AirPower lives! At least on the drawing board. According to new information from Bloomberg's Mark Gurman, work continues at Apple to develop a wireless charger that will be able to charge virtually any device.
iPhone, Apple Watch, AirPods - all on a unified wireless charger. That's exactly what AirPower promised to do, but as we know, that product ran into problems and never saw the light of day.
The new rumours of a unified charger closely follow efforts by the EU to standardise charging tech. A single charging standard applicable to all smartphones would mean less electrical waste, not to mention making life easier for consumers.
The timing seems convenient, and makes us wonder if renewed interest in multi-device wireless charging is Apple's answer to the EU's demands. If Apple refuses to adopt USB-C on the iPhone, and cannot continue with Lightning, a new AirPower could be the answer.
In these circumstances, there's every reason to be curious about Apple's motives with the AirPower project.
Why not just adopt USB-C?
First things first. Why should Apple fixate on wireless charging when there is already a good answer to the EU's requirements: USB-C? Most phones, computers and other accessories use USB-C today. In this respect, Apple is the odd man out.
USB-C is a compact, reversible connector that handles both power and data transfer in a single plug. What's not to like? Besides, Apple has already switched to USB-C on the iPad and Mac. Why not add it to the iPhone as well?
But had Apple wanted the iPhone to have a USB-C connector, we should have seen it by now. The iPad Pro got USB-C in 2018. The first MacBook with USB-C launched back in 2015.
There's something else preventing Apple from adopting USB-C on the iPhone. It could just be that Apple loves to be in control; because the company invented Lightning, it can extract licensing fees from third-party manufacturers who want to use Lightning in their iPhone accessories.
There are practical differences, too. An iPhone simply doesn't have the same need to be able to plug in accessories as a Mac or iPad, whereas space is at even more of a premium and Lightning takes up less space than USB-C. (It's also less fragile.)
Given these factors, and given too that switching to USB-C would make a lot of Lightning accessories almost useless overnight, we can see why Apple is keen not to rock the boat. For a while, at any rate.
One might think that the EU's message of unifying around USB-C would have been sufficient motivation for Apple to finally give up on Lightning even in its most important product category, but so far we see no signs of that. It's probably more likely that we'll see an iPhone with no ports whatsoever than one with USB-C.
But if Apple thinks wireless is the answer to the future of charging, it's got another think coming.
More wireless, more problems
Let's drop the killer fact right away. Wireless charging is significantly less efficient than cord charging, and therefore consumes more power. Does Apple really want to have it on its conscience that every iPhone in the world is suddenly consuming, at a low estimate, 20% more power?
Then there's also the question of whether consumers really want to keep track of yet another new charger instead of just using the USB-C charger from their iPad or Mac. Suddenly, we're going to have to take another charging pad with us on the road.
And do we really want one ecosystem of chargers for iPad and Mac, and another for iPhone, Apple Watch and AirPods? USB-C would be an easier answer.
Finally, which charger - if any - should Apple include in the box? There's hardly room for an entire AirPower pad in there. The company may have already ripped off the first band-aid when it removed the standard charger from the iPhone 12 and later, but can Apple really expect us all to now run out and buy wireless MagSafe chargers instead, at a considerably higher price? We certainly wouldn't be able to re-use our old Lightning cables and plugs, as was the stated aim of the move in the first place.
(This might all work if the price was lowered on the wireless charger. But at this moment in time, a wireless charger is not something the majority of iPhone owners have knocking around at home - not to the anything like the extent of Lightning chargers.)
The future of charging for the iPhone has been uncertain ever since the EU's announcement. Apple is obviously more interested in wireless charging than USB-C charging for the iPhone, or it wouldn't have developed MagSafe, or continued researching AirPower. Nor would the company be investigating technologies to diagnose devices wirelessly, as it's reported to be doing.
It seems that Apple is doing everything it can to beat USB-C on the iPhone, and for reasons that only the company's inner circle fully understands. On the MacBook Pro, we've finally got back the ports of old. But on the iPhone, it looks like the future will be portless.
Different Think is a weekly column, published every Tuesday, in which Macworld writers expose their less mainstream opinions to public scrutiny. This article originally appeared on Macworld Sweden. Translation (using DeepL) by David Price.