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What is Wireless Charging and How Does it Work?

What is Wireless Charging and How Does it Work?

Dwight Pavlovic
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Have you bought a new smartphone recently and found that you don’t have to actually plug it into anything for it to charge? That’s right, you can charge your phone (if it’s compatible) by simply placing it on a wireless charging pad. Wild, right? Well, nearly 150 years after its invention, wireless charging is now seeing more widespread use and growth among consumers and manufacturers.
Primarily, you’ll find this technology applied to smartphones, electric cars, and other rapidly-evolving tech. And in this article, we’ll explore the basics of wireless charging technology and how it can be used with smartphones and other portable accessories.
We’ll also look into some of the practical considerations, whether you’re new to the technology or fitting it into your routine. Plus, we’ll consider the situations where you may prefer a traditional wired charger while offering guidance if you’re just starting to shop.

What is wireless charging?

Wireless charging uses electromagnetic induction to power a growing variety of devices. The technology may not be brand new, but its arrival as an option for smartphones has brought on new-found prominence. As more and more products ship with the feature, more and more users will wonder how this tech works.

Impact on portable devices

For the sake of this article, we’re focusing on wireless charging’s application to portable devices; smartphones and tablets in particular. This means that the charging setup typically involves placing the devices on a dock or charging station. Most of these will easily fit on your desk or in your bag.
There is a growing range of accessories that allow for wireless charging. The mousepad charger is a great example, and it offers a convenient multipurpose solution for keeping your phone and mouse perpetually topped off.

Other names for wireless charging

You’re sure to encounter a variety of different names for wireless charging as you shop, such as inductive charging or WiFi charging. You’ll even find some options marketed as WiFi chargers.
These technologies are actually very different, but sometimes the two terms are used interchangeably. You should be concerned about compatibility, so do your research and double-check your device’s product specifications before making a purchase.

How does wireless charging work?

Wireless charging relies on electromagnetic induction for power delivery. While there’s certainly more science to it than that, the basics of how wireless charging works are simple. Electromagnetic induction is the transmission of electrical energy through a magnetic field. But how does that power get from a wireless charger to your device?
Alternating current creates fluctuations in the magnetic field, which produces energy. These fluctuations allow a compatible device’s battery to recharge when placed on or near a wireless charger. The specific designs and implementation will vary, but the same basic principle holds true whether you’re wirelessly charging smartphones or electric cars.

Not quite widespread yet

There are important logistical issues that make wireless charging difficult to expand along just one pathway. The infrastructure associated with new technology can be costly and disruptive, but there has been rapid growth in wireless charging tech and the now ubiquitous Qi wireless charging standard.

What is the Qi wireless standard?

The Wireless Power Consortium has designated Qi (pronounced chee) as the worldwide mobile charging standard for 5 to 15 watt personal electronics like smartphones. In the same way Bluetooth and USB charging cords are standardized to simplify computing for everyone, Qi is taking root as the way wireless charging is offered.

How to use a wireless charger

Wireless charging technology has a short range, so you often need to place your device on the actual charging station. With a charging pad, simply place your device on the pad just like you would put a mouse on a mousepad. Some docks have more complicated designs or a holster configuration reminiscent of a conventional wireless phone station.

What are the advantages of a wireless charging setup?

There are plenty of perks associated with wireless charging. The set-it-and-forget-it convenience alone is enough for many users to consider switching to this tech.
While the standard wired-charger setup still offers its own advantages, let’s look at the most important gains you can enjoy with wireless battery charging.

1. Reduces cord clutter

With a design that fundamentally emphasizes convenience and usability, wireless charging stations can help reduce clutter in your home or office. It also lowers the risk of tripping when guests or family choose a busy spot to plug in their mobile devices to charge.

2. Charge multiple devices simultaneously

Worried about over-stuffing outlets or tangling cords in a shared space? Wireless charger technology is a good way to maximize access and minimize hassle by providing a potential charging point for multiple smartphones and accessories.

3. More secure than standard power cords

Traditional wired charging solutions, like those with USB cords, can actually expose users to tampering like surveillance and data theft. The vulnerability is particularly notable in public areas like airports or cafes where multiple users may share the same charging station.

4. Minimizes exposure to conventional power outlets

Thanks to wireless chargers, you can avoid frequent exposure to power outlets. For families with small children, power outlets are a constant concern. Wireless can help to remove a frequent reason for contact, which then undercuts a persistent household anxiety.

5. Increasingly common

If you travel frequently or commute regularly, you’ve probably already seen public charging stations. Using a compatible device means you can leave the pesky power cords and adapters at home, thereby decluttering your travel routine. Or at least part of it, anyway.

