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The challenge with wireless charging: not speed, but convenience

On: April 13, 2020

So the new OnePlus will come with wireless charging. And extremely fast wireless charging too – 30W, no less. With that, wireless charging has broken one more barrier – speed. One of the charges (pun intended) levelled against it was the fact that most wireless chargers tended to be on the very slow side – a fast wireless charger for most folks means something that charges at 10W. So is that going to be THE change that makes wireless charging a super desirable feature?

Well, no. 

Wireless charging is still niche

Let me make this clear at the very outset:  this is not about the forthcoming OnePlus device(s). It is about wireless charging. We first saw wireless charging in a high-profile device in the Nokia Lumia series in 2012. Prior to that, we had HTC and Samsung put out devices with swappable back covers that supported wireless charging. But for some reason, the idea of charging without wires has never really caught on. It is definitely something to be ticked off on the spec sheet of flagships but has never progressed towards the mainstream, something you think would have happened in a period of almost a decade. I mean, we have seen features like fingerprint scanners, multiple cameras and bezel-less displays go mainstream, but wireless charging has somehow stubbornly stayed niche. 

The biggest reason why wireless has not really become a part of our mainstream tech lives is not that it is not cool, or because it is not fast enough or heck, even because it is not affordable. No, the main reason for wireless charging staying niche rather than the mainstream is that it simply is not convenient.

Challenges with wireless charging

I can see some people shaking their heads in disbelief in that. Come on, they would say, of course, it is convenient. You do not have to plug your device into a charger but simply place your device on a charging pad. No need to worry about what sort of charging port your device has. Just place it on the charging pad or mat. It does not get simpler than that, does it?

To be fair, it does not. And well, in terms of the charging process, wireless charging is definitely a whole lot simpler than conventional “plug it in” charging. You just place your phone on a charger. Duh! The problem, however, is that there is much more to charging than just, well, how you connect your phone to the charger. Let me explain. 

A phone charger is a rather important piece of hardware. Given how much we use our phones these days, even with larger batteries, people like to carry their phone chargers along just to be on the safe side for THOSE moments when phone batteries run low. And that actually brings us to the first problem of convenience with wireless chargers – they are simply much more bulky to carry as compared to conventional micro-USB or USB Type-C chargers. Yes, the wall adapter or plug itself can be a slightly large in the case of the conventional charger, but the rest of it is all wire, really. In wireless chargers, however, you have not just the wall plug that could be a little bulky but also the charging pad or the stand, as the case may be. And unlike with conventional chargers, where you can even leave the wall plug behind and simply carry a wire, allowing you to charge your phone from a notebook or a power bank, in wireless charging, there is just no way, you can leave that pad or stand if you want to continue to enjoy wireless charging.

There is also another factor. A lot of us like to continue using our phones while they are being charged. And that is perfectly possible with a conventional charging system, all you need to do is to ensure that the phone is connected to the wire which should, in turn, might be plugged into a power source. You can hold the phone normally and use it the way you would like to. Only the base of the phone which houses the charging port is blocked. That scenario changes a little when it comes to wireless charging. As wireless charging at the moment uses the back of the phone, holding the phone in your hand is not an option when it is charging wirelessly. Yes, you can use the phone while it is lying on its pad or standing upright on a wireless charging stand, but it is not very convenient and some tasks become downright impossible, such as taking pictures, playing games which involve holding the phone and using both hands, or even taking calls (unless you have earphones connected). 

Finally, there is the matter of space. With a conventional charger, you can just connect your phone to the power outlet and even drop your phone into a bag if needed or place it anywhere you wish. That option is not available with a wireless charger. You have to find a place where you can keep the pad or stand and place the phone on it. It also kind of limits the utility of a power bank – you cannot carry the phone while it is connected to the power bank and keep using it, as you HAVE to keep the phone on the wireless charging mat or pad. 

Bottomline

No, this is not to write off wireless charging totally. It definitely has its uses and perhaps a day will come when a small charging pad (like say, the one for the Apple Watch) will be able to recharge a full-sized phone easily. But until that happens, wireless charging is going to remain like that tuxedo or cocktail dress you save for special occasions – super cool, super classy, but not really very convenient for everyday use.

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Nimish Dubey

Nimish Dubey has been writing on technology since 1999. He has contributed to a number of publications and websites including The Times of India, Hindustan Times, Mint, Economic Times, Outlook, and India Today. He is currently the Editorial Mentor at TechPP.com and a regular contributor to Indian Express. When not writing, he loves to read and listen to classic rock.