Here’s a closer look at Apple’s canceled AirPower wireless charger

A working Apple AirPower prototype unit.
Image: Giulio Zompetti

Apple’s AirPower wireless charger was supposed to arrive with the unique ability to charge an iPhone, Apple Watch, and AirPods all at the same time. Unfortunately, Apple canceled AirPower in March 2019, citing difficulties in bringing the product to life. Since then, we’ve seen a teardown of AirPower, some AirPower clones, and Apple’s MagSafe battery packs. Now, an Apple prototype collector has obtained a working AirPower unit for the first time.

Speaking to The Verge, Giulio Zompetti, a 28-year-old from Italy, says he has been able to purchase a prototype AirPower unit from Chinese e-waste sources. “The unit lacks all of its exterior housing, and shows this beautiful and heavy stainless steel chassis,” says Zompetti.

The controller circuits on an AirPower prototype.

In photos supplied to The Verge, you can see the AirPower mat powering a prototype iPhone, with its 22 coils on the front-facing side and 22 controller circuits on the rear. In order for this AirPower prototype to work, it has to be paired with special prototype iPhone hardware to activate the coils.

“It doesn’t work with production devices, because the coils are woken up by the device,” explains Zompetti, who says he’s been able to charge two prototype devices simultaneously so far. Zompetti says he received the unit in December and was able to interact with it initially through a serial lightning cable.

“It’s an engineering prototype, it’s not meant for plug and play,” says Zompetti. “When I connected my serial lightning cable to it, I could see some chars on the log, so once I fixed the BAUD rate, I was able to read a comprehensible log.” There’s even an interactive shell to interact with the AirPower, as part of the engineering of the device.

Apple’s canceled AirPower pad was supposed to let you drop devices anywhere on it to charge thanks to multiple coils, without having to find that specific sweet spot. But various reports suggested Apple was struggling with overheating issues during development. “I wasn’t able to reproduce the issue but still can’t say it isn’t there,” says Zompetti.

While we haven’t been able to independently verify the AirPower device as it’s extremely rare, Zompetti has a history of collecting Apple prototype hardware. He’s been collecting devices since March 2018, including a rare prototype of the first Apple Watch. “It became my main passion since then to find the most good looking prototypes,” says Zompetti. He’s collected around 35 units so far, with a variety of rare iPhone and iPod prototypes in his collection.

This passion has seen Zompetti travel to engineers for help repairing old devices. “It’s almost always about finding broken or incomplete units and fixing them to bring them back to life” says Zompetti. An unreleased AirPower device is “definitely among the best” prototype hardware he’s found so far, he says.

Comments

This looks pretty freakin’ cool! Shame it got cancelled due to overheating issues.

Not just overheating, they started releasing "loop" bands for the watches right around the same time which would not work with this as they can’t lie flat. So they made that overpriced folding thing with the flip up watch charger instead.

I’m guessing most of the solo loop bands could just be twisted/inverted so the watch body would sit flat and the loop would be up over the watch screen.

True but very un-Apple… well maybe not as you have to flip the mouse upside down to charge.

And let’s not forget the Apple Pencil that you plugged in like a popsicle stick to charge. Apple has had its fair share of truly terrible designs, especially when it comes to charging.

Not only that, but if you forget and don’t charge it for a while, the batteries are so small they essentially just die. And of course the batteries are impossible to replace. So if you don’t use their stupid solution regularly or buy another dedicated charger you have a $99 piece of trash.

I’d much rather have a stylus with a replaceable battery, for that reason. Do those even exist?

The stylus on my Surface Pro 4 has a replaceable AAAA battery.

The one for my Lenovo Chromebook Duet does too, actually.

That’s what I’m talking about! Maybe I’ll get one of those. I wonder if it would work with my phone.

I doubt it – it’s specifically designed for the Surface Pro

Oh, damn. Well, I guess I’m sticking with my old cheap non-powered Wacom stylus, then.

What a concept!

you mean like the Milanese loop that had been available since day 1?

The animation on the iPhone when it’s placed on the charger is the coolest part of this for me. Surprised that much effort would be placed into a prototype feature of iOS.

The animations is something they showed really early on and it’s something I’ve been hoping for with other chargers.
Its a little thing, but its nice and makes it a little less mundane.

Agreed! Just like the Airplane Mode animation in the status bar.
I feel like Apple has scaled back on things like this, so it’s good to see it still happening.

It feels a bit excessive. Why do I need to see full screen 3+ second animation with a spinning 3D model of my phone, on my phone, to understand that it’s charging?

Near-literal hat on a hat energy.

…because its pretty.

I miss the animations they have when you first started up after installing OS X for the first time. Still have that music in my head.

Unlike some items like an app bouncing in the dock when starting on the computer (which I turn off) this would just be a fun little thing, something Apple has been doing since your computer smiled at you during startup….

I agree, it was quirky and fun and only added to the experience. Especially for something like this you’re going to set it down and not immediately interact with it so why not make something that looks cool?

Scientists will successfully clone a T-Rex before this ever hits stores.

All those circuits spread out across like that seems wasteful. I’m kinda glad this never made it to market.

At least Botanicula made it to market

Normally a story like this would get out to try to distract from bad news, like maybe apple rifling through all your photos looking for child porn.

This being Apple they probably released that news to avoid people seeing that they’d failed to make a wireless charger.

Interesting that they went from airpower’s "just place it anywhere to charge" to "charge via this exact spot" with magsafe. Kind of accomplishes the same thing though as the user doesn’t have to worry about precision since the magnets will self-align.

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