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Apple’s iPhone 8 and iPhone X announcements legitimized the Qi wireless charging standard. Here’s how to adapt your car (and…
Apple’s newest iPhones all support wireless charging, and that means automakers will move to make this a standard across most of their fleets. Never mind that dozens of Android phones already embed wireless charging. Overnight, Apple made it a standard.
US automakers have deployed, slowly, wireless charging in their cars as far back as 2013, on a handful of models. Some existing charging mats or stands may not support the Qi standard that is quickly becoming the de facto standard.
Apple announced three phones: the high-end iPhone X (pronounced “iPhone Ten”) celebrating Apple’s 10th anniversary and the first time Apple is asking $999 for a base phone; and the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, which are enhancements to the 7 and big-screen 7 Plus. All three, plus the new Apple Watch and Apple EarPods, embed wireless charging using the Qi standard. Qi is Chinese for “energy flow” and pronounced “chee.”
Qi and its supporting group, the Wireless Power Consortium, were the comfortable leaders before Apple’s announcement this week. That makes things tougher for Powermat and the Power Matters Alliance, which joined forces with the Alliance for Wireless Power to create the AirFuel Alliance.
Apple will bring out a new AirPower mat for charging larger devices such as phones, but that’s not until next year. For sure, the accessories industry will get there quicker with tabletop mats, charging stands holding phones near vertical for ease of reading, and in-car mats that will fit in many existing cars. There are already charging cases with Qi support embedded and a couple case-Qi-external battery packs.
In-car wireless charging mats or stands have been in cars since the 2013 Dodge Dart. The number has risen since then, more so on higher-end cars. BMW, for instance, makes Qi standard on the 7 Series, 6 Series, and M cars, none of which cost less than $53,000. Automakers had delayed going with wireless charging across the board because, they said, it was uncertain who would win. In reality, Qi has been the leader for some time, some phones supported both standards, and it’s possible to create higher-cost mats than handle both. PowerMat has had support in business markets. It was embedded in tables at Starbucks, because it’s possible to log usage, although some Starbucks have been adding Qi chargers, too.
The upshot: Automakers now see there’s just a single standard to support. Automakers will probably do the same accounting-driven rollout as they did with USB — meaning putting it mostly in high-end vehicles to start, not offering enough charging stations, maybe offering it in weird combo packages, such as a front-seat Qi charger, moonroof, and leather seating surfaces. Only now, for instance, is it possible to get six USB jacks in a handful of vehicles (the Chevrolet Equinox, for example) , which is the right number given that some passengers carry a phone and tablet.
On higher-end cars and those where the ads show four adults heading out the evening, you should hope for two USB jacks in back and/or a wireless charger in the rear center armrest once automakers gear up for Qi. Recall that the USB audio/charging connector has been around going on 20 years, and yet still there are cars with CD players. Change can be slow.
If you have an Android phone, you may have Qi embedded already. You can put a Qi conversion case on an existing iPhone or get a freestanding charging ring that attaches to the Lightning connector. Or wait for the new iPhones.
If you’ re buying a new car right now with integrated charging, make sure it works with your phone. Understand that it may charge more slowly than using a current wall charger. Here’s how to understand if you’ re getting enough power: Recall from high school physics class that volts (direct current, what cars use) times amps equals watts. 5 volts (what USB outputs and what a charger probably uses) times 1 amp equals 5 watts. 5 volts times 2 amps equals 10 watts, and that’s what virtually every tablet uses, as well as many of the larger smartphones. If the charger supplies 10 watts, fine. If it’s just 5 watts, your phone may charge slowly.
A couple automakers have a designated holder for the phone, not just an area where you loosely drop the phone. The holder may also have an inductive coupler to the car’s external antenna, giving you much better signal quality.
Here are some automakers we know that have wireless charging on at least some of their cars:
Dozens of Qi chargers exist already, so there’s no need to wait for Apple’s charging mat. They cost as little as $10-$20. If you also want a protective phone case, you can retrofit a legacy Apple iPhone with a Qi case for as little as $25.