Wireless charging is not particularly new technology, but this year at CES 2018, we’re seeing it show up in a big way. Tons of companies are releasing new products in a wide variety of form factors and styles.
Specifically, we’re seeing a huge wave of Qi wireless chargers, the popular industry standard that’s used by major smartphone companies like Samsung, LG, and many others. The standard has actually been around for years, but last fall, Apple introduced Qi charging to its new iPhone 8 and iPhone X models which brought an influx of new users. So now, accessories companies are cashing in.
Apple jumping on board meant two things: lots of new customers looking for Qi pads, and the effective end of the other main wireless charging standard, PWA. In fact, PowerMat, which created PWA, announced this year at CES that all of its future chargers will include Qi. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.
Unlike a charging cable, which is relatively unobtrusive, a wireless charger is a semi-permanent fixture on your desk, which means that there’s a lot more that goes into making a charging pad. It’s not enough to just work well. It has to look good, too.
So we’ve seen chargers like iOttie’s lineup of cloth-wrapped charging pads and stands (my personal favorite of the show), and Belkin’s pastel-hued discs in a variety of form factors. These are suitable to any preference for design, and plenty more, from lamps to mousepads.
That’s important since different people have different styles and tastes, and the fabric-covered charger that I like might not suit your bedside table. Sure, the “everything but the kitchen sink” approach is a bit overwhelming, but it means that there’s also plenty of variety. Especially because there may not be one right answer.
Qi’s universal nature is also a big part of this. While the industry is still waffling on USB-C versus Micro USB, and Apple insists on using its own Lightning cables, wireless Qi charging is the one universal constant. Manufacturers making Qi chargers carry on knowing they’re making a product for almost every major flagship smartphone, in a way that device-specific wired docks of the past never could.
We’re also starting to see wireless charging move out of simple charging pads and more into everyday life. One of Belkin’s products is a commercial pad designed for businesses, hotels, and public spaces to embed directly into surfaces. Carmakers are adding Qi chargers to the center console. And PowerMat’s chargers are already in many places like Starbucks, whose shops were recently updated to support the Qi standard in a firmware update.
But even as Qi charging is experiencing a second renaissance as it achieves a new kind of mainstream success, it’s still important to remember that it’s ultimately a stopgap measure while real wireless charging gets sorted out. Sure, Qi charging does charge your phone without plugging it in, but you still need to place it on a specific pad every time, in a way that’s not really that much more convenient than a wired connection.
And in the halls of CES, the first stirrings of what comes next are already happening. Companies like Energous have started demoing true wireless charging, the kind that people really want, where their phones magically recharge from across a room without ever needing to plug in a cord or drop it on a charging pad. We’re still years away from practical real-world solutions, but for now, getting one step closer to that future is just a $20 desk accessory away.
This post was originally published on January 10th and has been updated to include video.