It’s one of the ugly secrets of capitalism, the churn and thrashing that occurs every time a new technology is introduced into the market. In some sense, it’s extraordinarily inefficient that we can’t just figure out the best path and save consumers the headache of buying the wrong one, whether it’s a recording device, cellular system, disk player, or even TV. But particularly in consumer electronics, there’s no easy way to sidestep the popularity contest that most new technologies represent.
If you bought a laserdisc player or a betamax VCR or a BlackBerry or even a TV with 3D capabilities, you know all too well what I’m talking about. You’ve become part of the great market experiment of capitalism and the fact that you made a poor decision, well, them’s the breaks. We can’t have a single technology emerge victorious without having bodies littering the path en route.
The latest variation on this theme is the much heralded wireless power.
The lure is strong: imagine you place your devices on a special countertop or within a specific electrical field and it charges. Or when you’re at a favorite café or conference room that your laptop miraculously stays at 100% even as you sit for an hour or two catching up on spreadsheets. Nice.
The problem is that there are three, yes three, competing standards for wireless power.
The Wireless Power Consortium (that’s the logo on the device in the photo) has the “Qi” standard and is supported by a lot of cell phone manufacturers including HTC, Nokia, Sony, Panasonic Qualcomm and Verizon. Mercedes has even announced Qi charging boards will be a standard feature in its upcoming high-end cars, a neat way to have your mobile devices charge while on the road.
The Alliance for Wireless Power (known in the biz as A4WP) meanwhile is tying wireless charging to Bluetooth Smart radio. Got a very modern Bluetooth device? You might just gain access to wireless charging in the future. This group is an engineering special interest group that’s working closely with the Bluetooth SIG that’s developing future standards in the Bluetooth space. Members include Broadcomm, Delphi, Fairchild Semiconductor, HTC, Intel, LG, Pantech and Qualcomm.
The third player in the space is the Power Matters Alliance, best known for its Powermat standard. PMA has a large roster of member companies, over 100, including AT&T, McDonalds, Starbucks, and, yes, Qualcomm. You’ve seen these Powermats at Best Buy, I’ll bet, they’re nice and a real life solution that’s in the consumer space already, a direct competitor to the Qi system from WPC.
Things are definitely progressing but consumer beware: odds are good you’ll pick a standard and go with it just to find that you backed the wrong pony in this race and will end up with obsolete gear. I’d be particularly leery of having a Qi charger in my expensive Mercedes, personally: That’s going to be a bear to change out if Powermat ends up the winner through greater adoption.
Meanwhile, where’s my power cord?