Remember how old phones required wires to functions? There was one tethering the headset to the base, and another connecting the base to the wall. Moving around while taking a call was like doing a ropes course.
Before long, all the other annoying wires in your life will join the phone line in that box you keep at the back of the closet. Here's how we’ll move on, from the solution that’s already here to one we can’t wait for.
The best solution so far
Even if you’re a literal cord-cutter, there are some wires that can’t yet be expelled. If you use an external monitor, you likely have a power cord going to the wall and one to your computer. Even if you connect your speakers over Bluetooth, they need to charge at some point. And anytime you transfer those precious pictures to an external hard drive, you have to plug it in.
USB Type-C, the new standard included on the recently announced MacBook and Chomebook Pixel, could dramatically change all of it. The powerful new port is capable of charging your laptop, sending video out to an external monitor, and transferring data, among other feats. That means a single cord could soon replace all those others cluttering up your life.
But eventually it, too, will be relegated to the drawer of forgotten cables. As Apple’s Phil Schiller said upon the debut of the new MacBook earlier this month, “The only intelligent vision for the future of the notebook is one without wires, where you don't have to plug up cables to connect to things.”
The coming attraction
In 2013, the wireless-charging market did $216 million in business. By 2018, that number will explode to $8.5 billion, according to research firm IHS Technologies. After all, why plug in your phone and tablet when you can just let magnetic resonance do the work?
First, though, the industry has to agree on a standard — but Broadcom’s new multi-standard chip is looking like a good interim option. Users will soon be able to charge their devices on a charging pad (or even better, up to 1.8 inches away from a charging pad), no matter what technology they're using.
That means furniture with built-in charging isn’t far away. In fact, it’s only a month away. Ikea will release a line of tables, chairs, and lamps with built-in chargers in April. Coffee chains, airports, and other public places are jumping on the bandwagon, too. Even better than killing the phone-charging cord, this revolution in wireless charging stands to kill the frantic and undignified coffee-shop scramble for an empty outlet.
Forget the wires on your phones and laptops for a moment and think about the rest of the home. Anything you own that requires electricity is getting it from a power cord, if not from a battery. But that might not last much longer.
Developments in wireless power transfers portend a future in which you can turn anything on without first plugging it in. Companies such as Boston’s WiTricity are developing wireless power systems that use a central hub to power devices and appliances through the air. WiTricity’s technology — in a home, for example — would create a magnetic field that permeates walls and floors. Devices like TVs and laptops with a built-in magnetic coils could harnesses that magnetic field and use it for power. It’s the same principle deployed in the wireless phone-chargers, but on a larger scale, and with the potential to change both the way we live and the way we decorate.