When Apple unveiled the iPhone X in 2017, the company finally dipped its toes into the world of wireless charging by announcing support for the wireless standard Qi. To complement the iPhone’s new capabilities, Apple also unveiled its own AirPower wireless charging mat. Since announcing it in September 2017, Apple’s charging pad seemed to completely disappear in 2018, but rumors are now saying the AirPower may finally see the light of day.
Here’s everything we know about the AirPower wireless charging pad.
Where is the AirPower?
Apple failed to discuss the AirPower charger at all throughout 2018, and even removed almost all mention of the charger from its website. While we initially thought this may be a death knell for Apple’s charging pad, but rumors abound that it’s coming soon.
Beyond rumors, however, Apple seems to be using AirPower’s likeness in its own marketing. On the box for the new AirPods, Apple has included an image of how you can charge the wireless-enabled AirPods — including on a wireless charging pad that looks suspiciously like AirPower. The report first came from MacRumors, and suggests that the release of AirPower could be imminent.
Previously, known analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said the AirPower wireless charging mat will start shipping in the first half of 2019, MacRumors reports. Earlier leaks suggested the mat was in production, and that Apple overcame some of the challenges it faced last year.
Now that Apple has announced the second-generation AirPods, which come with an optional wireless charging case, speculation has reached a fever pitch that we’ll soon be seeing the AirPower mat. MacRumors reports Apple has removed an image of the AirPower wireless charging mat recently, though it’s difficult to say whether that could mean further delays or that the product is coming soon. It could have been taken down because it showed an old design, as rumors suggest Apple had to retire the old design to overcome some challenges.
What is it supposed to do?
The main benefit of Apple’s AirPower is to wirelessly charge multiple devices at one time — meaning a 2017 or newer iPhone, an Apple Watch, or even AirPods, provided they’re stored in a wireless charging case. Powering several devices at once seems like a simple matter, but it’s not. Different devices require different amounts of power, and the pad needs a method to detect which device is where, and then supply the correct amount of power only to devices sitting in that specific location.
What’s even more complicated is that Apple has used different wireless charging systems for the iPhone and the Apple Watch. This means multiple chargers living together inside the AirPower, which have to understand which device needs charging and by how much.
How will this all work? A rumor from LoveiOS, says Apple will place 22 wireless charging coils in the AirPower, making it easy to charge an item anywhere on the device’s surface. And if a rumor from MacOtakara is to be believed, the AirPower will use a special radio signal to detect where each device sits.
But it turned out to not even have been that simple. The AirPower patent filed by Apple shows off an incredibly ambitious product. According to Patently Apple, the different coils needed to charge a device had to be intertwined, so any device can be charged from anywhere on the pad. Then, the AirPower would need to be able to communicate with them, assign them IDs, and track their charging independently.
Even more incredibly, the pad will also use the largest device on the pad to communicate the charging progress of each of the devices. So your iPhone XS‘s display would show the charge level of your Apple Watch when placed on the pad, as well as its own — but plonk down an XS Max and the larger phone takes over duties as the charger’s screen. It’s an impressively intricate system.
The AirPower will even work with your phone to let you know if you have enough battery left for the day ahead. By pulling information on appointments from your calendar, as well as your daily habits, your phone will let you know if it thinks it won’t make it until the next time it has a chance to charge.
Why was it supposedly so hard to make?
2018 saw a lack of official information from Apple, but rumor mills were busy churning out speculation on Apple’s difficulties making this revolutionary charger. Reports gathered the project may have been a little too ambitious even for Apple, with designers aware of multiple problems. One of the biggest was apparently overheating, which, according to insiders speaking to Daring Fireball’s John Gruber, may have prompted the company to retire the current design and try something new.
Comments about heat management problems for the AirPower were echoed by Apple watcher Sonny Dickson, who said the AirPower was unable to communicate properly with devices it was charging. The company also supposedly struggled to find a way to integrate the three different charging coils required by Apple’s wirelessly charged devices into the product without generating interference.
Cost and availability
Apple has not yet provided a price for the AirPower. Chinese tech site Chongdiantou said the AirPower would have come in at $150, about $50 less than an earlier rumor from VentureBeat.
Wireless charging devices supporting Apple products have existed since the September 2017 release of the iPhone X; we tested three popular models from Mophie, Belkin, and RavPower in late October of 2018 (spoiler alert: the RavPower Alpha Series Fast Charger blew away the competition). But Apple’s AirPower promises unique features unavailable in other products, thanks to a proprietary specification built around the Wireless Power Consortium’s (WPC) Qi specification. Curious about how wireless charging works? Here’s everything you need to know.
Oh, and those AirPods? We assume a special case will enable any existing AirPods to charge, but that remains to be seen.
Updated on March 26, 2019: Wireless AirPods box has an image of AirPower on the back.