A chasm has opened up over new wireless charging technology which could do away with the plethora of adapters and cables that bedevil mobile users.
The idea is that it will eventually be possible to charge a device simply by placing it on any enabled flat service, such as a table, an aircraft seat shelf, a car console or an office desk.
The technology is identical to that in an electric toothbrush that charges when inserted into its base. The toothbrush and base are effectively two halves of a transformer, and the primary winding in the base delivers a current by electromagnetic induction into a coil in the toothbrush.
An industry body known as the Wireless Power Consortium (WPC) has proposed a standard called Qi, which is set to be finalised later this year and will allow charging points to be installed in furniture and table mats, for example. Client devices will also need to be adapted.
Qi has the backing of some very big names, including National Semiconductor, Olympus, Nokia, Philips, Sanyo, Texas Instruments, Duracell, Samsung, Sony Ericsson and Verizon.
Another member, Fulton Innovation, is at Mobile World Congress this year demonstrating a mock up of a Toyota console with Qi charging surfaces for mobile phones and sat-nav devices.
Fulton's technology is already used in the Dell Latitude Z laptop, but this includes proprietary technology because the draft Qi specification covers only low-power devices drawing up to 5W, equivalent to the maximum power delivered by a USB port. The next iteration will support enough power for a laptop.
Tim Bower, account representative at Fulton, claimed that Qi is already gaining momentum, and that a number of furniture manufacturers have shown interest in incorporating the standard into products.
The efficiency of the system is surprisingly high, considering that it lacks the tight coupling usual in a transformer. Bower said that it is around 70-80 per cent, about the same as a normal power adapter, thanks to the tiny gap of less than 5mm between the primary and secondary coils.
All of which sounds promising, except that Powermat, which claims to be the wireless power market leader with a large installed base, has so far refused to join the WPC.
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