What's next for the wireless charging industry?

Mar 29, 2016, 2:15 PM EDT
Starbucks Coffee Wireless Charging Powermat. (Source: Shinya Suzuki/flickr)
Starbucks Coffee Wireless Charging Powermat. (Source: Shinya Suzuki/flickr)

On Tuesday, IHS Inc. released a report detailing how the wireless charging market will mature this year, having grown more than 160% in 2015 over the previous year. The report comes at an opportune time -- for years, big tech companies have been trying to figure out how to create a standard for wireless charging so that the next generation of devices will ship in tandem with that of charging tech. (Note that these efforts have long been stymied by the presence of various coalitions formed by multiple groups of tech companies in order to try to set standards for wireless charging.)

The IHS report states that annual global shipments reached 144 million units, system design improved, integrated receivers “hit mainstream devices,” and diversification for applications and power ratings are now "driving the development” of wireless charging. Annual shipment volume is expected to top 1 billion units by 2020 and 2 billion by 2025, according to the group. Its research manager for wireless power, David Green, said that device developments and new product launches last year helped to increase consumer awareness, and that in general users are paying more attention to wireless charging capability.

Still, few mobile devices are actually equipped with wireless charging capability. The IHS forecasts that 10% of smartphones shipped this year will be capable of wireless charging. And Samsung has been at the forefront of this tech when it comes to its Galaxy smartphone series. Of course, rumors are always swirling about Apple and other household smartphone companies about when they’ll release devices that can charge wirelessly, and what those devices will look like.

However, setting a standard for wireless charging remains a challenge. As mentioned above, separate groups have previously established their own standards. And late last year, several groups seeking to innovate in wireless charging came together to form the AirFuel Alliance, which includes nearly 200 member companies. In January, the Alliance received “worldwide regulatory approval”, and was able to expand its certification program. The Alliance says it is focused on creating broader interoperability for wireless charging products, and seeks to drive one standard form of charging and ultimately brand other products to create an AirFuel-certified network of devices.

However, the AirFuel Alliance still has the Wireless Power Consortium to contest with — the group has its own standard, dubbed Qi, which has been adopted by a number of manufacturers and product lines already.

The wireless charging conundrum also affects the internet of things. Charging standards in general are changing, and as more devices come onto networks, the more the battery life of those devices will matter as they communicate with one another. Just as big tech companies are trying to figure out how to come together to create one operating standard for the internet of things, wireless charging compatibility faces similar obstacles. For now, the wireless charging scene is still anyone’s game.