Last week the Wall Street Journal reported that Apple has plans to release a next-gen iPhone during the third quarter of 2011 that will be both thinner and lighter than the iPhone 4. Not terribly ground breaking news, but one particularly intriguing nugget of info centered on a source claiming that Apple is exploring new ways to charge the iPhone:
Investors expect a bigger boost to Apple’s phone business next year. People briefed on Apple’s plans said the company is planning a major iPhone revamp then, with one person saying the company has been experimenting with features such as a new way of charging the phone.
While the report didn’t go into any further detail, it’s entirely plausible that Apple is looking into various methods of wireless charging, much like the induction charging used by the Palm Pre.
But what other options are there?
Exploring the matter further, MacRumors earlier this week posted on new technologies related to wireless charging. Yep, you read that correctly folks. What was once an April Fool’s joke that accidentally made the cover of PC Magazine is slowly but surely becoming a reality.
A startup company called WiTricity is making significant strides in wireless electricity. The technology is built upon research from MIT’s famed research labs where scientists have demonstrated the ability to transfer power through the air at a distance of a couple meters. This provides a more useful solution than induction charging which requires the device be in direct contact with the charging device.
So how does it all work?
The magnetic fields of two properly designed devices with closely matched resonant frequencies can couple into a single continuous magnetic field. Prof. Soljačić’s team showed how to use this phenomenon to enable the transfer of power from one device to the other at high efficiency and over a distance range that is useful for real-world applications.
And while futurisitic technologies like this often make for great headlines, WiTricity seems to have a lot more substance behind it. The technology was demoed at the TED technology conference in 2009 and MacRumors reports that companies like Toyota and Intel are already experimenting with the technology as well.
So how is Apple a part of all this?
The link to Apple comes by way of a international patent application from Apple called “Wireless power utilization in a local computing environment.” The application was first published in May of this year and specifically details the same resonance technology and refers to the original paper published by the MIT researchers.
Apple describes a scenario where your iMac could be the source of this resonance power to provide a virtual charging area in front of your computer. Keyboards, mice and even mobile electronic devices like the iPhone or iPad could be charged simply be being in a 1 meter proximity to your computer. In typical Apple fashion, they describe that “by doing away with clumsy and annoying cables and eliminating the need to replace batteries, an easy to use and efficient local computing environment can be provided to the user.”
Now that’s some game changing stuff right there.
Of course, Apple often files patents for technologies and ideas it never ends up implementing in real world products, but as the feature set amongst competing smartphones continues to converge, who knows what steps Apple will take in the future to differentiate it’s offerings from the rest of the pack.