How Wireless Power Changes Design
Wireless power isn’t just about convenience; it also changes the way manufacturers can design devices. Once you don’t have to have a power socket (or a physical data port) on a device, you can make a sealed unit that’s waterproof and dustproof. Power sockets, USB ports and audio jacks have the highest failure rates of any components on the average phone handset; do away with them and your device can be more reliable and more rugged. It can be a different shape (no need for a flat edge to mount the power socket on) and it can be thinner (you don’t need it to be thick enough for the sockets to physically fit).
You can start to think very differently about what processor and other features to build into it, too. If you don’t have to worry about a phone needing to be recharged after eight hours because it can top up as needed, you can add more power-hungry features – like a faster CPU, better graphics processing, bigger and brighter screens, faster network connections (or multiple simultaneous network connections), more storage, and more background tasks running at once. Or you can put in a smaller battery, or even a supercapacitor, and get a lighter device. An iPad with wireless power built in could be remarkably thin.
As Qualcomm’s Mark Hunsicker puts it, “If the designer was concerned about putting this kind of processing power or this modem technology in the device because the battery would not sustain it, wireless power would change all that. You could have a more powerful user experience with the same battery size or use a smaller battery to get the same capability [you have now]. With a truly universal wireless experience, you can stream audio over Bluetooth and stream video over 60GHz and have Wi-Fi on and have 4G for wireless WWAN and in the long term there will be really no need for a physical connection. Personally, I have an Android device that I charge wirelessly; I sync my music and video over Wi-Fi, I can print from my handset to my home printer. I really never have to plug the device in for any reason.”
You can also put devices where you want them, not just where you have a power outlet. If you want to put a flat-screen TV on the wall you’ll likely be prepared to pay for the power outlet going in the right place, but if you just want to hang a digital photo frame on the wall you won’t do it if you have to have an outlet fitted behind it (and it’s both more attractive and much safer if you don’t have a dangling cable). An LED bulb can last 25 years before it starts to get dim, so you don’t have to put your bulbs where you can easily change them every couple of years; if you don’t need to run a cable, you get a lot more flexibility in where your lights can be.
The same goes for activity sensors that can turn off lights and air conditioning in an empty room; if you have to plug them in, they’re too expensive to put on the ceiling of every room. Wireless power is safer for wet areas like bathrooms (the eCoupled system is based on technology that’s been used on oil rigs and in swimming pool pumps for years). Once you don’t need the physical cable, the only limit is the designer’s imagination.