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Opinion: Why I hate cables but don’t have wireless charging on my iPhone 7 hit list


When I wrote last week’s opinion piece on five hardware lessons Apple could learn from Android manufacturers, a few of you wondered why I hadn’t added wireless charging to the list.

Those who know me might be especially surprised. I hate cables, and indeed went to the trouble of having a bespoke desk made so that cables could be rendered almost invisible. I’ve also been known to favor hi-tech approaches over low-tech ones just because I’m a gadget guy, so why wasn’t I calling on Apple to introduce wireless charging … ? 

It’s not because I don’t want wireless charging. I do. If I could remove all visible wires from my home, nobody would be happier than me. I look on the idea of having to tether a MacBook to power in much the same way most people would look at having to plug in an Ethernet cable to get Internet access.

But today’s wireless charging systems don’t get rid of wires. They replace a power cable running directly to a device with a power cable running to a charging mat. Either way, we get the cable.

There is of course one advantage to wireless charging: we don’t have to plug in the device, we can just put it down on the pad. I’ll admit that’s slightly more convenient. But only slightly. One of the things I love about MagSafe is there is no fiddling around with power cables, just hold it vaguely in the right area and it snaps neatly into place. Lightning doesn’t do that, but it’s at least much less fiddly that the old-style 30-pin connector.

A few manufacturers, like IKEA, are now building wireless charging pads into furniture. That is a vast improvement on standalone pads, enabling us to tuck the wires out of sight, but as yet, there are very limited options. I don’t want to be stuck with the few pieces of furniture that include it.

Realistically, we’re never going to get today’s wireless charging technology built into all the furniture we actually want to buy. The whole approach is no more than a stopgap, a dead-end. The very minimum we need is inductive charging capable of working through a thick desk or kitchen worktop, so the charging pads can be hidden away out of sight.

But what I really want is true wireless power. The kind of wireless power that enables a device to be genuinely liberated from power outlets. Where I can just use any portable device – be it an iPhone, iPad or MacBook – without having to worry about where it gets its power from.

There are two potential ways we could get that …


The first technology is fuel cells, which turn hydrogen into electricity. Using the same space taken up by today’s laptop batteries, fuel cells would power a laptop for several weeks.

Sure, we’d have to top up our devices from time to time, but a MacBook would become like a Kindle or a Bluetooth keyboard – something we have to charge maybe once a month. That’s well into ‘good enough’ territory for me.

The only downside is that when charging becomes that infrequent, it’s easy to forget about it completely. About the only device I use that I let go flat these days is the Brydge keyboard I use with my iPad, because it only need to be charged every 5-6 weeks and I have no routine for it. But that’s just about developing new habits.

Fuel cell technology is nothing new. It was first invented in 1838! NASA uses it to power satellites, and larger fuel cell systems are used in a number of industrial applications. But for some reason, it hasn’t yet made it into portable electronic devices – despite more than a decade of articles promising we’d have fuel cell-powered laptops any day now.

But I’m not giving up yet. Apple has a patent on using fuel cells in portable electronic devices, and has reportedly been working on it for some time. Intelligent Energy has even managed to squeeze fuel cells into the same space as an iPhone 6 battery and use them to power an iPhone for a week. This stuff works.


But the holy grail of wireless power is wide-area wireless charging. Many attempts have been made at this, most of them requiring huge amounts of power to charge even small devices – and also pumping out a great deal of electromagnetic energy, something which has health and safety implications.

But there’s one approach out there that has neither drawback: MagMIMO, a technology developed by MIT. This works in a similar way to advanced Wi-Fi routers: you blanket a room in signal, then when the router detects that a device is connected to it, it boosts power to the right directional antennas to reach that device.

MagMIMO does the same thing, but using magnetic fields instead of radio waves. An array of wire coils generates a magnetic field and when a phone disrupts that field, MagMIMO senses it and focuses on the phone by creating a slightly different field with each coil. The magnetic fields reinforce each other so as to maximise the strength of the overall field reaching the phone.

MagMIMO uses no more power than conventional charging, and the focused magnetic fields have no effect on human tissue.

