WILL THE WAR between rival wireless power-charging technologies be won in coffee shops and fast-food restaurants?
That's the hope of Ran Poliakine, chief executive of Powermat Technologies. The innovator recently started installing its cordless charging bases for mobile phones in tabletops at Starbucks (first stop: Boston). That move should pump up interest in cool companions like the Duracell Powermat case for the iPhone 5. Just plop the phone on said base - no wires needed!
This week, Powermat also announced that it's combining resources with the Helsinki, Finland-based wireless-power pioneer PowerKiss to bring compatible charging stations - using safe-to-the-touch magnetic induction technology - to more than 1,000 European locations, including McDonald's. Can fast-food America be far behind?
"Not a lot of people remember, but in 2002 Starbucks was key in establishing the Wi-Fi standard against a rival wireless networking communications format called HomeRF, by aggressively adding free Wi-Fi service to its shops," Poliakine said during a call from Neve Ilan, Israel, home base for Powermat.
"Someday, wireless power charging will be just as ubiquitous," Poliakine predicted. "You'll never plug your phone or tablet or even your home appliances into a power outlet. You'll just sit the thing down on a compatible charging base or tabletop."
Most widely applied today in battery-powered toothbrushes, this safe power-transfer process requires magnetic coils in the base and compatible appliance to induce the flow of low-level current.
"I've got a kitchen counter full of appliances - even a power-hungry toaster and mixer - that work that way and are perfectly safe to use around my children," added the tech advocate.
Powermat's plan, as the leading member of a group called the Power Matters Alliance (PMA), is to get all eyes focused on its technology and away from the similar inductive power-charging standard Qi (pronounced chee), being promoted by the rival Wireless Power Consortium.
Qi tech is found in Energizer-branded accessory battery chargers for mobile phones and video-game controllers, built into the new Nokia Lumia 920 and available as a Samsung-branded accessory case for the Galaxy S4 smartphone. (Incipio Technologies will field an S4 variant compatible with Powermat charging bases.)
Getting Procter & Gamble's Duracell brand into the PMA fold was the alliance's first big deal. Persuading GM and AT&T to go with the tech were also coups. And having Jay-Z as an investor/endorser hasn't hurt either.
GM, also a Powermat investor, has said it will park compatible charging pads in some cars' center consoles, starting with the Chevrolet Volt, though the feature isn't available yet.
Every new smartphone that AT&T introduces next year will feature Powermat-compatible wireless inductive charging either built into the phone or integrated with a case akin to the Duracell Powermat system newly introduced for the iPhone 5.
Selling for $99.99, this Duracell PowerSnap Kit adds a second battery (doubling phone talk time to 16 hours) and the requisite magnetic inductive-charging circuitry in a modular, snap-together case adding a mere 3.5 ounces of weight and less than a half inch of bulk.
That's far sleeker and more user friendly than the add-ons for earlier mobile phones. Companion charging bases (tethered to an AC outlet) now start at $25.
What's the point of wireless charging?
It's super easy and habit forming, and saves you from ever running out of juice. It also prolongs the life of a phone's connector port, often the first thing to get funky in an iPhone.