It seems like such a good idea, wireless charging. So convenient, no need to plug in your phone, just sit it on top of the chargers that IKEA is now building into its VARV table and floor lamps and a few other new furniture designs with funny names. It's all the usual nicely designed modern IKEA furniture, along with some portable charging pads that you might mistake for coasters or cutting boards. 

However, there are a couple of issues. The main one can be summed up in one word that will be meaningful to people of a certain age: Betamax. That was Sony's videocassette system, which competed with JVC and Matsushita's VHS tape system. The format wars were expensive and Sony lost — along with everyone who bought one of their machines.

Right now, there are at least three competing wireless charging standards: The Qi standard from the Wireless Power Consortium (WPC), which works with LG phones and the Nexus 6. IKEA says in a news release:

"Our belief is that mobile phones are vital parts to people's lives at home and their desire to stay connected, and Qi addresses an unmet need to keep devices powered," said Bjorn Block, Range Manager for Lighting and Wireless Charging, at IKEA. "As a member of WPC, we value the access to the leading and most advanced global standard for wireless charging."  
However there is also the Power Matters Alliance, which is growing fast and is supported by Duracell. This newer system will be capable of transferring data as well as power. AT&T has asked its suppliers to integrate PMA into the phones that it sells.

What about my iPhone?

Then there is the elephant that's not in the room, even if IKEA shows it sitting on its furniture: The iPhone doesn't have the technology. The upcoming Apple Watch does, but it appears to be its own system, a form of "close coupled magnetic inductive charging" that is built into the magnetic cord. It appears that Apple might be waiting for a new system being introduced by Intel called A4WP, which is short for Alliance for Wireless Power. It will be gutsy enough to charge your laptop. According to Mobile World:

... laptop users won’t have to carry power bricks, said Kirk Skaugen, senior vice president and general manager of Intel’s PC Client Group. “This is a big, big deal. In the next several years you will see hundreds of thousands of charge stations,” Skaugen said. “Intel’s desire is that wireless charging evolve from wearable to the phone to the tablet to the PC.”
Over a hundred companies, including Qualcomm and Samsung, have signed up for the A4WP consortium. Intel, together with Apple, are probably going to rule this roost. 

ikea furniture with built-in chargers

Nice furniture. But what happens when the charger breaks? (Photo: IKEA)

Finally, there's the issue raised in my post on Open Buildings, about how different parts of a home age at different rates. Now, with chargers built in, we have different parts of our furniture aging at different rates. What happens when the charger is obsolete or breaks? Is the furniture now junk? I like to think of furniture as something that will last for decades, whereas most electronics last for barely a couple of years.

Wireless charging is definitely going to be part of our future. Right now it's not as efficient as plugging in (wasting energy as heat), not as fast and it's hard on the battery. There are competing standards, none of which yet are powerful enough for much more than a phone. Apple, the biggest player in phones, doesn't play with any of them. I am not convinced that it makes sense to build it into something that lasts as long as furniture. (Insert joke about how long IKEA furniture lasts.)

I suspect that it's an idea whose time has not yet come.

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Lloyd Alter ( @lloydalter ) writes about smart (and dumb) tech with a side of design and a dash of boomer angst.