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Wireless charging: Everything you need to know

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IKEA and samsung both launched wireless charging solutions at MWC last week

Is 2015 the year of the wireless charger? That was one of the big questions at this year’s Mobile World Congress, where tangled wires and and cables were tucked out of view, replaced by sleek, Swedish-made lamps and bedside tables.

That’s because IKEA has announced it will be embracing the technology with its latest Homesmart range, adding a technological edge to their suspiciously reasonable furniture, as well as offering a range of charging platforms (see above) to be sold separately. They join Samsung, whose Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge, also unveiled at MWC, join a growing number of retailers offering wireless charging capabilities. So, are we on the brink of a charging revolution, or is this just the latest technological gimmick aimed at the same generation that allows these ‘smart’ gadgets to exist. Let’s find out…

Hang on, what is wireless charging again?

Apologies, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. As The Telegraph notes, wireless charging actually dates back to 1891, when Nikola Tesla first demonstrated the technology by succeeding to light electric lamps without using any wire or cable. The process relies on an electromagnetic field to transfer energy between two objects, typically created by passing an alternating current between two coils (one a transmitter, and one a receiver).

As you’ve probably gathered by now, it’s taken a while to properly catch on in a way that really benefits consumers, most commonly used in low-energy gadgets like electric toothbrushes and razors. Now, though, wireless charging has got to a point where it could go mainstream. It won’t have enough oomph to bring a laptop back to life just yet, but it will rejuvenate your smartphone with minimum effort – and that’s really all we’ve ever wanted.

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Samsung’s Galaxy S6 Edge resting on a wireless charger (which actually needs a wire to work)

So I can throw away my charger?

Wait, we didn’t say you should do that. No really, don’t do that! While in theory smartphones from Samsung, Google, HTC and Nokia have all adopted wireless charging (as well as Apple’s imminent Apple Watch,) in practice the infrastructure is still a long way from being ready. You can already buy yourself ‘wireless’ charging stations like those soon to be offered by IKEA, but, in truth, they need to be plugged in to the wall to actually work. When it comes to carrying one of those around or relying on one of the few, sparsely-located public charging spots, it’s probably worth sticking with what you’ve got.

Why should I care about wireless charging then?

If wireless charging is going to become the norm then it needs one thing: standardisation. Having a fancy IKEA lamp in your home that revives your smartphone is all well and good, but if the charging station in your local coffee shop isn’t compatible then you’ve got yourself a very 21st century problem. However, with a wireless charging standard in place, the technology can be fitted everywhere – from airports and restaurants to office desks and your local park bench – which in turn would give this charging alternative a true value. We’re still only talking about doing away with phone chargers here – but hey, once you extend that to laptop chargers, keyboards, digital cameras and every other gadget in your life that seems to die just when you need it the most, then you’ve got something worth pursuing.

Right now there are three different organisations offering three different inductive charging solutions – QIPMA and A4WP – and until we all agree on one, our phones will probably remain plugged in. The good news is that we may be getting closer, PMA and A4WP have recently joined forces, while QI is perhaps still in poll position after supporting IKEA and Samsung’s MWC announcements.

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IKEA’s vision for wireless charging is built right into the furniture

But what about ACTUAL wireless charging. Y’know, without wires?

Right, well spotted – the problem with all of these wireless charging technologies is that none of them are actually wireless. Even if you buy an item of IKEA’s ‘wireless’ charging furniture, it’ll be chosen from a narrow design range and you’ll still be plugging it into the wall. So, is true wireless charging even possible?

One company that thinks so is Wi-charge, which wants to use infrared lasers fitted inside light fixtures and smoke detectors to keep our devices permanently juiced up. The laser is beamed from the transmitter to a receiver across the room where it is converted to electric energy that can charge any device within a 30ft range. Sounds great, right? But the company still has a lot of issues to work out, including the quality of the charge and the safety of the lasers – which probably won’t melt your face off, but might interfere with a pacemaker.

Even if it manages to jump those hurdles successfully, Wi-charge will still need to convince industry leaders that their technology is any better than the more advanced QI, or indeed a regular charger with a plug. The company’s predicts the full smartphone-integrated version of Wi-charge could be available by 2018, so even if all goes well, it looks like the year of the wireless charger could still be a few years away.

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