With the rise of smartphones, the ubiquity of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and the prominence of cloud services like iCloud and Dropbox, it’s clear that the future is wireless.
Much of the experience of using an iPhone is already wireless, including things that used to require cables, like syncing your phone to your computer. Charging your iPhone battery is one of the last areas that still requires a cable.
But not for much longer.
Thanks to a technology called wireless charging, you can cut the charging cable and keep your iPhone powered without plugging it in ever again. And, while the technology that’s available now is cool, what’s coming is even better.
What Is Wireless Charging?
The name tells the story of what wireless charging technology is: a way to charge the batteries of devices like smartphones without plugging them in to a power source.
As we all know, right now charging your iPhone involves finding your charging cable and plugging your phone into your computer or a power adapter that is then plugged into an electrical outlet. It’s not a difficult process, but it can be annoying if you lose your adapter or your charging cable breaks – something that can lead to regular purchases of replacements.
Wireless charging lets you ditch cables entirely, but it’s not quite as magical as it sounds.
You still need some accessories – at least for now.
Two Competing Standards
There’s often a battle between competing versions of a new technology to determine which way the technology will go (remember VHS vs. Beta?). That’s true for wireless charging, too. The competing standards are called Qi and PMA.
Qi is deployed in more devices right now, but PMA has one of the most high-profile uses: the wireless charging stations available in some Starbucks.
It’s still early days for the technology, so there’s no clear winner yet. Check out this article for more about the standards and the science behind the technology.
Why Do You Want It?
By this point in the article, people who are going to love wireless charging don’t need any convincing that they want it. If you’re on the fence, consider these benefits:
- Charge your phone anywhere there’s a charging station
- No need to keep track of charging cables
- No need to buy replacement charging cables when old ones break or get lost
- Your iPhone supports wireless syncing and all kinds of wireless connectivity. Wireless charging just makes sense.
While the technology is a few years away from being really, really cool, there are some pretty good options for wireless charging on the iPhone today.
What You Need for Wireless Charging
The state of wireless charging today is a little different than you may be picturing. Electricity isn’t just magically beamed to your iPhone (at least not yet). Instead, you need an accessory to make it work. Current wireless charging products have two key components: a charging mat and a case (but not for all models, as we’ll see).
The charging mat is a small platform, a bit bigger than your iPhone, that you plug into your computer or a power source. You still need to get the electricity to recharge your battery from somewhere, and this is how you do it. So, technically, there’s still at least one wire involved.
The case is just what it sounds like: a case you slip your iPhone into, with a plug for your phone’s Lightning port. While this case offers some protection, it’s more than a standard case. That’s because it has circuitry in it that transmits power from the charging base to your battery. All you need to do is put your iPhone in the case and then place it on the charging base.
Technology in the case allows it to draw power from the base and send it to your phone’s battery. Not quite as cool as wireless data, where you can get online virtually anywhere with no extra accessories, but a pretty good start.
Things get cooler on certain iPhone models that don’t even need the charging case. The iPhone 8 series and iPhone X support Qi wireless charging without a case. Just place one of those phones on a compatible charging mat and power flows to their batteries.
Current Wireless Charging Options for iPhone
Some of the wireless charging products available for the iPhone include:
- Apple AirPower—Apple’s own charging mat won’t debut until 2018, but it will bring some cool features with it. In addition to delivering a 50% charge in just 30 minutes when connected to a USB-C, the AirPower will also be able to charge an iPhone, Apple Watch, and AirPods simultaneously.
- Bezalel Latitude—This case is compatible with both major wireless charging standards, Qi and PMA. The Lightning connector can also be exposed, allowing you to sync or charge your phone when wireless isn’t an option without removing the case. Compatible with iPhone 6, 6S, and 7 series. Expect to spend about US$50 for the case and another $50 for the charging base.
- iQi Mobile for iPhone—Don’t want to replace the case you already love? This is your best bet. This thin sliver lies flat against the back of your iPhone and plugs into the Lightning port. Because it’s so thin, it can fit inside many cases, though harder cases, rugged cases, and those that place credit cards between the iPhone and iQi may interfere with charging. Expect to spend around $35 for the iQi Mobile and $50 and up for a charging base.
- mophie juice pack wireless—mophie is the biggest name on this list, having provided extended-battery-life cases and other iPhone accessories for years. The battery in the juice pack wireless can hold up to 50% more power than an iPhone battery, so even after a full recharge of the iPhone you should have extra power stored in the case to use before you need another charge. Expect to spend around $100 for the case and charging base together.
- Pond Wireless Charging—For a stylish wireless charging option, check out Pond’s Stream case. This case comes in a variety of colors and finishes, including microsuede and leather. It’s compatible with the Qi wireless charging standard. Expect to spend around $85 on the case and $40 and up for the charging base.
The Future of Wireless Charging on the iPhone
The current options for wireless charging on the iPhone are neat, but the future is really exciting. Beyond the features added to the iPhone 8 and X, the future holds long-range wireless charging. With that, you won’t even need a charging base. Just put a compatible phone within a few feet of a charging device and the electricity will be beamed over the air to your battery. That’s probably a few years away from mass adoption, but it could radically change the way we keep battery-powered devices charged.