AirPower was announced alongside the iPhone 8, 8 Plus, and iPhone X at Apple's September event… in 2017. It was a preview, not a release, and Apple said it would only be available in 2018. Since then, the iPhone X has come and gone and another September event along with it. Now it's November 2018 — late November — and AirPower is still nowhere to be found.

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2017: AirPower Year Zero

Recently, when Apple makes a big change, it likes to announce a big halo product to go with it. The best example is AirPods. iPhone 7 might have ditched the headphone jack but it gave us one of the most innovative consumer electronic products we've seen in the last few years. Custom W1 chips — tiny computers that enable instant pairing, switching between linked devices, and rock solid syncing between left and right, no cables needed.

They were announced during the September event in 2016 as coming later that fall. Apple even provided pre-release versions to reviewers to test so they could have the complete iPhone 7 and Apple Watch Series 2 experience. They ended up shipping late by a couple months. Available for order December 16 and in stores by December 20.

AirPower was probably meant to be similar if not the same. iPhone 8, 8 Plus, and iPhone X. They ditched the metal backs for glass and gave us Qi-based inductive charging. Nothing innovative on its own — phones have been charging inductively for a decade — but Apple seemed to want to show not only its commitment to the technology but its commitment to pushing it forward. That was AirPower. Not just an inductive pad or stand capable of charging the new iPhones, but a super-pad capable of charging up to two iPhones, or an iPhone, an Apple Watch 3 or later, and even a pair of AirPods in a new, inductive charging case all their own.

It would change the narrative from Apple finally joining the inductive charging club to Apple being Apple and doing inductive charging in a slicker, cleverer way than anyone previously in the club.

They weren't announced as coming later that year but as coming the following year. Briefly, spring of the following year on one web page. But everywhere else — and eventually an updated version of that page too — simply next year.

2018: AirPower Year One

The Apple Post, February 7, 2018:

According to a tipster at American retailer Best Buy, Apple is preparing to launch the AirPower wireless charging mat and new AirPods wireless charging case in March, claiming that Best Buy will stock AirPower from day one online and in-store.

Mac Otakara on March 23, 2018:

Regarding that, as information reliable, likewise, AirPower is said to be due to sell it in March and to Qi wireless-charge with Apple Watch Series 3 at AirPower, it is detected with a special wave and it is made possible to Qi wireless-charge as the same when Apple Watch Magnetic Charging Cable is used.

Digitimes:

With Apple set to launch its in-house designed wireless charging pad AirPower by the end of March

But spring came and went, and the March event and new 9.7-inch iPad with it. But no AirPower. Summer came and went as well, and WWDC and iOS 12 with it. But still no AirPower.

Mark Gurman, writing for Bloomberg on June 21, 2018:

Apple didn't say when in 2018 it would release AirPower, but engineers hoped to launch the charger by June. The aim now is to put it on sale before or in September, according to one of the people. In recent months, some Apple engineers have ramped up testing of the device by using it as their charger at the office, another person said.

AirPower still remained on Apple's website, albeit only on the AirPods page and only in reference to the currently unavailable wireless charging case.

Mark Gurman writing for Bloomber on September 10, 2018:

AirPower Wireless Charger: This is Apple's charging pad that can simultaneously charge an iPhone, Apple Watch, and AirPods without plugging them in. The company faced development challenges, but plans to launch it as soon as this month, Bloomberg News reported earlier this year.

Fall came and went, and the September and October events, new iPhones and iPads galore. But, yeah, still no AirPower.

John Gruber, writing for Daring Fireball on September 15:

What I've heard, third-hand but from multiple little birdies, is that AirPower really is well and truly fucked. Something about the multi-coil design getting too hot — way too hot. There are engineers who looked at AirPower's design and said it could never work, thermally, and now those same engineers have that "told you so" smug look on their faces. Last year Apple was apparently swayed by arguments that they could figure out a way to make it not get hot. They were, clearly, wrong. I think they've either had to go completely back to the drawing board and start over with an entirely different design, or they've decided to give up and they just don't want to say so.

