iPhone 7 and the potential for wireless charging

Up until last year, wireless charging didn't work on phones with metal casings, specifically for our purposes—the iPhone. But technologies, like times, change. So, could Apple bring wireless charging to the iPhone 7?

Going wireless

Wireless charging has been available on other phones for years. The original Palm Pre launched with it in 2009 and a succession of Android and Windows phones have launched with it since. Back then, Apple obviously didn't think the benefits of wireless charging were worth implementing in the iPhone 4 or iPhone 4s. The company even switched away from glass to aluminum backs for iPhone 5 and later models, fully removing it as an option.

Then, in July of 2015, Qualcomm announced wireless charging through metal:

WiPower, as well as other technologies that meet the Rezence standard, operate at a frequency that is more tolerant of metal objects that come within the charge field. Up to now, this meant one could typically have objects such as keys and coins in the charge field and not affect the charging process. Today, WiPower has added the ability to have the device itself made of metal. This advancement maintains WiPower's existing ability to charge devices requiring up to 22 watts today, at speeds equal to or faster when compared to other wireless charging technologies.

Just because Apple can do something has never meant the company will. Apple has always been less about chipsets and more about feature sets.

Apple senior vice president of worldwide marketing, Phil Schiller, spoke about wireless charging in 2012, telling All Things D:

[Wireless] charging systems still have to be plugged into the wall, so it's not clear how much convenience they add. The widely-adopted USB cord, meanwhile, can charge in wall outlets, computers and even on airplanes, he said. "Having to create another device you have to plug into the wall is actually, for most situations, more complicated," Schiller said.

Schiller said much the same about near field communications (NFC) at the time. Then, in September of 2014, Apple showed off NFC in the iPhones 6. It wasn't NFC for NFC's sake, though. It was introduced specifically to enable contactless transactions through Apple Pay.

At the same even the company also showed off wireless charging, though not for the iPhone—it was introduced for the Apple Watch.

Apple Watch Hermes on a charging pad

Apple Watch Hermes on a charging pad (Image credit: iMore/Rene Ritchie)

Wireless charging on the Apple Watch was accomplished through a magnetic disk on the end of the cable that latched onto the back of the watch. Apple.com (opens in new tab):

[Our] goal was to make Apple Watch easy to charge in the dark. Without looking. While being only partially awake. We arrived at a solution that combines our MagSafe technology with inductive charging. It's very forgiving, requiring no precise alignment. You simply hold the connector near the back of the watch, where magnets cause it to snap into place automatically.

The Apple Watch was also designed to be water resistant. It's rated IPX7 under IEC standard 60529. Technically that covers sweat, splash, and other incidental contact. Unofficially, it's been used in showers and for light swimming, but not diving. Because the charging is inductive and the data transfer is wireless, it let Apple seal the Watch's diagnostic port and hide it inside on of the watch band attachment slots. That helps water resistance.

Unofficially, Apple has begun increasing the water resistance of the iPhones 6s already, even with a Lightning port. Rumor has it, though, that the company may take it to the next level in the future.

The iPhone would still need a Lightning port, and unlike the diagnostic port on the Apple Watch, it would have to stay exposed. Wireless charging, though improving, still isn't as fast as wired. Nor is wireless data transfer as reliable. But it's still convenient.

If rumors are true and Apple wants to remove the 3.5mm headphone jack, though, wireless charging would let you replenish the battery without taking up the one and only remaining port. You could charge inductively while listening to music over Lightning headphones, for example, or while conducting a lengthy interview through an external Lightning mic.

Bluetooth—or the new 802.11ah standard—and Wi-Fi can alleviate the problem from the data transfer side, but being able to alleviate it from the charging side as well makes for much greater flexibility.

It also provides the same level of convenience as the Watch—letting you easily connect it to a magnetic charger when you turn in for the night, and pull it off when you get up in the morning.

Technology alone is not enough

We're not yet living in that future where every coffee shop, restaurant, bar, and business has ubiquitous wireless charging built into every table and desk. Where we can all simply walk in, set down our phones, and top up our batteries. Apple entering any market has always been a good way to jump start the future, though, providing Apple does it like the company did NFC—in keeping with existing standards.

Previously, Apple chose aluminum over inductive charging. The iPhone 7 could be the first opportunity to have both. Apple won't do it just because the company can, though. They won't do it just because there's a new chipset. (They could just as easily be working on a new casing material that's not completely metal, irrespective of any wireless charging plans.)

Apple will only go to wireless charging if the company can present it as a valuable and compelling feature— as part of a shift away from old ports and towards new possibilities.

