Apple AirPower prototype appears online — and this one works

apple airpower
(Image credit: Apple)

Apple’s AirPower wireless charger holds a near-mythical status these days. Not only was it a rare case of Apple announcing a product before it was ready, it also ended up being cancelled, never to see the light of day.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn about what could have been, thanks to someone getting their hands on a working AirPower prototype (via The Verge).

Apple announced AirPower back in September 2017, alongside the wireless charging iPhone X. The idea was that it would be able to charge an iPhone, AirPods, and an Apple Watch all at the same time. But the charger was later cancelled in March 2019 due to difficulties actually accomplishing that lofty goal.

In the years since, we’ve seen plenty of AirPower alternatives, and some of the best wireless chargers can indeed charge an iPhone, Apple Watch and AirPods simultaneously. We've also seen teardowns of unreleased AirPower tech. But this is the first time anyone has come across a working AirPower prototype, however.

Giulio Zompetti, a 28-year old Apple prototype collector from Italy, told the Verge that he was able to purchase the prototype from Chinese e-waste sources. Apparently, the charger lacks all of its exterior housing, showing all the internal electronics inside a “heavy stainless steel chassis." That includes 22 coils on the front of the mat, and 22 controller circuits on the back.

Unfortunately, the AirPower prototype will only work with a special prototype iPhone, otherwise the coils won’t activate. According to Zompetti the coils have to be woken up by the device itself, and he told The Verge that he’s been able to use it to simultaneously charge two prototype units so far. A video of one such device being charged was posted to Zompetti’s Twitter account last week.

Either way, it seems that Zompetti was on to something, as apparently AirPower has been reborn.

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But if it worked, why did Apple end up cancelling AirPower? The main difficulty was that AirPower wasn’t supposed to be limited by positioning. In other words you could put your device anywhere on the mat, and it would start charging.

That involved having multiple coils in the charger, since most wireless chargers only have a single coil, it requires precise positioning for recharging to occur. It probably didn’t help that the Apple Watch uses a different charging standard than the Phone and other Qi wireless charging devices.

According to Apple the tech did not “achieve [Apple’s] high standards," And didn’t elaborate any further. Rumor was that the company was having issues with overheating, though Zompetti says that he hasn’t been able to replicate that issue. 

We can only take Zompetti’s word for a lot of this, but The Verge does note that he’s been collecting Apple prototypes for some time. In any case it’s an interesting look at what could have been, had Apple been able to get AirPower to work in the way it had originally promised.

Or perhaps even what could still be, if rumors about AirPower's potential resurrection are true. Don't get too excited, though, because this time it's likely we won't hear about it unless the charging mat is actually ready to sell.

Tom Pritchard
UK Phones Editor

Tom is the Tom's Guide's UK Phones Editor, tackling the latest smartphone news and vocally expressing his opinions about upcoming features or changes. It's long way from his days as editor of Gizmodo UK, when pretty much everything was on the table. He’s usually found trying to squeeze another giant Lego set onto the shelf, draining very large cups of coffee, or complaining about how terrible his Smart TV is.