MIT’s proof of concept operated over 30cm, but a company called WattUp has already demonstrated a range of 20 feet using exactly this type of focused-energy approach. The end goal is to have a network of power transmitters throughout a home so that any device can be remotely powered from anywhere inside the building.

This is what I want: not a wireless charging pad, but a wireless charging home. All our devices being charged all the time. No visible wires, no need to connect a device to anything or put it down anywhere in particular, just power constantly available to any device anywhere in the home.

Fit the same systems to offices, coffee shops, hotels, airport lounges and so on, and we’d never need to carry a charger ever again. That’s my idea of wireless power. And that’s why I remain entirely unexcited by charging pads.

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  1. Alex Moran - 7 years ago

    You shouldn’t start a sentence with “and”

      • Grayson Mixon - 7 years ago


      • Leif Paul Ashley - 7 years ago

        The OP is right… Oxford Dictionaries is wrong, period. It’s improper use of the language form.

      • Ben Lovejoy - 7 years ago

        Much as I respect opinions shared in comments, I think I’ll continue to be guided by the Oxford University Press on this one …

    • Justin Blake Burnett - 7 years ago

      You shouldn’t end a sentence with “and” either. But thanks for adding to the discussion.

      As for the actual content of the article, I don’t quite agree a stop gap solution should be skipped for an ideal that could be years or decades away. For example, I greatly prefer charging my Apple Watch wirelessly versus plugging in my iPhone.

      • o0smoothies0o - 7 years ago

        You don’t understand why Apple has inductive charging in the Apple Watch? Apple is intelligent enough to know that wireless charging is a stupid gimmick for phones and tablets. Why does it work for a watch? Think about it for more than the 2 seconds it takes you to think ‘OMG OMG I want it now for my phone!! it would be so amazing to just sit my phone down and it instantly would start charging!!’ Also, the watch can hardly even be described as wireless since you literally are connecting it directly to something with a wire..

        The Apple Watch has inductive charging for 3 reasons: it allows it to be more water resistant, it requires less internal space by removing an empty gap in the device necessary to plug something into it, and lastly, because it is more convenient to just let it snap onto the charging puck.

        Why is it intelligent to use for the Apple Watch? It is a watch, and therefore, it is not used while it is charging. Why is it horrible for a phone or tablet? A phone or tablet are both devices that are used while charging, get back to me when it would be an intelligent and convenient idea to use your iPhone or iPad while it is laying flat on a desk.

      • Justin Blake Burnett - 7 years ago

        Geez dude, calm down. All of the examples you gave (water resistance, less space needed, and more convenience) would be great advancements for a phone. The only negative you gave is easy enough to work around (handoff comes to mind) and limited enough that it doesn’t really matter (especially with all day battery life).

        I was merely saying that I like it on the watch. You were literally the only person saying “OMG, OMG I want it now.”

      • o0smoothies0o - 7 years ago

        I’m very calm haha, I’m just giving the example of people loving the idea before they think about the drawbacks. Trust me, I’m all for the positives I listed. How does handoff help with a device not being able to be conveniently used while it’s charging? I don’t think it’s limited, I’d wager to say almost everyone uses their devices while they are charging at certain times. I completely agree, it is great for the watch, but the watch isn’t something you use while it’s charging.

    • markpetereit - 7 years ago

      You shouldn’t use the comments section to opine on grammar.

    • srgmac - 7 years ago

      That is a very old “rule” that no one really follows anymore…I don’t think anyone really followed it to begin with to be honest.

    • Chris Cooper (@clcooper) - 7 years ago

      And, you shouldn’t comment on an article with nothing relevant to the post or when you are clearly incorrect. Grammar rules, there are they to help.

    • dcj001 - 7 years ago

      Sure you can. It was your firm rule, but…

      • dcj001 - 7 years ago

        Dictation typo.

        It was a firm rule.

    • Paul Andrew Dixon - 7 years ago

      Actually, grammatically it is perfectly acceptable… it just not a desired thing to do among certain people.

      But thank you for your input. <— shock horror I started a sentence with 'but'. And I honestly don't care about it…lol

  2. bellevueboy - 7 years ago

    I still feel that the next iPhone will get wireless(but not really wire free) charging. Simple reason being cross pollination of  watch features.

