Since it was first previewed at CES last winter, the Powermat wireless charging system has definitely been raising some buzz. Now officially available to the retail public, Powermat’s new line of products have proved an attractive ambassador for the future of wireless charging. The relatively simple system consists of a plug-in charging mat and a receiver coil embedded in a back cover for your portable device. The main advantage of the system is that it can simultaneously charge up to three devices while eliminating the need for that tangle of multiple charging cords and adapters. The low-profile receiver coils are available in the form of a protective add-on sheath for the Nintendo DS, Apple iPhone 3G, and iPod Touch, and as a replacement rear battery door for Blackberry products (Bold, Pearl, Curve 8300 and 8900). For those devices which receivers are not yet available Powermat is offering the “Powercube Universal Receiver” which will connect devices via a small box with interchangeable tips like the common mini & micro usb format.
wireless charging stand for the Latitude Z desktop
While Powermat may be the leading solution for wireless charging currently on the market, the technology it uses is certainly not new to the world of consumer electronics Palm Inc. has released the Touchstone wireless charging system for it’s Palm Pre phones. Philips is using it for its products, such as the Sonicare toothbrush. Even more notable is the new high end business laptop from Dell the Latitude Z, which boasts an integrated wireless charging capability.
The release of the Powermat system has also added an intriguing new dynamic to the current fervor surrounding wireless and induction power. While many of the other technology players are focusing on establishing industry standards and forging alliances with device manufacturers, Powermat is taking the “first to market” approach. Such a strategy is common in the volatile consumer electronics market, and can bring either great reward or major failure. The idea behind it is portrayed best by the Apple i-archetype of establishing industry standards and peripheral sub-markets through sheer consumer popularity and market control. Time will tell whether Powermat will last out, but they’re certainly off to an interesting start.
apple iphone with "receiver coil" case for the Powermat system
The challenge facing companies like Powermat who are seeking to address the consumer need for multiple device charging, is how to best integrate with the myriad of devices out there. Many in the industry are predicting that it is simply a matter of time before device producers will begin to incorporate induction charging coils directly into their product’s designs. In the mean time it is up to the charging pad producers to provide their own secondary solutions. While Powermat has been able to produce interchangeable parts for the Blackberry line, they can offer only external cases for most others, and are still stuck in the limbo of having to sell these as secondary components at additional entry-level cost to their customer. This may prove to turn some off despite the perceived convenience they would gain.
Beyond simple recharging for handhelds, it’s not hard to imagine some other exciting potential applications for this type of technology. Chief among these is the role wireless power might play if it where to be integrated directly into the surfaces that make up our living and working environments. So its to no surprise that Powerpad is already collaborating with the office design company Teknion, to demonstrate how wireless powering could be used in the walls, partitions, and desktops that make-up the modern office space. The effort earned the company the Best of Competition Award at this years NeoCon conference in Chicago. By concealing the powermat technology within existing surfaces, a very compelling image of an invisibly powered office emerges, powering thinks like task lamps and computer monitors with out the need for cords and outlets.
I’m writing a lot about this topic because I feel it has real potential to be a “game changing” technology. Now I know its easy to get wrapped up in the buzz around new technologies, but “unwiring” our environments is an increasingly worthy challange as we continue to become more tied to portable electronic devices. I’ve been following the various companies involved in wireless powering for several years now, since back when I was a product design student. I’m very excited to see this new surge in momentum behind magnetic induction applications and interested to see how consumers will respond to new products like the Powermat.