The New New

‘Wireless Charging’ Is a Scam — But That’s About to Change

We’re finally close to charging without any cords

Owen Williams
Published in
5 min readNov 7, 2018
Illustration: Will Harvey

“W“Wireless charging” features built into recent devices, like the iPhone XS, certainly make it sound like our present-day consumer tech is cordless. That’s not quite true, of course. A fancy charging pad still needs to be plugged into something — a wall outlet, say — meaning there’s a lot to trip over even after upgrading to the latest and greatest smartphones.

And so, the inevitable question arises: When will we finally ditch the wires altogether? It really depends on who you ask, and how far into the future you’re thinking.

The technology required for true wireless charging has been investigated as far back as 1890, first by inventor and scientist Nikola Tesla, who successfully transmitted power over long distances in demonstrations, but never completed his research. Tesla — the man, not the car company — actually invented many modern wireless electricity techniques almost 100 years ago, including the basis for capacitive charging today. A century later, we’re only just beginning to expand on these ideas.

Apple, with its massive market share, sent a clear signal: Wireless charging is here to stay.

The wireless charging in current phones uses a technology called “inductive coupling,” which works over very short distances. This method isn’t new, and it’s barely “wireless”: old electric toothbrushes made by Oral-B used it in the 1990s, for example.

If you have a phone that supports wireless charging today, you can hover it about a centimeter off its pad and maintain the current. But practically speaking, the device needs to rest on top of it. There’s a tight coil of copper in the charger, which generates an electromagnetic field. That field is received by another coil in the back of your phone, and then it’s converted back into electricity.

Photo by Carlos Osorio/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Interest in this technology surged after Apple adopted wireless charging last year…



Owen Williams

Fascinated by how code and design is shaping the world. I write about the why behind tech news. Design Manager in Tech.