    • o0smoothies0o - 7 years ago

      Makes absolutely no sense. It’s not happening. It’s a pointless waste to include it. You don’t combine things from two separate products just because you have two separate products..

    • Greg Kaplan (@kaplag) - 7 years ago

      If that’s true, it also won’t have headphones or a lighting port. The apple watch didn’t just gain wireless charging capabilities. It made the trade off of fully removing ports to use wireless alone.

      Until the market is ready for a port-less iphone (and I don’t think most people are), Apple won’t build in an extra function that takes up internal space and isn’t really that useful.

  3. Neil Quinn (@neilq5) - 7 years ago

    I’m hoping that the next breakthrough we get in mobile devices is a battery-life breakthroughm. I’ve never heard of that MagMIMO before, it sounds interesting. I’m not a big fan of charging pads, it seems like a gimmicky attempt to use the phrase “wireless charging” to sell more products

    • iSRS - 7 years ago

      Agreed. Like the Samsung commercial where all the “idiots” are climbing under beds, desks, looking for an empty outlet, etc. and the “cool” samsung users just drop their phones down on a pad. How did the pad get plugged in? That is that (excuse my use) an apples to apples comparison? It isn’t. You STILL need to plug the pad in somewhere, so either show samsung users plugging in their charging pads, or show iPhone users grabbing the lightning cable (that, like the charging pads) are already plugged in. Guessing this doesn’t work, since it would show the savings of time is like a minute a month.

      • Paul Andrew Dixon - 7 years ago

        Apple users have the freedom to walk around plugged into battery packs or connect to any of the many plug sockets… Samsung users can opt to use a portable battery (although that defeats the purpose of having wireless charging), or have everyone sit around the one charging mat…
        Heaven forbid that the apple user tired to a cable can still pick up and use their phone – yet the samsung user has to keep their phone flat on the charging pad to use it…

        wireless charging limits you even more than a cable…

        i think the fast charging in some android phones should come to the iphone – i’d love to plug my phone in and have 50% battery power within 30mins

  4. Joe - 7 years ago

    Thank you for this. I hate when people boast that their new phone has wireless charging. No it doesn’t. If it still has a wire attached to it…how is it wireless charging? This isn’t really solving any problems. It’s just making it “slightly” better. I completely agree with this.

  5. donnybeattie - 7 years ago

    “One of the things I love about MagSafe is there is no fiddling around with power cables, just hold it vaguely in the right area and it snaps neatly into place. Lightning doesn’t do that, but…” MacRumors mentioned a lightning MagSafe like product, Znaps, coming soon,

  6. The Gnome (@gnomehole) - 7 years ago

    Never could understand why Fandroids always get so worked up over “wireless” charging that actually, IMHO, creates more cables and mess to get the same job done. Wireless charging should be the same as wireless Internet – then I’ll be impressed. Get on that Samesung

  7. o0smoothies0o - 7 years ago

    True wireless charging of at least a meter would be great if it used the same power and charged at the same speed, but that isn’t coming for several years, at least, I’m sure.

    I think Apple could put the new Smart Connector which they’ve said is two-way power and data transfer, into the next iPhone. Assuming it takes much less internal space, since you aren’t physically plugging the little Lightning Connector into the device port, it would be greatly, greatly beneficial in that respect. If it transfers data at roughly the same speed, and transfers power at least at the iPhone’s requirement then it would be good, I think. It would need to be a fairly strong magnet so that it isn’t easily knocked off when using it during charging.

    If you look at the internals of the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus you can see that they need to get rid of the headphone jack, lightning port, SIM card, and Home Button, if they want to continue to make the devices better. Looking at them though, removing any one of those I don’t think would make the device better, I feel like they need to remove them all at once or the space saving doesn’t do much. The problem with removing the headphone jack and introducing the Smart Connector for wired headphones/adapters is that if the phone was in your pocket while you were listening, I could see that it might be easy for the magnetic attachment to be pushed or pulled off the Smart Connector.

