iphone 7 wireless
Future iPhones could follow after the Apple Watch, charging wirelessly without the need for a cable. PHILIPPE MERLE/AFP/Getty Images

Wireless charging is the hot new buzzword in the mobile industry. The iPhone 7 is rumored to support it, and gadget makers at CES 2016 revealed plans to push for a wireless future. Even Ikea sells lamps now that support wireless charging. But despite the name, there are some wires involved. It's also not as straightforward as it sounds, with two competing standards vying for dominance.

The idea is instead of hooking up a device to a charger, fiddling with a cord and lining up the plug, wireless charging allows a user to simply place the device down on a pad connected to a power outlet. Both the pad and device have a coil inside them, and when the two coils align the pad will transmit electricity. The idea is nothing new: certain brands of electric toothbrushes have been using similar tech for decades.

Although the name may suggest otherwise, wireless charging depends on the device touching the pad. Take it off, and the charging stops. It's also not guaranteed that every pad will work with every charger, thanks to a standards war with plenty of casualties.

The first standard is called Qi. This is the one most popularly found in smartphones, with the Samsung Galaxy S6, Google Nexus 5 and Microsoft Lumia 950 all shipping with support out of the box.

The second is Powermat. Confusingly, this one is favored more by businesses that offer charging facilities. Starbucks uses the standard for its wireless charging tables, while GM, an investor in Powermat, first included the standard in its 2014 model cars.

The differences are negligible, but from a consumer standpoint it's all about device compatibility. A large number of phones on the market support Qi, but using the device in public is a whole different ballgame. The Powermat standard offers usage logging, making it appealing to businesses who may want info on how much chargers are being used.

In terms of speed, both are around the same. The Duracell PowerMat case for iPhone promises speeds comparable to plugging directly into the wall. Qi recently got a speed boost with a new 15w fast charging standard, a similar wattage to a wired iPad charger.

Some devices support both Qi and Powermat, like the Samsung Galaxy S6. Others, like the Apple Watch, officially support neither. In the watch's case, the charger has been proven to work with Qi-powered devices, but the watch doesn't charge with Qi pads. Neither have been submitted for Qi certification either.

Despite a drawn-out conflict between the two standards, gadget makers have big plans for wireless charging. At CES 2016, Dell showed off a monitor with a stand that could wirelessly charge both Qi and Powermat devices. At the same show, accessory maker Incipio showed off a new Qi charger that can charge a device at triple the speed of a normal Qi charger.

There may be more manufacturers jumping on board soon. A recent report suggested that Apple may push wire-free charging into the iPhone 7. There's no word on which standard the company will use just yet, but if the Apple Watch is anything to go by, it might not be compatible with either major standard. The industry is in flux, but the message is clear: companies believe wireless charging is the future.