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

  • Something to fill the 3.5 headphone jack space? Sent from the iMore App
  • Can I ask what the benefit of the wireless charging is in the long run? Will be the first to admit I don't know much about it other than seeing the Samsung commercials.....but isn't it more functional being able to plug your phone in to charge and still being able to use it at the same time? If you place the phone on a wireless charging "dock" you would have to pick up the phone to be able to use it and not charge at the same time? Or am I missing something here?
  • This is what I have always thought, why wireless charging is more aesthetically pleasing (I guess?). It's much more practical to just plug your phone in the conventional way. An interesting solution would be conventional charging cable included by default and separate accessory charging mat to buy as an option? (This is apple we're talking about so of course separate accessories for sale would be the norm)
  • That's exactly the way it is on non-Apple phones with wireless charging.
  • This is how biased and un-informative Rene's posts have been on wireless charging (ever since Samsung released that hilarious commercial mocking Apple and promoting it's wireless charging) that fans still think wireless charging means it replaces the conventional plug and think they need to carry around the pad wherever they go. No, On android phones, you have BOTH options.
  • One benefit is that if your phone charging port messes up you will at least have another way to charge your device. I used to use wireless charging on my Note 3 and Lumia 1520 and I thought it was pretty cool to be honest. Sent from the iMore App
  • That's true but wouldn't so much be an issue with iPhones since the lighting port is so hardy. This is/was a big issue with Android phones because they used the garbage micro USB port for so long and that port is notorious for getting loose very quickly. It's definitely one reason Apple never adopted micro USB and invented it's own, very strong and reliable, port.
  • You are not missing anything, wireless charging as it is now is stupid, its just a large pad to lug around and move from place to place instead of a tiny plug.
    Both have wires.. Its just a novelty/gimmick Sent from the iMore App
  • I don't see what's so great either, you still need to plug the charger into the wall or flick the switch, unless you're the type that leaves them switched on 24/7. Sent from the iMore App
  • are you serious or just joking around? Wireless charging is a added advantage .. you just place your phone on a desk or bedside and your phone charges and if you are moving around you can still carry a tiny plug. wireless charging does not mean you cant charge without wires.
  • @NullifiedOne, similar to your Sensei, Rene, You still don't comprehend the concept of wireless charging. you don't need to "lug around" the wireless charger, you can place it where-ever you would use it the most, like at bedside table, or on office desk and just drop it on the small, not "large" pad instead of plugging you phone in and out every night or in the case of an iphone, multiple times a day. Now, If you need to charge your iphone at other places like airports or coffee shops or whatever, you can take the regular charger with the "tiny plug" with you. You.Have.both.options.
    options.are.good. Hope this helped.
  • Same reason as Rene notes with the watch. Easy to drop the phone on the pad at night without fumbling for the wire. On the go it's no different, plug in as needed. Also as noted in the comments it saves wear and tear on the input.
  • Since apple is removing 3.5mm jack, you can use the lightning port with your headphone while wirelessly charging it. Sent from the iMore App
  • I have had iPhones since day one but this upgrade cycle I switched to a Note 5. One of my favorite things is the wireless charging. It's one of those features that when you don't have it you don't really care but once you get it, it's hard to give up. My biggest complaint about the Note 5 is battery life but with wireless charging its basically a non-issue. When I sit down at my desk I just drop it on the charging pad. Don't even have to think about it. It's also nice at home because you just grab it when you're running out the door, no unplugging cables. I know it seems like a small thing but it's a nice little luxury.
  • That means the sole Lightning port will get A LOT LESS stress, hence more reliable long-term. Using a Lumia 920 and wouldn't go back to a phone without wireless charging. Plus you can put the phone pointing to whatever way and it still charges.
  • From my experience, you really can't understand the benefits of wireless charging until you've used it. I quit plugging in to charge when I bought a Verizon Z30, and when I switched to a 6S Plus I bought a Spigen Qi charging case so I could keep my charging habits. The Nexus 6P lost wireless charging which Nexus has had for years, so it was a fairly important determining factor for me.
  • You've hit on a subject that's one of the main reasons I can't live in the Android world, even though I've tried 4 times... The fact that your habits are rarely respected. Nexus 4 had wireless charging and I thought it was very cool, and now the Nexus 6P doesn't. Things just change so much from phone to phone with Android phones, even Samsung completely changed everything. Had replaceable batteries and expandable storage, now not. Android phones are like a box of chocolates.
  • That's pretty much what led me back to iPhone as well. The final straw was when Samsung decided to turn the Galaxy into the iPhoneS6. And syncing with Kies was terrible at best.
  • Interesting. S6 never synced with Kies. It required Smart Switch from launch.
  • At the time the 6P was in development, only other option was to release in plastic or glass and keep wireless charging as wireless charging with metal was not achieved/discovered how to be done until close to the 6P release. No excuse for 5X not getting it though. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • If only the 5X was a 5P Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • Amen Posted from my Nexus 6P
  • I'm so glad Apple has never changed charging mechanisms. *ducks*
  • Very nice article Rene, you're always so incitful into Apple's way of thinking. Sent from the iMore App
