC) and the Alliance for Wireless Power (A4WP) each promote different technologies that do the same thing: allow mobile devices such as smartphones to charge wirelessly.

The most recent such product to become available is the wireless charging station for the Google Nexus 4. The Nexus 4 Wireless Charger uses the Qi standard -- supported by WPC -- to charge the Nexus 4 via magnetic induction. According to Google, the charger's angled surface provides easy visibility of the phone while charging. Nexus 4 owners simply place their device on the charger and it begins to charge. There's no need to plug a cable into the device; the charger itself must be plugged into a wall, though. The charger can be purchased directly from Google for $59.99 plus shipping and tax, for a total of more than $70 depending on your state taxes.

This technology and type of accessory are not new, not by a long shot. Perhaps the most visible predecessor to the N4 wireless charger was the Palm Pre Touchstone. Palm Pre owners could drop their phone on the Touchstone and it would charge without any cables. It was released in June 2009, almost four years ago.

[ For another point of view on charging pads, read Wireless Power Is A Stupid Gimmick. ]

Other companies have worked on this tech for years, and offered a number of consumer-facing products. Powermat, developed by DuraCell, and the Enercell Wireless Charging Pad are both products that let consumers charge their devices by placing them on the pad. They can be purchased at retailers such as Best Buy and RadioShack, but device compatibility is hit or miss -- and that's the real problem.

The WPC's Qi (pronounced "chee") standard has a bit of a head start. It claims to have 36 mobile devices with Qi on the market already, and over 100 other tablets, chargers, docks, pads, rings, furniture, and even a lamp with Qi wireless charging built in. Qi is backed by some big names, including Energizer, HTC, LG, Motorola, Nokia, Panasonic, Philips Electronics, Sony, Toshiba and Verizon Wireless.

The A4WP didn't launch until May 2012, but is backed by heavyweights Samsung and Qualcomm. It published its standard in October 2012 and is pitching it to wireless network operators and handset makers as a less-costly alternative to Qi.

The big difference between the two is the use of magnetic poles. The Qi standard requires the device to line up properly with the pole of the magnet buried in the charging pad. This is evident when users place their device onto the pad, as they have to push the device around on the pad until the poles align. The A4WP standard lets devices be placed anywhere on the pad, and doesn't mandate a connection directly to the pole.

If VHS versus Betamax, or Blu-ray versus HD DVD rings a bell with you, then you get what's going on here. The consumer electronics industry can support only one wireless charging standard. Given Qi's head start, I find it hard to believe so many gear-makers are going to suddenly switch standards to A4WP.

Makers of wireless charging equipment also have to find a way to pitch them as something other than pricey accessories. Don't get me wrong, I love the idea of placing my device on a pad to charge it, but there's no way I am going to spend $50 to $70 for that luxury when my cable works just fine. To be fair to Google, its charger costs less than most. A basic setup with a PowerMat, for example, runs $99, and packages that include multiple chargers run up to $235.

At the end of the day, consumers won't much care which technology makes their device charge, but they will care about how much it costs.

Mobile applications are the new way to extend government information and services to on-the-go citizens and employees. Also in the new, all-digital Anytime, Anywhere issue of InformationWeek Government: A new initiative aims to shift the 17-member Intelligence Community from agency-specific IT silos to an enterprise environment of shared systems and services. (Free registration required.)

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
J. Nicholas Hoover
50%
50%
J. Nicholas Hoover,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/19/2013 | 8:24:05 PM
re: Wireless Device Chargers: Right Idea, Wrong Price
I agree with most of your points, but you can buy a micro USB charger with cable on Amazon for $0.32 plus shipping, or less than $6 with shipping included. If you are paying $30, you are getting ripped off.
keltypack
50%
50%
keltypack,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/13/2013 | 9:30:26 PM
re: Wireless Device Chargers: Right Idea, Wrong Price
Yes, the price is a bit high,but if I have to replace my micro USB charger, it will likely cost me $30. Additionally, I keep breaking the cable because I pick up the phone and forget that it is plugged in. New USB cables cost me about $10 per year. I don't believe that I would have that same problem with a wireless charger. Additionally, the Google device slants the phone so it can be used as a clock while sleeping. The cost is a bit high, but it really isn't as bad as you imply.
CoCoDog
50%
50%
CoCoDog,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/13/2013 | 7:20:57 PM
re: Wireless Device Chargers: Right Idea, Wrong Price
There are a lot of different implementations in the Qi specification, and there are many solutions that offer spatial freedom (such as the Nokia charging pad). I don't think you quite understand the freedom that is available for manufacturers to implement solutions under the Qi standard.

In terms of cost, there have been several reports that Samsung backed out of a A4WP solution and opted for a Qi solution because A4WP was too expensive.

I think at the end of the day, this technology needs to be cheap enough to build directly into phones. I think you're seeing the cost point of Qi come down as the technology is built into devices such as HTC DNA, HTC 8X, Nokia Lumina 920, Nexus 4, etc... Then a charging accessory that will continue to be compatible for years to come will not seem so expensive.
Paul_Travis
50%
50%
Paul_Travis,
User Rank: Author
2/12/2013 | 6:50:57 PM
re: Wireless Device Chargers: Right Idea, Wrong Price
I don't see Apple listed as a member of either camp. I guess they will develop their own appoach, and you can bet it will cost more than $50. Paul Travis, InformationWeek
Building A Mobile Business Mindset
Building A Mobile Business Mindset
Among 688 respondents, 46% have deployed mobile apps, with an additional 24% planning to in the next year. Soon all apps will look like mobile apps and it's past time for those with no plans to get cracking.
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
InformationWeek Must Reads Oct. 21, 2014
InformationWeek's new Must Reads is a compendium of our best recent coverage of digital strategy. Learn why you should learn to embrace DevOps, how to avoid roadblocks for digital projects, what the five steps to API management are, and more.
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
InformationWeek Radio
Archived InformationWeek Radio
A roundup of the top stories and trends on InformationWeek.com
Sponsored Live Streaming Video
Everything You've Been Told About Mobility Is Wrong
Attend this video symposium with Sean Wisdom, Global Director of Mobility Solutions, and learn about how you can harness powerful new products to mobilize your business potential.