Apple wants to fix one of the biggest problems with its products: the infuriating tangle of white cords. The company has been making significant hires in the area of wireless charging recently, including engineers who previously worked for the under-fire startup uBeam, which claims its technology can charge your devices from across the room.
According to profiles on LinkedIn first noticed by the Verge, over a dozen engineers with expertise in the wireless-charging field have joined the iPhone maker over the course of the past two years, including two who have come from uBeam (Andrew Joyce and Jonathan Bolus) in the past four months alone. The publicly available data from LinkedIn show a clear trend among Apple's hiring and indicates that at the very least Apple is investigating the possibility of using wireless charging for some of its hugely popular products.
The recent hires tie in with a report from Bloomberg in January saying Apple is working on a wireless-charging technology that would work over some distance and not require users to place their smartphones or tablets on special mats or use certain cases — which is what current inductive wireless-charging technologies require.
The report suggests Apple's system for wireless charging would be introduced to the market as soon as 2017 and incorporated into new iPhones and iPads.
UBeam promises just such a technology. However, in the past month Paul Reynolds, a former vice president of engineering at uBeam, has been publishing posts on his Lies, Damn Lies, and Startup PR blog that have called into question the technology that underpins uBeam's credentials.
UBeam — as well as other companies promising similar technology like Energous and Ossia — have so far failed to offer public demonstrations of their claims or have them peer-reviewed, much less launched a commercially available product.
While many Android smartphones offer wireless charging today, those systems are typically proprietary and require the device to be in contact with a charging plate much the same way the Apple Watch is charged.
Apple does not comment on rumors or speculation, and it could be the hires listed on LinkedIn are related to improving the charging system for an updated Apple Watch, but the two engineers hired from uBeam suggest Apple is working on something bigger.
Indications that Apple was developing wireless-charging technology surfaced last October when the company was granted a patent called Inductive Power Transfer Using Acoustic or Haptic Devices, which describes a metal coil that could function in two modes. In the first mode, Apple proposes using the coil to produce sound waves for an iPhone’s speaker or to capture sound for a microphone. But when switched to the second state, the coil would be used to wirelessly charge a device when connected to a wireless charger.
In 2010, Apple was granted a patent that would see one of its iMac computers act as a charging hub for any compatible device that entered within 1 meter, using a technology called near-field magnetic resonance — the same technology that currently charges the Apple Watch. The system Apple is said to be working on would increase the range from which iPhones and iPads could be charged and work even if that device were in someone’s pocket.