If you buy an iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus or iPhone X, you'll find it supports Qi wireless charging out of the box. But if you have an older iPhone - provided it has a Lightning port - you can upgrade it to offer the same feature. Here's how to add wireless charging to older iPhones.
What is wireless charging?
First things first: there usually is a wire, connecting the charging pad or mat to the mains (the exception would be if you were using a wireless power bank with its own battery). The wireless part of the equation is between the phone and the charger. But while it may not be truly wireless, being able to throw down your phone on top of a pad before you hop into bed is much more convenient than fumbling around for cables in the dark.
The iPhone 8 uses the Qi wireless charging standard (more on the standards in the next section), as do the LG G-series, Samsung Galaxy S- and Note-series, and all other smartphones advertising wireless charging. Qi uses inductive charging technology, which involves two coils of copper wire (with a core of iron): one in the device you're charging (or in a case attached to that device) and one in a pad or mat on which you lay the device. When you put the two coils next to each other an electromagnetic field is created and that allows electricity to be passed across.
The two devices need to be touching or within very close proximity, but the coils can be sealed within their respective devices.
Wireless charging standards
There are two major groups in wireless charging arena, which means there are competing wireless charging standards.
We've already mentioned the Wireless Power Consortium's Qi (pronounced "chee"), which is the inductive charging technology used by the iPhone 8 and X. Resonant charging is included in Qi's specification but it is not necessarily supported on all devices, whereas rival AirFuel Alliance offers both resonant and inductive technologies.
In general, the vast majority of phones that support wireless charging and the products that enable you to add it support Qi. Qi is what's currently used in certain Starbucks outlets, for example.
How to get wireless charging on older iPhones
Wireless charging can be enabled on iPhones that don't have the feature as standard by adding a case or other device that integrates an inductive coil and can be inserted into the phone's Lightning port.
In order to make the magic happen you will also need to purchase a Qi charging pad or mat. This integrates an inductive coil, and when plugged into a power source and placed in direct contact with your iPhone it is able to charge your device's battery.
If you purchase a larger wireless charging mat you may be able to charge multiple devices at once, and all from the same single power source.
A disadvantage of adding wireless charging in this way is that it prevents you being able to use the Lightning port for other things. If you have an iPhone 7 or 7 Plus, this will be a problem if you want to listen to music via a pair of Lightning headphones.
Typically speaking, wireless charging is slower than wired charging: many Qi wireless chargers are capped at just 5W to 7.5W. The latter is the current maximum speed supported by the iPhone 8 and X since the iOS 11.2 update. Fast wireless chargers that double this output are available, but are useful only if the phone (or device you're using to add wireless charging to the phone) also supports this higher speed.
Keep in mind that if you've added wireless charging using a case, you will likely need to remove that case before you can charge it normally, connect to a computer over Lightning or hook up some Lightning headphones.
Wireless charging can also make it difficult to use your phone while it charges, though you can get round this by selecting a charging pad that also functions as a stand.
Best wireless chargers for older iPhones
There are plenty of options for owners of iPhone 7 and earlier models.
There are some great charging stations in this article, but from our testing, the best around is Aircharge. You simply purchase a clip on case for your phone and a charging pad to connect to your computer or a power outlet.
You can then simply place your iPhone on the pad and it will start charging. It's so easy, and with cases for the iPhone 5 all the way up to 7 Plus, it's a versatile solution.
Cases for iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus are £44.99/$64 each, while the Slimline charger is only £24.99/$35, so it's relatively cheap to set up. You can then buy more pads for home and office or use your phone on a public pad. McDonalds, Starbucks and Premier Inn are investing in Aircharge, and by using the free app you can see where there's a pad near you when you're out.
There are 4,600 public locations, so you should be able to track one down easily.
Antye Qi Wireless Charger Kit
The Antye Qi Wireless Charger Kit includes a receiver case and a wireless charger pad. Versions for the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus costs £20.99/$30.99; there are also options for iPhone SE, 5s and more.
The Lightning connection used by the case is easy to unplug, so you can charge or sync your iPhone without removing the case.
Mophie Charge Force & Juice Pack Air
Combining the best of both worlds is Mophie's Charge Force base, used in tandem with the company's Juice Pack battery cases. This way you get extra power on the road and an almost effortless recharge when back at base. (You need both products to charge wirelessly.)
They're compatible with Qi and other wireless charging technologies. You can top up your iPhone 6/6s/Plus or 7/Plus and Juice Pack wireless cases at home or work, or in cafés, cars and anywhere that has a compatible wireless charging pad. Mophie offers Charge Force mounts for your home (the Charging Base costs £34.95/$39.95), plus desk and car (£49.95/$59.95).
Just place your Mophie-cased iPhone on top of the charging base. As soon as the internal magnets lock together, power will start flowing to both your phone and battery case.
The Charge Force technology works with the Mophie Juice Pack Air for iPhone 7, and will work with other wireless-charging enabled smartphones.
Qi Wireless Charging by TORRO
If you'd prefer something simpler and cheaper, however, the company also makes Qi-compatible bumper cases in four colours for iPhone 6 and 6s (£17.99/$26 - see Amazon UK), and for iPhone 6 Plus and 6s Plus (£18.49/$27 - try Amazon UK).
These cases plug into your Lightning port and can be used with a charging pad, such as the Portable Power Bank (£39.99/$58 - also on Amazon UK) which also includes a lithium-charged battery capable of three additional charges for your mobile device. You can also charge two devices at a time using the USB port at the back.
There are a few alternative charging pads available to use with your iPhone once you have fitted it in a charging case.
The WoodPuck, for example, is a Qi Wireless Charger Pad that looks like it's made from wood.
iQi Mobile is a 0.5mm-thick wireless charging receiver that sits between your existing iPhone case and your iPhone. Because its a receiver rather than a case, it's compatible with any Lightning-enabled iPhone.
The receiver features an incredibly thin cable which bends around the bottom of your phone and sits permanently in the Lightning jack. The receiver works specifically with the Qi wireless charging format.
The benefit of the iQi Mobile receiver is that you can keep your existing case and add wireless charging to your iPhone (although a soft case is recommended).
One of the biggest downsides to using wireless charging when compared to traditional wired charging is that it generally takes a lot longer to charge your phone, especially those with large-capacity batteries. It's an issue that needs to be overcome before people untether themselves from charging cables, and the FLI Charge system could be the product to do that.
The FLI Charge system doesn't only provide wireless charging capabilities for your iPhone, but also drones, tablets, smart watches, speakers and even GoPros - essentially anything that charges via a USB/MicroUSB connection, via a range of accessories. The FLI Charge system consists of the FLIway, the charging panel, the FLIcase for smartphones, FLIcube for USB-powered devices and FLIcoin for Lightning or micro-USB devices.
But what makes FLI so different? Instead of using inductive charging technology like Qi and similar standards, FLI uses conductive technology which the company claims "charges as fast as plugging into a wall" and can charge up to eight devices simultaneously, a feature not currently possible with inductive charging which offers around 60 percent efficiency.
What's better is that due to the innovative design of the system, you don't have to worry about device orientation, an issue with current solutions. It also constantly detects the surface for unapproved objects and will shut the power transfer down and hopefully avoid any lasting damage to the product or system.
Following a successful IndieGoGo campaign back in 2016, the FLI Charge system is available to buy from the FLI website. The Essential Setup starts at $149, but those on lower or higher budgets can opt for the $99 Simple Setup or the $249 Elite Setup. You may be able to find a better price on a FLI Charge wireless charging kit on Amazon US.