Finally, Real Progress on Mobile Device Charging Pain Points

Carl Weinschenk

People tend to put up with certain inconveniences because they always existed and nobody-save, perhaps, a few entrepreneurs-are creative enough to think about what the world would look like if the annoyance were gone.


Mobile device chargers are one such inconvenience. It's assumed that every new device means a new charger. It's an intensely inefficient way to get power into devices. They are lost, old ones are orphaned in drawers and desks and the environmental costs are great.


A couple of approaches -- universal chargers and inductive charging -- are attacking the problem. GSM Arena reports that The One Charger for All program from the European Union, which started in June, 2009, last month reached the device sampling stage. The story includes an extraordinarily strange promotional video from the EU that simply wouldn't be produced in the U.S. The story says the companies that have signed include Research in Motion, Apple, Emblaze Mobile, Motorola, Huawei, LG, NEC, Nokia, Qualcomm, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, TCT Mobile, Texas Instruments and Atmel.


Inductive charging also is making progress. This approach involves setting the mobile device with a specially fitted back on a pad for automatic charging. To date, however, the charging pads were proprietary, so progress on reducing the equipment was limited, since the focus just went from a device that was plugged in to one that the device was set upon.


The next step has arrived. The Wireless Power Consortium's Qi (pronounced "chee," as the industry continues to use names of uncertain pronunciation) has created a universal inductive powering station. GigaOm, which says there are 81 companies in the consortium, has good background:


Qi eliminates obstacles from proprietary wireless solutions because any device with the Qi logo can can be charged on a Qi mat, regardless of the device manufacturer. Without such a standard, consumers have to purchase device-specific cases that work only with charging pads from the same manufacturer.


The piece points out that a secondary problem is that the backs are different. So, while a lot is being saved by not producing chargers, significant waste is incurred in the backs. The story says that Energizer has developed a solution:


Energizer's answer to that problem is a new Qi-compatible Micro/Mini USB adapter, which it will be showing off later this month. The adapter will attach to the back of virtually any handset and uses the fairly standard micro and mini USB ports found on most phones to get wireless power to and from the mat to the handset battery.


No Jitter's Matthew Brunk looks more deeply at Qi in a Q&A with Menno Treffers, the Wireless Power Consortium's Chairman. He says that Qi is not primarily aimed at saving energy, though Treffers implies that it does, to a degree. He adds that Qi will find its way into office and hotel furniture, public transportation and other heavily traveled venues.


Charging procedures are a subset of the larger issues surrounding mobile device powering. But it is not insignificant, and it's good to see that progress is being made. Qi may not be a sensible name, but it clearly is a sensible product. Likewise, hopefully the One Charger for All program will move to the United States-with or without the strange video.

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