Catching Up on the Tumult in the Wireless Power World

wireless power consortium alliance logoIt’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?

One comment on “Catching Up on the Tumult in the Wireless Power World

  1. You hit on my biggest beef with not just which headphone (even mentioning Betamax – which was superior to VHS, and at the time I had to make a decision, the VHS I went with was very pricey – $1,000 [tho it was top of line & still actually plays tapes recorded on it when hooked up to the proper tv – and this was mid 80s or whenever Live Aid took place as was the first thing I recorded]). Having industry standards does not mean taking an anti-free market view; on the contrary, using that argument is faulty logic. Our legal system is not equipped to keep up with the expoential growth in technology and by default, leaves consumers at the mercy of greed, as it seems that the primary duty of a corporation is to make money for its stockholders, and whether an individual may benefit if their 501k, etc. happens to own that stock or your job is tied to or part of the Wall Street Gambling Consortium, a benefit may accrue in your favor – but on the whole, lack of standards does not work in the consumers’ favor. ISPs are a great example and one of my big peeves. Buying any electronic equipment is a crapshoot too. I have come to the conclusion that, even tho my network is just myself, my equipment & hopefully soon website – I am better off taking matters into my own hands. I have spent hours of research, my entire working career in “the industry,” from Mag Card I days and punch cards stacked in a compiler with the main frame housed in a space larger than my home thru the present – and it is confusing. Any suggestions? And yes, I write my elected officials – better than not but that’s another can of worms. Always looking for new sites and info & am pleased to have found enough here to warrant spending some time. Tho if I could afford a Mercedes, I don’t think this would be quite the issue for me that it is.

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