Microsoft Files Patent for Wireless Charging Pad

By Nicholas Kolakowski  |  Posted 2010-02-23 Print this article Print

Microsoft filed a patent application for a wireless charging pad for portable devices, which could become a useful accessory for both smartphones and tablet PCs. Other companies, including Palm and Nokia, have either released or been experimenting with wireless charging docks. Microsoft's patent describes a device that can charge other electronics with the speed and efficiency of traditional "cord equipped" chargers. In conjunction with hardware partners, Microsoft has been planning tablet PCs, and possibly a branded smartphone, that could benefit from an accessory such as a wireless charger.

Microsoft issued a patent application on Feb. 18 describing a wireless charging pad for portable devices, in a hint of what the company could be thinking as it moves more aggressively into both the smartphone and tablet PC space.

"A charging device as described herein can utilize a sensor-integrated resonating circuit with automatic frequency control to prove low-cost inductive charging functionality for electronic devices," reads the patent's abstract. "Further, a charging device as described herein can have an inductive charging surface as well as a non-charging surface for providing other services such as information display."

In essence, the patent sets out to solve what it describes as a particular issue: "Wireless charging techniques typically provide low efficiency and slow charging speeds as compared to comparable wired charging solutions." In addition, such devices are also expensive and require a form-factor too large to easily "fit inside a portable device."

Other manufacturers have been dipping their toes into the wireless-charging space. In May 2009, Palm announced that the Pre would debut with a wireless charging pad dubbed the "Touchstone," which utilized electromagnetic induction to power devices and retailed for $69.99.

Nokia researchers have also been reportedly experimenting with ways to charge mobile and wireless devices, aiming to eventually create a device that collects up to 50 milliwatts of power, enough to charge a cell phone that has been turned off. However, those researchers also suggested that such technology could potentially be years away from mainstream manufacture.

Microsoft's patent describes a device capable of efficiently charging other electronics via "a sensor-integrated resonating circuit with automatic frequency control to provide low-cost inductive charging functionality for electronic devices." In theory, that would make the device as efficient and speedy as its cord-equipped equivalent. 

A wireless charging pad could potentially dovetail with other rumored areas of Microsoft research. According to a recent report by Northeast Securities analyst Ashok Kumar, Microsoft could release a branded smartphone running its new mobile operating system, Windows Phone 7 Series, at some point in 2011; even if that rumor never pans out, other whispers about Microsoft developing a branded device under the umbrella of "Project Pink" have been circulating for some time. As Palm demonstrated with the Pre, there is utility for a wireless charger.

Microsoft has also been moving with hardware partners such as Hewlett-Packard to introduce a series of tablet PCs running Windows 7 throughout 2010 and into 2011. Those tablets would function as both multimedia devices and e-readers, and compete against Apple's upcoming iPad tablet. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer unveiled three tablets, including HP's "Slate," during his Jan. 6 keynote address at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.

A charging pad, particularly one with a screen, could become a vital accessory for future tablet PCs, as well. As with many patents filed by tech companies, though, the document could more represent an attempt to lock down an idea than a genuine research initiative.

Nicholas Kolakowski is a staff editor at eWEEK, covering Microsoft and other companies in the enterprise space, as well as evolving technology such as tablet PCs. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, Playboy, WebMD, AARP the Magazine, AutoWeek, Washington City Paper, Trader Monthly, and Private Air. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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