  • First thing that usually has problems is the charging port. Wireless charging eliminates all wear & tear. Huge convenience, today's new fast wireless chargers are just as fast as the new fast direct wire charging. It's a no brainer, the new iPhone needs to incorporate wireless charging. I want it, many many people want it.
  • I agree, I want it too, but not if the back has to be glass. I don't want to go back to that risk. The Lightning port is very tough, it won't go loose in a couple months like $hitty micro USB does. I think most people who think about bad ports are thinking about their Android phone.
    I know new tech is here that can allow wireless charging through metal, but somehow I think it's too soon for Apple to jump into that. We'll see. Apple usually waits until a new technology is more mature.
  • Micro USB is not as easily broken as you say.
  • I was a Palm Pre lover until HP killed it and I went with the iPhone 4S, so it was sad to find out the link in this article resulted in "The page you requested does not exist. For your convenience, a google search was performed using the query palm pre." :-( Last time I checked, Derek still had the webOSNation site going. Had to happen, eventually, I suppose.
  • The lines on the back of the 6's may stay for the next one, to let the wireless charge through, no? Sent from the iMore App
  • NFC would be interesting if you could interact with NFC tags. Wireless charging needs to be better than it currently is in Android devices as at the moment I think it's more of a gimmick than a necessity. If Apple decides to get rid of the 3.5mm Jack (and let's face it, they will, look what they did to the new MacBook... one USB-C port... ridiculous) then they better bundle up some Bluetooth headphones with the phone.
  • You think it is but it really isn't.
  • I have to say from that from the perspective of my friends who have Android phones and my own when I had one, perhaps for them the wireless charger makes sense. I had to charge my phone more than I do my 6 Plus. Though I have a lightning charger at my desk, I rarely use it, a full charge overnight gets me through the next day, even after a year of ownership. That was something that never happened on my Android phone, I always had to do a "booster charge" at some point during the day.
  • Wireless charging would be great in the iPhone 4 or 5. But on the iPhone 7 plus not sure why I need that for. Maybe because now Apple will remove the headphone jack and can't listen to music and charging. The other thing is that how many charger Apple can sell for 100$.
  • I would expect wireless charging to arrive in the 7s. By then, Apple will have a AMOLED screen ready a la Samsung, which will be thinner than the current LCD, thus making room for the wireless charging in conjunction with the space saved from eliminating the 3.5mm jack. Sent from the iMore App
  • I have been using wireless charging since my first palm pre. Since my lumia 920 i have wireless docks at work in my car and at home so wireless is everywhere. I have a wireless adapter for my Iphone and I use wireless for everything. I don't use the lightning port or headphone jack at all. Wireless charging, NFC, Bluetooth, WIFI DIrect and Airplay is all I need. I don't understand why people want the hassle of unplugging and plugging a phone. It drives me crazy.. Just sit it down and pick it up
  • Some find it safer living in the past. lol
  • That cover photo though!.. Looking painful to see screens face down on some concrete.. ouch.. lol
  • Useless really. I bought a wireless pad for ten bucks on amazon. Bought two more. Now I have one in my car at work and at home. Benefits to wireless charging is no fumbling trying to plug phone in. No scratching the phone with the plug. I have a qi charging case on my iPhone 6s plus. I love it Sent from the iMore App
  • Unless the wireless charging is similar to what was shown off at CES this year (simply within a certain distance of a base unit and your phone charges). It's useless to me. The charging we're talking about in this article isn't wireless. It's wired. You're connecting your phone to something. And even worse, you can't even use your phone whilst it's charging like you currently can. People would roll their eyes at this if this was the wireless charging Apple implements. It works for the watch because once it's off, it's not needed. But the phone is a different beast.
  • Eh, seems like you've never tried it.
  • Apparently neither has Rene
  • It's no more wired than a base station plugged in. Whether you put your phone beside or on the unit the base is still wired.
  • Your phone isn't wired and you don't need to plug it in and out multiple times a day..thats the point...who cares about the base? you plug the base just once when you get it and you're done with plugging things.
  • The only purpose of this article was obfuscate what wireless charging is, and to make excuses as to why Apple might not implement wireless charging. Wireless charging isn't the future either, it's the present. Next week maybe Rene can take on iPhone's lack of quick charging.
  • Funny thing he has always desperately tried to portray wireless charging as pointless because iphone hasn't been able to catch up to this technology but as soon as the iWatch got the wireless charging he started praising it and saying how it's oh so convenient.
  • wow boy was I wrong to think I might be able to read through the comments without seeing the obligatory "Apple is so far behind the don't have features Android had since it crawled out of the primordial ooze". The wireless charging plate is just a gimmick. It doesn't charge it faster or better it's just slightly more convenient. If Apple did it would I use one sure I could put it at my desk and plop my phone down whenever I'm working. If they didn't do it would I be frustrated? not really I only charge my iPhone once a day anyway. It's just convenience. It's not the super cool, innovative thing Samsung's ad wants users to think it is but hey only Apple users drink the Kool-Aid right? Sent from the iMore App
  • I actually want it.....for a car dock. So I can just plop it on and it charges.
  • I use a 2.4 amp charger on my iPhone 6s Plus, both at home and in my car. Less than 1.5 hours from 5% to 100%. Doesn't take much hand-eye coordination to plug in a lightning cable either, but if you're too handicapped to do that without even thinking about it, then by all means go with wireless charging. And if you're having trouble walking, get a Segway. If you have trouble seeing, get Lasik. Don't let your handicap limit you, you have "options". Sent from the iMore App