6. Reduces charging port wear

Have you ever needed to replace a smartphone because it wouldn’t charge? By removing the need for a hard connection, you can reduce the risk of serious damage to your phone’s charging port.
Wireless charging clearly offers a strong range of features, particularly when it comes to improving general safety for users in a variety of important ways. Compared to the piecemeal system of non-compatible power cords and charger types, wireless charging is a logical new response to the proliferation of handheld smart accessories.
Still, some users may prefer to stick with the charger they already use. There are some important reasons why you may favor a customary setup, so read on for more information about when it’s a good idea to stick with your standard charger.

Reasons to choose traditional wired charging

While wireless charging can be a great option for anyone with a strained charging routine, traditional wired wins out for versatility in a head-to-head comparison. That said, wireless is a burgeoning segment, so that advantage may shrink as adoption grows.
Here are the big reasons to keep your old charger:

1. Typically charges more quickly

Wireless may have a growing presence in emerging tech, but most varieties are still fairly slow compared with wired chargers. To address this, you can place the dock in a convenient space to make charging easier. Stay tuned, though. Some manufacturers are beginning to tinker with fast-charge technology to make wireless even more competitive.

2. Still the most ubiquitous option

Wireless is still an emerging technology. By sticking with a wired setup, you have a higher likelihood of compatibility with friends and family.

3. You use your device while it charges

When using a wireless charging pad or dock, your device or devices are inaccessible. A wired charger may restrict your motion, but you can still interact with your device while it’s charging.

4. More energy efficient

For some, the relatively low energy impact of conventional wired chargers boosts their appeal. The current generation of wireless charging solutions use more energy and charge more slowly, making them less energy efficient. If you want to keep a minimal footprint, you may be better off with a wired solution.
As you can see, standard wired charging still has a strong list of advantages. You should seriously consider your lifestyle and routine before committing to a change.

Frequently asked questions

From safety concerns to usability features, it’s natural to have questions as an early adopter of wireless charging.
And now that we’ve talked about the strengths and weaknesses of wireless vs wired charging, let’s look at a handful of questions that frequently pop up for users just getting acquainted with wireless charging:

Do I need to worry about heat build-up with my phone or charging pad?

Wireless charging generates some heat, but it’s similar to charging with a regular power cord, so the risk of excessive heat build-up is minimal. Because of the materials and amount of electricity involved, wireless charging doesn’t pose much risk from heat unless you’re using a faulty device.

Will keeping my phone on a wireless charging pad or dock shorten its life?

Overcharging a device by any method, wired or wireless, can shorten the life of the battery. Many manufacturers design their wireless charger with this concern in mind. You can find some with an auto-shutoff charging option, which stops the flow of energy as soon as your device is fully charged, even if you leave it on the charging pad. If you’re concerned about build-up, just look for options with a cutoff mechanism when you shop.

What does the Qi open interface standard have to do with wireless charging?

If you’ve spent any time researching wireless charging, chances are you’ve come across mention of the Qi standard. Developed by the Wireless Power Consortium, the standard defines a basic system for short-range wireless charging. As of now, the Qi standard is the most widely used system for smartphones thanks to widespread adoption amongst manufacturers.

Do wireless phones and chargers require devices from the same manufacturer?

The short answer is no; you are not tied to your phone’s manufacturer for your wireless charging pad. Fortunately for wireless users, the rapid adoption of the Qi standard by most manufacturers means that compatibility is rarely an issue when it comes to wireless charging pads. You can easily charge a device from one manufacturer on a charging pad from another.
However, while charging pads are easy to use with just about any compatible device, a wireless charging dock may be designed for a particular smartphone make or model. In some cases, your experience may be impacted by a proprietary build. Still, this risk is greatest when trying to reuse older, wired charging tech. Most contemporary devices should work just fine.

Shopping for the right wireless hardware

Shopping for wireless charging accessories is becoming easier by the day. Most stores and websites that regularly stock smartphone technology also offer a range of compatible accessories and charging devices.
For the most versatile option, you may want to consider a charging pad. They can easily support multiple devices and come in a variety of sizes. If you just need to maintain charge for one or two devices, a smaller dock will often do fine.
Wondering which phones have wireless charging? Not sure the charger you found is a good fit for your device? Make sure to do your research and refer to product specifications for more insight.

What does the future hold for wireless charging?

Whether you prefer wired or wireless, chances are we’ll see more wireless charging tech in the coming years. Thanks to the widely accepted Qi standard, manufacturers are already deploying the technology in the form of convenient and secure public charging stations.
It’s important to remember that wireless charging is just one way to maximize independence and accessibility. Wireless charging is becoming increasingly common, but there are other ways to charge your mobile devices, namely your laptop, that free you from the restrictions of wall outlets. If you’d like to know more about how to do this, check out our guide on charging a laptop without a conventional power source.
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About the Author: Dwight Pavlovic is a contributing writer for HP® Tech Takes. Dwight is a music and technology writer based out of West Virginia.
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