Apple’s AirPower charging mat was first announced in September alongside the announcement of the iPhone 8 and iPhone X, with an opaque ‘2018’ release timeframe. More than half way through, the product is yet to hit shelves. Bloomberg says that Apple had aimed to launch the accessory in June, but hit delays due to problems with overheating.
AirPower is much more complicated than a standard Qi charging mat. The report says the mat actually runs a stripped down version of iOS so it can manage power and complex circuitry, and communicate with the iOS devices, Apple Watch and AirPods that are laid on it.
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Perhaps unsurprisingly to people familiar with Jony Ive’s work, Apple plans to eventually remove more ports from the iPhone, including the charging port. The idea was raised during the development of iPhone X, but was deemed not feasible as wireless charging is still slow compared to using a fast-charge cable. The 2018 iPhone models will be bundled with a fast charger for the first time.
Although the product has obviously faced production issues, it seems like it is getting closer to release. Bloomberg says some engineers are now using the charging mat in their personal offices.
Apple didn’t say when in 2018 it would release AirPower, but engineers hoped to launch the charger by June. The aim now is to put it on sale before or in September, according to one of the people. In recent months, some Apple engineers have ramped up testing of the device by using it as their charger at the office, another person said.
What makes the AirPower mat much more advanced than the crop of Qi chargers on the market today is the ability to charge multiple devices on the same mat, placed anywhere on the mat. Current Qi chargers require a single device to be precisely placed (usually the center) to enable charging.
Apple has announced that customers will be able to charge an iPhone, an Apple Watch and AirPods at once with the AirPower mat. It has also demoed its flexibility in being able to charge two iPhones simultaneously, for example, so it’s not just limited to a strict set of products in order.
The AirPower mat will work with iPhone 8 or iPhone X, the AirPods with a yet-to-be-released wireless charging case, and the Apple Watch Series 3. The mat itself plugs into the wall with a single Lightning cable.
In addition to release date, a lot of AirPower remains shrouded in mystery. Apple has not said how much the AirPower mat will cost, nor how the AirPods wireless charging case will be priced. It’s also not clear exactly what configuration of devices you can charge; can you charge three AirPods cases, or three Watches at once? Band compatibility is also unclear. It is very likely the AirPower mat will require the Apple Watch to lay flat on the mat, which means that it won’t be convenient for Watch owners that use bands that cannot easily separate into two pieces when taken off.
As each device is placed onto the mat, the phone lights up with a 3D animation of the charging devices, and their corresponding battery level.
Apple has promised that it will eventually share its multi-device technology with standards bodies, to allow other manufacturers to make charging mats that can support multiple products at a time. Apple isn’t technically late to release AirPower until it lapses into 2019, but it seems pretty clear the company intended to launch the accessory sooner.