There is a lot of talk about the look of the so-called ‘iPhone 8’. Much like the radically redesigned Galaxy S8, Apple AAPL +0.07%’s 2017 iPhone is expected to undergo the greatest external overhaul in several generations. But it looks like this will be done without what was meant to be its most exciting feature.
In a new report market analyst Copperfield Research states the much vaunted truly wireless charging expected in the iPhone 8 will not happen. Unlike current ‘wireless’ solutions that actually require contact with a charger, the iPhone 8 was said to be able to charge when sat within 15 feet from a charger – a genuinely revolutionary advancement.
Where did such ideas come from? Thinly veiled claims by Steve Rizzone, CEO of wireless power company Energous which is working on such technology. Rizzone has repeatedly stated his company has reached an agreement with “one of the largest consumer electronic companies in the world” and coyly hinted that is Apple.
But, as Copperfield points out, the facts simply don’t line up:
- Apple’s Own Research
Dubbing its report ‘Game Over’, Copperfield says Apple has filed more than a dozen patents for inductive charging since 2013. These all use magnetic coils and require contact with the charger, just like rival standards by the Wireless Power Consortium (WPC) and Power Matters Alliance (PMA) - used most notably in Samsung’s Galaxy S and Galaxy Note ranges.
By contrast Energous’ wireless charging standard ‘WattUp’ uses radio frequencies (RF). Something Copperfield notes Apple called out in one inductive charging patent in 2011 labelling it "very inefficient", "not practical" and even potentially hazardous. These claims come from the fact RF charging radiates power in all directions so only a fraction of it is picked up by the intended device.
- Apple’s Recent Partnership
Building on this Copperfield says Apple’s partnership with Lite-On Semiconductor for wireless charging bridge rectifiers again shows the company’s interest is in inductive charging.
Bridge rectifiers convert alternating current (AC) to direct current (DC), a key component for inductive charging. But if Apple was pursuing RF charging this agreement would be pointless as Energous has its own all-in-one module that already contains a bridge.
- The ‘All Glass’ iPhone 8
Lastly leak after leak has pointed to Apple replacing the aluminium chassis of recent iPhones with ‘all glass’ for the iPhone 8. Given glass backs are more troublesome than aluminium (Apple only needs look back to its issues with the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S) and not widely liked by consumers the move seems odd.
But glass is necessary for induction charging (it won’t pass through aluminium) which provides a strong motivation for Apple to go through all this hassle. Were Apple using RF charging the move would be entirely pointless as this passes through both aluminium and glass without difficulty.
The Bottom Line
So was the Energous CEO making it up? Not necessarily. Copperfield concludes that Apple probably did have a partnership with Energous and may still do as a convenient way to research RF charging. But every action Apple has taken in recent years shows there’s no chance of it coming to the iPhone 8.
Of course the possibility remains that RF charging could reach future iPhones at some stage. But given Apple is famously reticent to switch power technologies (the Dock Connector lasted 11 years) changing core iPhone chassis materials for inductive charging just to swap to RF charging in a year or two seems highly unlikely.
There is one note of caution: MacRumors points out Copperfield has shorted Energous stock. Then again, I’d argue Copperfield has simply done its due diligence and the amount of evidence against Apple using RF charging means we’d be wise to rein in our expectations for the iPhone 8 a little bit.
After all it was only a few weeks ago that many users jumped to conclusions about upcoming iPhone changes, and that went badly wrong.