Wireless charging technology has been in the hands of early adopters for several years now but failed to make it into the hands of the masses. But that changed last year. During CES 2016, AirFuel and WPC set up booths right next to each other, signaling neither is backing down from the fight to be the king of wireless charging standards. We expect the battle will remain active a little bit longer.
Currently, there are two major standard alliances: Wireless Power Consortium (WPC) with its Qi inductive charging platform, and the combined lovechild of Power Matters Alliance (PMA) and Alliance for Wireless Power (A4WP), which was renamed to AirFuel Alliance.
After Samsung heavily promoted the wireless charging feature in its flagship Galaxy S6 smartphone, consumer awareness of the technology doubled in 2015. Alongside Samsung Galaxy S6, Sony Z4v, Google Nexus 6, Motorola Droid Turbo, and Microsoft Lumina 930 were a handful of other devices with built-in wireless charging feature released before the end of 2015. For consumers, the best outcome was the implementation of the Samsung Galaxy smartphone: dual mode devices compatible with both standards. Staying neutral is predicted to be the position for most smartphone makers looking to integrate wireless charging into their products. These dual mode devices are capable of charging inductively on both Qi and the AirFuel platform while commanding little price premium from both consumers and manufacturers. It tremendously benefits early adopters looking for backward compatibility and new users who are price sensitive in purchasing chargers. As a result, IHS expects the number of chargers sold in 2016 to grow more than 200% in 2016.
Magnetic Resonance is next
Both Qi and AirFuel are working on magnetic resonance charging, which enables wireless charging without the need for strict device and charger alignment. Functional magnetic resonance chargers were on display at CES. Because of the current charger price and few integrated devices that support it, this advanced wireless charging feature is far from the production scale needed to lower production costs and shipping into consumers’ hands in 2016. In 2017 and 2018, it is predicted the production rate can increase significantly, resulting in a much lower MSRP to make it feasible for consumer purchases.
Wireless charging hoping to make an impact
Besides WPC and AirFuel, there were several new comers with concepts and prototype demonstrations at CES 2016. Ubeam and Energous were two wireless charging companies hoping to charge your devices within several feet from the transmitter. Both energy solutions work similar to Wi-Fi signals, instead of internet packets, the transmitter emits a focused beam of energy to the receiver inside the charging device and can continuously charge it even when in use from 5~15 feet away. This technology was demonstrated using an LED bulb and it seems to work well when stationary. IHS analysts do not expect this technology to become commercially available in 2016 but OEMs may help speed up the process of adoption by implementing this new technology.
All customers want is for it to work everywhere
No clear winners – Initially, WPC and its Qi standard picked up great momentum in the smartphone arena with more devices equipped with Qi chargers. However, after getting partners from the likes of Ikea and McDonalds, the smaller two wireless standards PMA combined with A4WP and continued marching on. To make matters worse, many semiconductor manufacturers such as Qualcomm, NXP, Texas Instruments, ON Semiconductor, and ROHM are members of both standards. Their neutral positions will keep the fight for domination continues in the near term.
Rate of adoption heating up on both standards – Collectively, WPC certified almost 1000 products since its introduction with 300+ products certified in 2015 alone. AirFuel also had a busy 2015 signing up new members and issuing product certifications, although at a slower rate.
Consumers want device that will “just work” – With dual mode receivers built-in, consumers are free to choose their chargers regardless of which standard the manufactures side with. From charging on a Power Matt at Starbucks to placing the phone on a Qi Charger on an Ikea night stand, consumers just want their devices to work everywhere, every time, on every charger.
Read additional CES 2016 highlights and insights from the IHS analyst team, Spotlights and Searchlights at CES 2016