On September 16, 2018, Sonny Dickson, previously best known for finding demo units of pre-production iPhone and other devices from the Chinese supply chain, posted what he heard was going on with AirPower:

Currently the device produces far too much heat, which causes performance setbacks, and can affect the ability of the devices to charge if they become too warm in the process. It also affects the ability of Apple's custom charging chip, which runs a stripped down version of iOS, to function as intended.

The mechanism being used for multi-device charging, which we can confirm is comprised of between 21 and 24 power coils of various sizes to accommodate the three main products to be charged (AirPods equipped with a so-far-nonexistent wireless charging accessory case, iPhone, and Apple Watch), which are broken into three identical charging groups, is proving extremely difficult to build or refine, and has been resulting in a significant amount of interference up to this point, which reduces the efficiency of the charging mat, and contributes to the heat issues that engineers are facing.

One September 17, 2018, Binyamin Goldman wrote for Apple Toolbox:

According to two independent sources, Apple has cancelled AirPower as we know it, and it will not appear at an event the company is planning for October. The decision to cancel the device was made within the last month-and-a-half, and discussions about the next move have only recently begun.

People familiar with the project said the company is planning to begin work on a less ambitious wireless charging accessory for launch in early 2019. It is currently undecided whether a future device will inherit the AirPower moniker or if the brand will be trashed.

Apple Watch 4 came with a version of the Milanese Loop that could be opened up, seemingly so it could work with AirPower. That was no doubt planned well in advance, though. But with the launch of iPhone XS and iPhone XR, however, AirPower remained on the documentation included in the packaging, something far easier to change far later in release cycle, especially for the typically fastidious Apple.

Charging

Place iPhone with screen facing up on AirPower or a Qi-certified wireless charger.

According to Guilllermo Rambo, writing for 9to5Mac on September 20, it also remained in the code:

Looking into iOS 12.1, we noticed that the component of iOS responsible for managing the charging interface that appears when using AirPower has been updated, which means that Apple is still actively working on the project.

On October 23, 2018, Kuo Ming-Chi reported, via MacRumors:

According to Kuo, Apple could launch new AirPods and the AirPower either late in the fourth quarter of 2018 or early in the first quarter of 2019, but he doesn't yet know the company's specific plans.

Apple has launched products in December before. AirPods, of course, in 2016, and the Smart Battery Case for iPhone 6s in 2015. But it's certainly not the norm. HomePod, which was announced at WWDC in June of 2017 as coming later that year, then delayed early February 2018 after AirPlay 2 proved more challenging to nail down than initially expected.

2019: AirPower Year Three

If a December launch isn't in the cards for AirPower, and the lack of noise leading up to the last month of the year makes that seem increasingly likely, than early next year, be it February or March is the next likely window.

If the project really is in trouble or even canceled, as rumored, and another project under the same name or for a similar if simpler purpose isn't rapidly ramped up instead, then it be could well be longer.

"Great artists ship." "Apple ships." Is one of the core tenants of the company. But, delays on everything from AirPods to HomePod, and most especially AirPower has put that tenant to the test. That might be why there were no special halo accessories announced alongside this year's iPhone or iPad, New modular Mac Pro teased way back in 2017 not withstanding: Apple has learned the dangers of deviating from its ship-don't-tell strategy, and the pain it can cause them when forecasts don't match finish lines.

Where is AirPower? I'll do you one better: Why is AirPower?

AirPods challenged and changed our expectations when it came to how intangible wireless headphones really could feel. Even at its best, AirPower probably wouldn't have done that for inductive charging. Not the way ubiquity would. Not the way having every table in every coffee shop and restaurant, ever tray in every ride-share and plane, in having inductive charging everywhere would.

And that'll take more than a charger that can handle a wide variety of different devices. That'll take a wide variety of devices that can all be charged the same way.

VECTOR | Rene Ritchie

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