July 22, 2014
Wireless charging is coming to Starbucks, starting with its San Francisco Bay Area stores. The coffee giant’s partnership with Duracell Powermat should cut down on brawls between latte swillers eyeing the same wall outlet. Starbucks plans to expand Powermat wireless charging over 2015, until it’s eventually available in every Starbucks and Teavana store. We salute them for supporting the public charging industry, and recognizing a growing demand for charging in public places. But a lot of variables will influence how successful this rollout is for Starbucks and how useful it proves for consumers.
X Marks the Inductive Charging Spot
In the case of inductive base charging, this X is a very specific spot. Basically, a magnetic coil that’s inside a table needs to line up with a magnetic coil inside a case. While your phone sits snugly inside this case, it charges. It’s a neat consumer product for the home and the office where you have more control. But in a public place with caffeine-amped patrons vying for space at the charging table, phones may slip, slide and fail to charge. Uh oh, we might see some of those brawls after all.
There’s also the issue of neck aches. Your device needs to lay flat while charging. So you’ll be bent over it, trying to scroll or text, with your head and neck at a decidedly non-ergonomic angle.
Cases and Adaptors
About this time you might find yourself wondering, “Case? What case?” For now you’ll need to rely on cases made by Duracell which work with the Powermat. It’s still unclear whether Starbucks will sell, rent or loan these cases. Another option is to use an adaptor that attaches to a little puck sitting on the power spot. These cost about $20 to $40. No problem if you have an iPhone or Samsung phone. But users of more obscure devices might be out of luck as far as finding a suitable adaptor.
However, while iPhones require an amp of power, tablets need twice that. Wireless charging is not designed to charge tablets efficiently. The quarter of the U.S. population who now own a tablet might get a trickle charge from Powermat, but that’s about it.
Another unknown is how many devices will be able to simultaneously charge at any one Starbucks. Will every table have its own Powermat? Or just a few on the coffee bar? Will they decide based on population density or the configuration of the individual store? Can consumers count on a space at the charging table, or are they taking chances leaving their homes when battery power is low? Maybe Starbucks had better not plaster over those wall outlets yet.
iPhone 6 Speculation
Rumor has it that the new iPhone 6 will have wireless charging capability. But will it work with Powermat, which uses PMA standard, or the competing Qi standard? So far, Apple has not backed either. Perhaps Apple will come out with something proprietary. Starbucks is making a big investment in this new tech, even if Powermat is paying for the tables. Does Starbucks have inside info about the new iPhone?
Not everybody lines up overnight outside the Apple store, waiting for the newest release. Some people like to use their devices a little longer. And even with built-in obsolescence, your phone should last at least a couple of years.
As of now, wireless charging is not mainstream. None of the more popular devices include it as a native feature. Even if a revolutionary technology comes out that’s built in, many people will still be using older devices.
Why Not Use Current Technology?
Sure, wireless charging has a simple, sleek appeal, but not everyone is ready for it. How come Starbucks didn't use a more viable option for phone charging? Companies like Kwikboost manufacture phone charging stations that have the ability to charge up to 8 devices. Maybe in 5 years wired charging will be obsolete, but it's at least more applicable to today's world of technology.
What comes after magnetic inductive charging? Resonant charging. Instead of placing your phone on a specific spot, with resonant charging you just need to be within a specific range of the transmitter. Updating to resonant charging will probably be Powermat’s next move. This precedes true wireless charging, which will be more like wifi. In the future you’ll walk into Starbucks and, if your device has the capability, it will automatically start charging in the comfort and privacy of your purse or pocket.
However, anybody with less than cutting-edge devices will lack this capability. Which means cable charging will still be with us for years to come.
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