Is wireless charging really what it's cut out to be?

It's 2016 but the wireless charging solution we were promised is still in limbo

The dream of having your devices siphon power from a nearby power source on its own is coming closer than we ever imagined.

So close, in fact, that it's coming straight into our homes and into our desks, sofas, lights, and tableware.

But let’s face it, wireless charging furniture is still annoying as heck.

Sure, wireless charging is a great step up from the age of cables and wall plugs we live in now. Since wireless charging solutions have become small enough to fit into a small disc or mat, the options of how to fit them into our daily lives have been innumerable.

Both tech and non-tech companies have stepped up; Intel has created a wireless charging bowl, while IKEA’s collection of lamps, bedside tables, and Qi-enabled removable chargers have shaken the furniture industry.

The bar has been raised, and consumers are now asking — is it too much to ask for a table that can charge our phone?

Not quite. In fact, many people have already tested inserting these small wireless charging ports into big clunky pieces of wood or plastic.

Starbucks outlets in London have been testing the use of the PowerMat, a wireless charging source by Power Matters Alliance in their tables, while 50 McDonald’s locations in the UK are equipped with Aircharge Charging pads. King, an Australian furniture designer, released the King Cloud II as a “couch that charges your phone”, while FurniQi, a side table with a wireless charger built into its surface, received great praise from the likes of Cnet, Wired, and Yahoo.

Meanwhile, wireless charging modules are being sold on Amazon and Ebay for as little as US$10 (about RM40) a piece, for DIY enthusiasts looking to revolutionise their home furniture. All you need, after all, is a way to hide the AC adapter and wire.

A beautiful home and a phone with a full battery, that’s the real dream of the 2010s. But as amazing as that technology-infused catalogue dream is, the teething problems in the industry are making wireless charging furniture more of a hassle than an asset.

While IKEA took a big step to show homeowners where wireless charging could fit in their homes (hidden in any piece of furniture bulky enough to hide wires from a discerning eye), the reviews for IKEA Furniture have been peppered with the same issue - that placement of the phone has to be precise, or charging won’t happen at all.

While that seems to be nitpicking, the fourth or fifth time you spend adjusting your phone each time you put it down is bound to grate on your nerves. 

Kenneth Lou, founder of the now discontinued wireless charging smartphone case Ampere, shares that there won’t be any future for the wireless charging market if businesses do not set a standard. Though the Qi-enabled product reached its Indiegogo campaign goal of US$60,000 (about RM250,000) in a mere 24 hours, its initial release failed to impress users with its ineffective product design.

“People would rather have a faster wired charge than a way slower wireless charge,” shared Lou.

One of its main problems, according to Lou, is another pain point for wireless chargers — the exclusion of iPhone users, which made up a large portion of its target market. Whether it’s the fault of the wireless charging solutions today, or Apple themselves, iPhone users are still forced to use an adapter to be able to wirelessly charge at all.

Apple’s stance on wireless charging has been easily boiled down to a quote from Apple’s marketing chief Phil Schiller, who said back in 2012, “Having to create another device you have to plug into the wall is actually, for most situations, more complicated.”

In other words, the wireless technology we know right now is still contact charging, where your device touches a port while that port is plugged into a wall. That’s what keeps you constantly tapping and adjusting the position of your phone on a surface, until you hit some sort of elusive power sweet spot.

It should come to no surprise, then, that Apple announced their OTA (over-the-air) charging solution for Apple devices, which rumours say will be built into actual Mac devices. Instead of making use of individual charging ports, OTA charging instantly charges any device within a radius of it, without having to come in contact with any port.

The nearest visible reference to OTA technology right now is Washington-based Ossia, who recently showed off its Cota transmitter at this year’s CES. The said transmitter charges devices contactlessly within a 10 feet (3 metre) radius rather than requiring actual contact. The cylindrical device is expected to arrive by the end of the year.

That’s what we need in our furniture — devices like the Cota transmitter that can be hidden in a TV console or sofa with a charging reach that could go as wide as a whole apartment unit.

While we wait for the world to catch up with this better wireless charging dream, our version of wireless charging furniture is still too much of a nuisance to be the preferred mode of of charging. Chances are, majority of device users will still fall back on their fail-safe finicky cables.

Wireless charging furniture is a great gimmick, and possibly a short-lived one, but we may have to wait a little longer before our dream of the 2010s comes true.

Or, you know, we could just get better batteries in our devices.