by Rich Brome
We’ve discovered that Verizon is quietly pushing Qi wireless charging technology, by requiring manufacturers to include the technology in their LTE phones. Read on for photos and details of the first Qi products for Verizon.
We’ve seen – and written about – demos of wireless (inductive) charging for quite a few years. But it never seems to get off the ground, for a few reasons. First, you need a standard for compatibility. Second, you need buy-in from the major players. Third, the initial versions added too much bulk to phones.
Finally, those issues are all being addressed; the stars seem to be aligning for wireless charging to make a real splash in the market.
HP/Palm deserves credit for bringing wireless charging to market first with the Pre and other TouchStone products. That’s just one manufacturer, though, not the rich ecosystem of compatible products that everyone wants.
What wireless charging really needed was a firm industry standard to ensure compatibility. Now the industry seems to have reached a consensus around Qi (pronounced “chee”.) This ensures compatibility across manufacturers and different types of devices. Over 80 companies are now official members of the Qi group.
Even with a good standard, and companies signed up to the consortium, no one wants to invest in it by actually putting it in their products without solid commitments from other companies to support the standard as well. It’s a classic chicken-and-egg problem.
That’s here the carriers come in. Here at CTIA, we’ve learned that Verizon is quietly making a major push for Qi in its phones. This is the key move that the technology needs to reach critical mass and take off. Only carriers have the buying power to really force manufacturers to implement a technology, so this is great news for fans of wireless charging.
The first announcement of this CTIA is the LG charging pad, which bears a Verizon logo. LG claims it will charge most phones in about two hours.
LG is also showing of an LG-made Qi charging back for their Revolution 4G LTE phone for Verizon. The LG reps we talked to said it hadn’t been decided whether the Qi back would come in the box with every Revolution, or if it would come with the charging pad.
LG Revolution and charging pad
Either way, you’ll still get a regular non-Qi back with a Revolution, as the Qi back does add some thickness to the phone. All of the Qi backs we’ve seen so far do add an unfortunate few mm of thickness to the phone, like a small extended battery. We spoke with Fulton Innovations, which manufacturers the Qi “guts” of most of these products. They claim that the thickness is due to the need for both a circuit board and the charging coil in the back plate. Qi-enabled phones will get much thinner once new Qi chips come out (soon) that are designed to go directly on the main circuit board of the phone. There, they will take up almost no additional space, but by reducing the Qi back to just a coil – and no circuit board – they will be much thinner.
We also spied the Qi back for the HTC Thunderbolt. It has a hump, like the extended battery cover for the Thunderbolt, but not nearly as huge.
Both the Thunderbolt and the Revolution were clearly designed from the start to work with Qi, as they have special contacts built into the phone itself to connect with the Qi back cover (see photos.)
A few people we talked to hinted strongly that the Motorola Droid Bionic and Samsung i510 (or whatever Verizon decides to call it) will also support Qi, so it seems to be standard for all Verizon 4G LTE phones. It was also hinted to us that one of these phones would have Qi built completely into the phone, not in a back cover accessory. If we had to guess, we’d assume the Droid Bionic is that phone. The Samsung LTE phone is the thinnest of Verizon’s LTE lineup, so it seems unlikely that it woud have room for the Qi coil. The Droid Bionic was also conspicuously missing from the Motorola booth at CTIA, and Moto hinted that it might be undergoing some last-minute tweaking… perhaps to shove Qi in there.
The vision of Qi is that it will be in – or an option on – an increasing number of phones over the coming years. The consortium is also working with auto manufacturers. They’re trying to get it built into cars, so that you could simply drop your phone on your center console and have it automatically charge as you drive, without worrying about any special dock or cable. Just set it down and it charges as you commute. That’s a compelling scenario. We hope it comes true; we can’t wait.