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The rumours of AirPower’s demise may have been at least slightly exaggerated, at least if recent leaks that have apparently come from inside Apple can be taken at face value.
Earlier this year we heard a supply chain rumour from reliable Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo with a passing comment that Apple was working on a “smaller wireless charging mat” that had us thinking that maybe Apple had just scaled down its ambitions and would be looking to release a single-device charging pad.
While that may sound somewhat anticlimactic after all of the promises that AirPower made, there are still some cool things Apple could do with a wireless charging mat that would make it stand out from the pack, but now a new rumour suggests that perhaps Apple never truly gave up on the dream of AirPower in the first place.
Apple Presses On
As noted by MacRumors, YouTuber and leaker Jon Prosser claims to have inside info that Apple has resumed development of AirPower and that prototyping is already underway.
Apple’s AirPower charging mat was first revealed back in 2017 alongside the iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, and iPhone X as Apple’s ultimate solution to its new Qi-compatible iPhone models. The company also debuted new Apple-certified charging pads by partners Mophie and Belkin, but it was the AirPower that got most people excited, since it promised to charge up to three devices at once — an iPhone, an Apple Watch, and a set of AirPods — simultaneously while also providing charging status across all of the devices.
Apple pegged a release for AirPower sometime in 2018, but as that year drew to a close without even a single mention of the product, it was clear that AirPower was in trouble.
In fact, when AirPower was announced, it promised to be able to charge Apple’s AirPods as well, however at the time those didn’t include a wireless charging case either, and while many expected that to arrive within a few months, it actually took until 2019 before AirPods gained that feature — right before Apple announced the cancellation of AirPower in a rare public failure for the company.
While Apple never actually came out and explained its reasons for killing AirPower, saying only that the charging mat had failed to achieve its high standards, most reports and analysts suggested that it was simply too ambitious, and there were problems with overheating and interference due to the need to place multiple charging coils in close proximity.
According to Prosser, however, Apple’s engineers have gone back to the drawing board in order to completely redesign the charging coil layout for better heat dissipation. Prosser also adds that they’re “re-engineering from scratch” but that “their biggest hurdle right now” is ensuring that the new mat supports the Apple Watch.
The Apple Watch and other smartwatches present a unique challenge for Qi-enabled charging pads, as they require significantly closer placement of the coils due to their smaller size. This is why most Qi chargers don’t work with the Apple Watch — it’s not that Apple has used proprietary charging technology, per se, but rather that the coils on Qi chargers designed for smartphones are simply too large to deliver power to the Qi receiver inside the Apple Watch. Many Android smartwatches suffer from the same limitations.
Naturally, Apple isn’t going to want to release a new version of AirPower without Apple Watch support, as that would largely defeat the purpose of an Apple-branded wireless charging mat, but it could very well be that the need to create smaller coils that offer smartwatch compatibility is what led to the seemingly insurmountable engineering challenges with the original AirPower. While we’ve seen other multi-device charging mats that look similar to AirPower, these often either omit smartwatch support entirely, require very specific device placement in order to charge, or have also had problems with their promised Apple Watch compatibility.
If Apple is indeed working on bringing AirPower back to fruition — and we really hope it’s true — that’s going to be welcome news for Apple fans. Prosser’s comments certainly seem to line up at least superficially with Kuo’s vaguer predictions that Apple is working on a wireless charger, although as MacRumors points out, while Prosser has shared accurate Google leaks in the past, his track record with Apple rumours is less established.