Apple just bought its own wireless charging company. Here's why.
Mobile Communications

Apple just bought its own wireless charging company. Here's why.

Apple has purchased a New Zealand-based wireless charging company whose technology can send power to multiple devices, from headphones to remote controls, at the same time.

As appealing as that may sound for mobile devices, Apple likely hopes to use the technology for a vast array of electronics such as the Apple TV remote control or its own computer mouse – and perhaps even for industrial applications.

PowerByProxi wireless charging IDG/Lucas Mearian

A prototype of PowerByProxi's wireless charging box, which can charge multiple devices at the same time. Inside the box is a remote-controlled car, a Wii controller and a TV remote control, all using wirelessly chargeable AA batteries. 

Apple in September unveiled wireless charging technology in this year's iPhone 8 and iPhone X smartphones – a first for Apple. Then it purchased PowerByProxi, whose products range from 2-watt to 150-watt chargers, as well as wirelessly rechargeable AA batteries.

PowerbyProxi was founded in 2007 by entrepreneur Fady Mishriki as a spin-out from the University of Auckland. Much of its most recent creative efforts have been aimed at producing boxes and bowls into which multiple devices can be placed and charged, all  at the same time.

how wireless charging works resonant PowerByProxi

How wireless charging works.

The sale was first reported today by Stuff, a New Zealand publication; it has since been confirmed by both Apple and PowerByProxi.

"The team and I are thrilled to join Apple," Mishriki said in a statement. "There is tremendous alignment with our values, and we are excited to continue our growth in Auckland and contribute to the great innovation in wireless charging coming out of New Zealand."

Mishriki showcased the company's technology at CES in 2013 (video below).

The Aukland-based company got its start selling large-scale systems for commercial industries such as construction, telecommunications, defense and agriculture. For example, one product is a wireless control system for wind turbines.

Apple has taken a slow, more methodical road to wireless charging; its adoption of the Qi-specification technology this year comes long after Samsung and other smartphone makers offered wireless charging.

The Qi specification – the industry's most popular – allows for power transfer ranging from 5 watts to 15 watts in the latest v1.2 release. Apple chose 7.5 wats of power transfer for the new iPhone 8 and the iPhone X, which goes on sale Nov. 3.

"Apple's been behind on this," said William Stofega, IDC's program director for mobile phones. "Because they want to keep the device nice and thin, they didn't want to go with the crowd."

Apple wireless charging AirPower Apple

The new Apple-designed AirPower mat, slated to arrive in 2018, can charge an iPhone, Apple Watch and AirPods simultaneously.

PowerbyProxi is a member of the Wireless Power Consortium (WPC) Steering Committee, which develops the Qi standards for wireless charging.

Apple's recently announced AirPower charging pad – slated for release in 2018 – will be able to charge up to three Qi-enabled devices, including new versions of the Apple Watch, iPhone and AirPod charging case. Similar devices are already on the market; even Ikea sells them, along with furniture that has wireless charging devices embedded in it.

Ikea wireless charging pads Ikea

Ikea's wireless charger line-up includes a pad that's capable of charging three devices at once (center).

The Auckland company's "loosely coupled" magnetic resonant charging technology was also miniaturized and placed into AA rechargeable batteries, so there is no need to embed the technology directly into devices. The wireless technology takes up about 10% of the AA battery height.

Carolina Milanesi, principal analyst at Creative Strategies, believes Apple was interested in PowerByProxi because the firm's technologies allow for ubiquitous use.

"I think that, in the long run, in the home, we will have more devices to charge," Milanesi said. "Think mouse, pencil, Apple TV remote rather than iPhone. I can see the opportunity there."

The Qi specification, Milanesi said, is also "less than ideal when it comes to charging" because it requires more strict placement of objects on charging pads. "If your placement of the product on the mat is not done properly, you might be waking up to a dead phone," she said.

The Qi standard supports both tightly-coupled or inductive wireless charging and loosely-coupled or resonant wireless charging, which allows an enabled mobile device to be up to 1.75-in away from a charging pad and still receive power.

PowerByProxi wireless charger PowerByProxi

PowerByProxi's Proxi-Point is a wireless power transmitter capable of supplying power to one wireless battery receiver module and offers features such as foreign object detection.

That distance allows mobile devices to be more loosely placed on pads for charging  rather than needing to be placed in an exact spot to receive power.

Qi charging devices are capable of scaling from less than 1 watt to more than 2,000 watts of power for charging large appliances. For mobile devices, the hardware  transmits up to 15 watts, enabling charging at the same speed as wired charging.

PowerbyProxi has also created prototype wireless charging pads for mobile devices that enables vertical height charging of up to about one and a quarter inches.

In 2014, PowerByProxi demonstrated a 7.5-watt, highly resonant bowl-like charging system for thin-form devices, such as smartphones and phablets; that technology, the company said at the time, could be expanded to 15 watts for tablets. Previously, PowerbyProxi's wireless charging devices offered between 3.5 watts and 5 watts of power.

Using the 4-in. diameter bowl, wirelessly chargeable devices can be placed in any position or orientation, even on top of each other.

The newer charging system is designed to deliver up to 15 watts of power to a single tablet, or multiple smartphones and phablets that are placed into an open box or bowl-like container. PowerByProxi's technology is also backwards compatible with the Wireless Power Consortium's (WPC) Qi standard (the one Apple adopted for use in its newest iPhones).

The box can charge eight batteries in multiple devices at one time. "It doesn't have to be AA batteries. They could be lithium ion or even custom batteries," Mishriki said during an earlier interview with Computerworld.

Other wireless charging makers, such as Ossia, have also produced AA wirelessly rechargeable batteries. Ossia's Cota technology uses radio frequency (RF) to charge devices.

cota aa battery front and back Ossia

Cota's wirelessly rechargeable AA battery.

PowerbyProxi is a component company, so the wireless chargers it creates for demonstrations are proofs of concept. The company has partnerships with firms such as Samsung, Texas Instruments (TI) and Linear who choose to build hardware based on the working prototypes.

PowerByProxi’s latest prototype is the Proxi-Com, which can transmit both power and data. Initially the wireless device supports three common protocols used in industrial applications: a CAN bus, Ethernet and Digital GPIO (general purpose input/output circuit).

PowerByProxi proximodule come setup 2 e1491184943573 PowerByProxi

The Proxi-Com, which can transmit both power and data.

In 2013, Samsung Ventures, the electronic giant's global investment group, invested $4 million in PowerByProxi.

"Our research identified PowerbyProxi as a leader in wireless power technology based on its expertise, track record and comprehensive patent portfolio," Hugh Kim, director of Wireless Charging Development for Samsung Electro-Mechanics, said at the time. "We are excited to work together on innovative consumer products that will raise the bar for our industry."

The $4 million from Samsung Ventures Investment Corp. (SVIC) came in addition to $9 million in venture already invested, including $5 million from TE Connectivity and Movac.

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