Nokia Lumia Smartphones Usher in New Culture of Wireless Charging

The Wireless Power Consortium is pushing for a culture in which devices take quick power naps throughout the day and an iPhone, iPad or Nokia Lumia could power up on a single charging pad.

When Nokia introduced the Lumia 920 and Lumia 820 smartphones Sept. 5, it also showed off the Fatboy Recharge Pillow, one of a number of wireless charging accessories and partnerships that it shared during the New York event.

While Nokia called the Fatboy "a fun way to recharge," the technology behind it is a serious endeavor backed by the Wireless Power Consortium (WPC), which consists of 122 companies, such as phone makers, wireless carriers and original equipment and design manufacturers, from around the globe.

The new Lumia smartphones' batteries are integrated with Qi wireless charging technology, which works through magnetic induction. Qi (pronounced chi, or chee) is the proper noun version of the Chinese term for life force or energy flow. This new type of energy flow, says Bret Lewis, chair of the WPC's steering group and the director of Fulton Innovation, is "the standard that the world has selected."

A primary concern of device is battery life, according to Lewis, and perhaps rightly so-with users multitasking between streaming video, streaming music, emailing and Web surfing on high-definition displays, it's increasingly difficult for manufacturers to offer all-day battery life. The iPhone has been panned for being a too-ready example of this, while Motorola is a notable exception. On Sept. 5, it introduced the Razr Maxx HD, a smartphone that can stream 13 hours of video or last through 21 hours of conversation.

"Really, you don't want to carry around a battery [large enough to] last 10 hours," Lewis told eWEEK. "We want devices to do more and be thinner."

Rather than push charging technology, the WPC approach is to create a culture in which wireless charging is more natural and ubiquitous-one in which devices sip at power at various points throughout the day, versus the one-go overnight charge.

Just as we expect WiFi in a hotel lobby, in three to five years' time, Lewis predicted, people will expect the presence of a wireless pad on which they can set down their smartphone and tablet while they check in, or have a cup of coffee.

In 2010, the European Commission began pushing for a universal mobile phone charging system that enables phones, regardless of brand, to share chargers and eventually eliminate the need to include a new charger in each box with a device.

"In the next five years, I'd like for you to not have to buy a charger with your phone, and to have a [wireless charging pad] on your nightstand and in your kitchen," said Lewis. In that same time frame, he expects we'll see automakers including wireless charging in vehicles.

Lewis say that Verizon Wireless has committed to programs making devices compatible with Qi, and that 10 or 11 devices on the market already feature the technology. In Japan, the technology took off eight or nine months ago, and very quickly was on more than two million devices and complemented by mobile apps that help users to find bars or restaurants that make Qi chargers available.

Among Nokia's Sept. 5 announcements was that it has penned a deal with Virgin Atlantic, which will offer "wireless charging facilities" at its London Heathrow Clubhouse for passengers, as well as with The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf chain, which will offer charging at its cafes, of which there are more than 850.

A perk of the technology is that, unlike chargers, they don't continue to draw power from the outlet when a device isn't being charged. Also, they can be a two-for-one.

"There will be some things in the media in the next few days," said Lewis, about charging more than one device at a time on a pad, and potentially charging a tablet and a phone on the same pad.

Apple isn't a member of the WPC, Lewis clarifies. However, it seems to have a relationship with Fulton Innovation, which on its Website says it has created a "portfolio of products with the power and vision to change the way people interact with a spectrum of electronic devices."

"Fulton Innovation can't talk about its relationship with Apple," added Lewis.