Truly Wireless ‘AirPower’ — Real or Fake?

Tech giant Xiaomi just click-baited the whole entire internet — again! — this time with their latest, greatest render-ware… ever — true wireless charging. No cables. No pads. No nothing. Just ubiquitous, ambient power, constantly beamed into all of our devices.

But here’s the billion dollar, take all my money now, question — is it real… or just real fake?

Our phones used to need a cable just to make a call. Ask your grandparents. Then they went cordless. We used to have to plug in to use the internet. Ask your parents. Then we got Wi-Fi and cellular. Not too long ago, we needed a power adapter to charge. Now we have inductive pads, like MagSafe. And, soon, maybe… one day… eventually…. truly wireless charging. Power just… beamed straight through the air.

A lot of companies have been working on this for a long time.

Rumor had it Apple was considering short-range truly wireless charging for the iPhone X. A base-station like the old AirPort Extreme or HomePod, but instead of Wi-Fi or computational audio, it would just… radiate power. You’d leave it on your desk or bedside table or kitchen island, put your iPhone down somewhere in its vicinity, and it would just… charge. You could prioritize which of several devices you wanted to charge first, and to how much, before it would start shifting the power around.

But what Xiaomi is teasing — and let’s be 100% crystal clear, teasing is all it is right now, just a complete tech thirst trap — what Xiaomi is teasing is a huge escalation over short distance truly wireless charging. It’s room filling. Now, if you’re thinking there’s just gotta be a whole host of problems with that, you’re doing the kind of thinking that’s right. And more on that in a charging hot minute.

But what the concept renders show is a base station the size of a… of a beer fridge, with dozens of antennas, beam forming mmWave-like high band frequency transmissions at our phones and similar devices, locked on to a U1 or similar spatial positioning beacon, so as we walk around using them, texting, gaming, browsing, watching my YouTube videos the second they drop because you’re a super hero who hit that subscribe button and bell, and I appreciate you!

Instead of the battery level draining down… it’s charging up.

Which is just… the beautiful dream. Like, sci-fi level cool. The way every gadget works in every movie, never running out of power, not unless and until it becomes critical to the plot.

Now, there are problems with all of this, of course. Beyond simply that it’s not at all a real product yet, just a bunch of medium effort computer graphics. And even when and if it starts to ship, it’s going to be way less science fiction and way more science fact — way less JARVIS and way more Siri — for generations at least.

And even though all of these radio waves have been around us humans for a long time already, and the chances of them being dangerous — like setting our cats or crotches on fire — are about the same as the chances of them giving us super powers, like Wanda or Captain Marvel style super powers, are just wicked low. Not that that’ll be of any comfort to the cable news and Facebook fed conspiracy prone who don’t believe in the pandemic but somehow at the same time believe 5G caused the pandemic… that they don’t believe in.

But fundamental problems like how many base stations will you need per house, per room even? Xiaomi says they can charge through obstacles… but mmWave is currently blocked, like utterly and completely blocked by… leaves… even rain. So, are they planning on ricocheting beams off multiple base stations or objects like they’re filled with tiny Dude Perfects or something?

What kind of heat will they generate in the device? What kind of power draw will the base stations require? How fast will the technology mature? Never mind the devices, how often will we need to upgrade the base stations, and what will that cost? To buy? To lease? More than a $20 USB-C wall adapter, wanna bet? Let me know what you think in the comments.

Also, Xiaomi is talking about providing 5 watts of power… when and if this concept ever materializes into a reality. That’s what the rinky-dinky OG iPhone charger provided, the one everyone complained about being too rinky-dinky for years. It’s why companies like Xiaomi started putting their chargers on Hulk serum, even breaking compatibility for proprietary plugs, and breaking their batteries up into multiple cells so they could charge them in parallel. Basically, putting speed ahead of every other concern, even overall battery capacity and long term battery health.

Well, every concern but convenience. Because, at the same time we were complaining about wired charging speeds, we were also complaining about the lack of inductive chargers that were… yes, way less speedy.

AC plug on the back end, coils in a pad on a front end that transfer power to the coils in our phones in other end, only nowhere nearly as efficiently. Starting us all the way back down at 5 watts. Only to jump that back up with even more power hungry proprietary chargers to pump out even more speed, and heat.

Now, one day, truly wireless, for the ultimate in convenience but – just the opposite of that in terms of efficiency. Starting, say it with me, right back at the bottom with 5 watts.

But don’t let me reality punch you in your Tony Stark spot, because I’m also ludicrously excited about all of this.

Even beyond the rumors back in 2017, this is clearly where Apple has been headed for years. For years. First with inductive charging in the iPhone 8, and the ill-fated attempt at an AirPower charging pad, the one hindered and ultimately canceled by Apple’s desire to let you charge any device, including the non-standard Apple Watch, in any arbitrary place on the pad.

But they’ve been pressing on with other versions, introducing MagSafe with the iPhone 12, and now they’re rumored to be considering at least one portless model for the Phone 13. I just did a whole video on that, link in the description.

And that’ll start by leaning on MagSafe, sure, but the endgame just has to be a true AirPower system, no Mag or Safe needed. For the iPhone, which pretty much everyone is fine dropping down on or even better, near, a power source every so often to top it up, but for the Apple Watch, which most people want to just keep charged for much longer, and especially for future products like Apple Glasses, which will have the tiniest of batteries but also our least amount of tolerance for having to take them off and charge them.

Now, remember, the grand dream with inductive charging was going to be Qi embedded in every table at every restaurant and coffee shop, in bus, train, plane, and ride-share. Just… everywhere. Ubiquitous power for everyone. And, even 2020, the AirPower of years aside, that’s still not even come close, not close, to materializing.

So, while this Xiaomi render is just a render, if we look out over the next 100 years, providing we don’t conspiracy theory ourselves into extinction, if we look out over the next 100 years? Certainly. 50 years? Almost certainly. 25 years? I bet. 10 years. I think so. 5 years? Maybe?

But at some point in the near-ish future, I think it’s safe to say our power cords will go the way our telephone cables did, our internet cables, our audio cables, and we’ll just have mostly efficient, highly convenient truly wireless charging in our homes and offices and schools and malls, and then, just… everywhere.

With Xiaomi and probably Samsung, even Google, prototyping it, experimenting with it right out in the open, and Apple doing what Apple does, especially after what happened with the original AirPower — keeping it a secret project prototyped and experimented with strictly internally, until they’re ready to announce a commercialized, mainstream version that’s ready to ship that fall, with the next iPhone. And Apple Glasses.