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Two-way wireless charging on Apple devices: Here’s the story so far

iPhones were supposed to charge our AirPods wirelessly two years ago. In a new write-up published on Bloomberg, reporter Mark Gurman explains why the bilateral Qi wireless charging capability is still nowhere to be seen on the Apple smartphone. The report speculates that such functionality is unlikely to be implemented on the company’s devices like iPhones, AirPods and Apple Watches in the near future despite the higher-ups having discussed the possibility.


STORY HIGHLIGHTS:

  • It would work similarly to Samsung’s PowerShare feature.
  • You’d charge your AirPods case by putting it on an iPhone’s back.
  • No Apple devices support bilateral wireless charging as of yet.
  • iPad Pros support two-way charging, but over the wire only.

An iPhone 12 in Product(RED) color finish photographed laid flat on textile with a pair of white AirPods earbuds resting on its back

What’s going on here?

According to the report, the powers that be at Apple have indeed discussed rolling out bilateral wireless charging. However, the company apparently canceled those plans for the time being.

Apple has also internally discussed a goal of letting many of its mobile devices like Apple Watches, AirPods and iPhones charge each other, but that’s unlikely to happen for the time being. For the 2019 iPhones, Apple planned, but canceled, a feature that would let users charge AirPods on the back of the phone.

The story does not detail Apple’s reasoning for the move.

Getting burned by AirPower

Thankfully, this passage from the report provides more color:

Apple’s hardware engineering department is careful about launching accessories related to charging. In 2017, Apple announced an AirPower mat that would charge an Apple Watch, iPhone and AirPods earphones at the same time. It was ultimately never released and canceled deep into its development in 2019 due to issues related to overheating.

And that could spell trouble down the road for Apple as it indicates that the company’s expertise in the wireless charging space leaves a lot to be desired, a concerning thought indeed. On the other hand, work on those features continues as Apple recently filed a patent for the bilateral wireless charging feature between iPhones, iPads, Macs and Apple Watches.

Apple's patent drawing illustration showing resting an Apple Watch on a MacBook Pro’s palm rest to charge the watch off the notebok's battery

Patent drawing showing an Apple Watch charging wirelessly via a MacBook. Image credit: PatentlyApple

Gurman also says Apple’s been working on a MagSafe battery pack for the iPhone 12 series, with an important caveat: Apple was supposed to release that accessory last year and could ultimately scrap it because unforeseen software issues have hindered development.

Disabled in software?

Reliable Apple analysts like Ming-Chi Kuo and credible news organizations had predicted that bilateral wireless charging would be coming to the iPhone 11 series more than two years ago, but that hasn’t happened. There are only two ways to go about this—either Apple approves the project and brings bilateral wireless charging capability to some devices or it doesn’t.

→ Featured wireless chargers for iPhone, AirPods and Apple Watch

In the case of the former, Apple’s FCC filing reveals that the iPhone 11 includes the hardware component for Wireless Power Transfer (WPT) to accessories (emphasis ours):

Aside from working with a desktop WPT charger, 2020 iPhones also support WPT charging function at 360 kHz to charge accessories. Currently, the only accessory that can be charged by iPhones is an external potential Apple accessory in the future.

A still from an Apple event video promoting wired bilateral charging between an iPad Pro and an iPhone

If Apple is not bringing this feature to its devices, then why equip the latest phones with that hardware component in the first place? The only logical answer to that is that Apple indeed had planned to add that feature all along only to disable it in software last minute.

Things to know about bilateral charging

No Apple devices currently support bilateral wireless charging.

That said, the 2018 iPad Pros have brought support for two-way wired charging via the tablet’s USB-C port. This allows you to top up a device that supports the Qi wireless charging protocol, such as your iPhone, by connecting the device to an iPad Pro with a Lightning to USB-C cable.

Image credit: Omid Armin on Unsplash CC

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