Wireless Charging: A Fad, Or The Future?

Bryn De Kocks | January 26, 2024 8:48 am

Induction charging is a form of wireless charging where the device isn’t connected by a cable. This technology uses electromagnetic induction to charge the device through its proximity to the charging pad. This technology was initially introduced in the medical field in the 1990s to charge toothbrushes, hearing aids, and other personal health devices easily.

Induction charging was introduced to other products after seeing success in the medical field. In 2009, a wireless charging mat called the Powermat catalyzed the introduction of induction charging to a widespread consumer market. Shortly afterward, mobile phone manufacturer Palm released the first phone to offer induction support.

Fifteen years later, induction charging has yet to become a standard charging method. While there’s been a noticeable increase in induction charging support, cabled charging remains the preferred method by most consumers. So, is induction just a fad, like 3D TVs? Or is it the future of charging? Let’s dive deeper into induction charging for Bluetooth speakers and examine how this charging method will impact the speaker market over the next decade.

Wireless Charging: A Fad, Or The Future? 1

A Brief History of Bluetooth Speaker Charging Types

In the early models of Bluetooth speakers, charging was done primarily using a micro-USB cable. This was the same charging technology found in most mobile phones. While micro-USB was effective, it wasn’t necessarily very efficient, at least by today’s standards. They had an average charging speed of 5V/1A, while fast charging formats would range between 15 and 18W in power. It is limited by a maximum data transfer rate of 480 Mbps.

In 2014, the USB-IF (USB Implementers Forum) introduced the successor to micro-USB – USB-C. USB-C was introduced to improve oversights in the micro-USB design and its efficiency by a marked margin. USB-C increased the potential transfer speeds up to 20 Gbps and charging efficiency between 5V/3A (15W) and 20V/5A (100W). A big advantage USB-C has over micro-USB is its ability to be inserted in either orientation. In micro-USB, you must ensure the charger is plugged in with the correct orientation.

FeatureMicro-USBUSB-C
ReversibilityNot reversibleReversible
SizeCompactCompact
Data Transfer SpeedsUp to 480 MbpsUp to 10 Gbps
Power DeliveryUp to 18W+-Up to 100W+-
Connector TypeVariable TypesStandard USB-C
Universal StandardNoYes

The Introduction of Qi

Qi (‘chee’) wireless charging was introduced in 2008, before USB-C was released. Qi is the most prevalent method of induction charging to date and is used in most wireless charging devices. Unlike micro-USB and USB-C, Qi is only a charging protocol and doesn’t support data transfer.

How Qi Wireless Charging Works

Some consumers think wireless charging involves no cables at all, but that’s inaccurate. The idea with wireless charging is to have a dedicated charging station that remains plugged in and powered while the device being charged doesn’t need to be plugged in. To start charging a speaker with Qi, you just place the speaker on the charging station, and the charging process begins.

Electromagnetic induction uses a power source to generate an alternating current through a built-in coil. This coil produces electromagnetic fields that a coil receives inside the device. This is why you cannot use a wireless charger on any device; it must be installed with a receiver coil.

Device Charging In Today’s Age

USB-C has become the dominant charging technology for both speakers and mobile phones. It’s faster, more efficient, and easier to use than micro-USB. Still, some small manufacturers are releasing new speakers that incorporate micro-USB. Such a feature is a red flag at this stage, and I wouldn’t recommend opting for a micro-USB speaker, especially with the outstanding speed at which modern USB-C charging technology operates.

Qi wireless charging, despite its benefits, has remained a nice-to-have feature across most devices, more than a dominant charging technology. One exception to this is earbuds. Qi wireless charging has become a prevalent method of passively charging earbuds while docking in the docking station. This prevalence begs the question of why the technology hasn’t made its way to Bluetooth speakers. One likely reason is the affordability. Because earbuds are driven on such low power, they can more easily be charged with smaller, more cost-effective charging stations.

There was a noticeable spike in public interest around Qi charging with Apple’s release of the iPhone 8, the first iPhone to support induction charging. However, as visible in Google Trends, the number of monthly searches relating to Qi charging has declined yearly since its introduction to the iPhone.

The Prevalence of Wireless Charging In Bluetooth Speakers

The introduction of wireless charging into the Bluetooth speaker market is primarily speculative. While some speakers have a built-in Qi pad to charge your phone, USB-C remains the go-to method for charging Bluetooth speakers, and I am unaware of any speakers that can be charged with Qi.

The reasons why we haven’t seen Qi charging introduced into Bluetooth speakers are unclear but likely related to the frequency of use and additional costs involved. There are also considerations around long-term battery life and capacity challenges.

Looking forward, we should expect some advances in wireless charging over the coming years. Ongoing research aims to improve charging range, efficiency, and broadening integration. It may take another five years to see this research trickling into the consumer markets, but it is something to watch.

Speakers That Use Built-In Wireless Charging For Your Phone

Even though we cannot charge our Bluetooth speakers wireless, some new ones come with built-in Qi phone chargers. The speaker will charge your phone when placed on the built-in charging pad. While very different in its design, this is still a neat feature we’ve started to see.

bang and olufsen qi wireless charging speaker

Bang & Olufsen Beolit 20

The Bang & Olufsen is a sleek, classy speaker that incorporates effective Qi wireless charging through a built-in charging pad at the top of the speaker. You can keep your phone charged while it plays by putting it on the speaker.

The Areas Where Wireless Charging Holds Value

It’s not all doom and gloom for wireless speaker charging. There are areas where this technology holds merit. Most noteworthy is catering to consumers who frequently use their devices and don’t want the hassle of removing the cable from their speakers very often, which can also cause wear on the port over time.

Home audio is where wireless charging holds more merit than traditional Bluetooth speakers. By utilizing wireless charging, you could increase the portability of home speakers, giving them more versatility. Because home smart speakers are typically connected via one’s WiFi, having them seated on a charging pad lets the user scoop it up and carry it to any other area of the house without dropping a connection.

Aside from that, wireless charging is protected by its value in wireless earbuds. This accounts for the vast majority of Qi technology being used.

Efficiency & Energy Concerns

Some individuals have opposed wireless charging, criticizing its lack of efficiency and responsible energy usage. Because wireless charging pads are typically left plugged in, a small amount of energy is used when the pad is in standby mode. Additionally, because there is a conversion of electric energy to electromagnetic energy by the charging pad and an additional conversion back to electric energy in the device, energy loss takes place, reducing power efficiency. While theoretically correct, the energy wasted is low compared to other household electronics.

Benefits & Drawbacks

Wireless charging has both benefits and drawbacks. While there is inherent value in a charging system that doesn’t use wires, with the current technology, there are trade-offs to be made should we begin to implement wireless charging to speakers.

Advantages of Wireless Charging

  • A reduction in movement ensures a much longer life on the cable (in this case, attached to the charging pad).
  • Reduces long-term wear on the speaker’s charging port.
  • Useful for those with arthritis and hand mobility problems.
  • A cleaner aesthetic due to reduced cabling.
  • Improves the ease of use.

Disadvantages of Wireless Charging

  • Charging speeds tend to be slower than those offered by cables.
  • Wireless charging support tends to come with a premium price.
  • It’s possible to accidentally knock the speaker off the charging pad without noticing.
  • It tends to produce a lot of heat, damaging the battery.

The Future of Wireless Charging

In summary, the future of wireless charging for Bluetooth speakers doesn’t look exceptionally bright, but there’s a glow of hope as we move closer to new wireless charging technology. It’s been years since we’ve seen new wireless connectivity hit the mainstream market, and we’re still relying on technology introduced before USB-C. For wireless charging to become more than a fad, it must bring something new. One of its limiting factors is the proximity to which the speaker and the charging pad need to be. If we reach a point where we have more range, I think wireless charging could become more widely adopted.

Assuming rapid advances in wireless charging, this new theoretical technology will likely be introduced into mobile phones before being adopted by the Bluetooth speaker market. We could wait another decade before we see wireless charging offered as a standard speaker feature.

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Author: Bryn De Kocks

Bryn has worked in the field for several years, writing in-depth speaker reviews for various audio publications. His work has historically focused on headphones and Bluetooth speakers, while incorporating his understanding of the Bluetooth speaker market to help educate potential buyers.

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