    Whatever Apple does, I hope the iPhone 7 loses the things I mentioned, because if it doesn’t, I don’t see how it could change much, unless they just stuck bigger screens in it. The bezels need to be reduced greatly either way.

  8. srgmac - 7 years ago

    This is great and all but realistically how long is it going to take before we see anything close to this in an actual consumer product? I myself want wireless charging in the mean time — I HATE having to plug the lightning connector in when I go to sleep every night…I’ve gone through 4 different lightning cables so far within a 2 year time period…that alone is unacceptable, especially considering how much more expensive they are compared to mUSB cables. Yes, all the ones I bought and went through were MFI certified…the connector sucks, period.

    • o0smoothies0o - 7 years ago

      There is nothing wrong with the connector. The only way the Lightning cord frays is if you decide it would be a good idea to pull it out by the cord instead of the plastic, or if you frequently use it while it’s charging. If you frequently use it while it’s charging, or ever use it while it’s charging, the wireless charging is an abysmal idea for you.

  9. dwsolberg - 7 years ago

    In all existing “wireless” cases, there is still a wire that is attached to the product. The only difference is the wire has a huge dongle at the end to allow for the “wireless” charging. It’s also harder to know if it’s charging because you have to get it lined up correctly. Every once in a while my watch doesn’t charge because I didn’t line it up correctly; I don’t have this issue with my phone. The only reason I would want “wireless” charging is to improve water resistance, but even then, I’d rather be able to travel with a small cable than a bigger charging pad.

    I also think that until you actually remove the wire, “wireless” charging isn’t going to be a big deal. Now if I could somehow charge my phone by just having it near my laptop, that would be interesting.

  10. rsmurf - 7 years ago

    I have this amazing charging system it allows the phone to charge and a can also us the phone while its charging and it does not take up any space on a counter or table. It called the fricking lightning cable!

  11. vamseenunna - 7 years ago

    here’s hoping Apple doesn’t get to this MagMIMO guys at MIT first then!

  12. RP - 7 years ago

    If wireless charging still takes longer to charge than a cable, then no. For now just make a longer lasting or use a larger battery.

    One thing I can get behind is to for Apple to eliminate the the headphone jack and go all-in with wireless earbuds.

  13. Drew (@gettysburg11s) - 7 years ago

    I agree, wireless charging is only slightly more convenient. With the iPhone, its even a little dangerous. Since the iPhone isn’t meant to be charged that way, you are relying an awful lot on third parties to make sure their add-on coils and Pad are of the proper voltages. I once saw someone fry the screen on an iPhone 5 using cheap Chinese stuff (a new screen fixed that one, luckily).

    So, I don’t waste my time with that stuff. Using a lightning cable is ok with me unless something better comes out.

  14. Marc Orcutt - 7 years ago

    “…and the focused magnetic fields have no effect on human tissue.” Damn it! I wished you had said something before I purchased the magnet-infused copper bracelet that is supposed to cure all of my ailments…

  15. Paul Andrew Dixon - 7 years ago

    Simply put, wireless charging is not wireless charging… is certainly does not give you freedom because you become restricted to only charging where the wireless base is – so unless you have many (which are expensive) you end up restricting yourself to one location…

    I think wireless charging is just a gimmick… you needs wireless pads built into the whole home, office desks, restaurants etc.

  16. mytawalbeh - 7 years ago

    What about the solar panels ?

    • Ben Lovejoy - 7 years ago

      In California, possibly. I live in the UK … sun is just something we read about on the web.

  17. JBDragon - 7 years ago

    I get annoyed when people/company’s call this crap wireless charging. It’s MAT charging. It’s charging with a different type of physical connection. Put it this way, it would be like Wifi only working if your iPhone was sitting on top of your Wifi Router to actually work. Would you call that Wireless? Hell no!!!! Sitting on a MAT, it’s kind of hard to use rto make calls or play a game or whatever and have it charge up at the same time.

    Now there’s a couple different TRUE Wireless Charging being worked on. It’s really only Wireless Charging is you can walk around with your phone and it’s still charging up. That’s the ONLY way you can ever call it Wireless charging. If you have to sit it on something that’s plugged into the wall, it’s still WIRED!!! Just because the phone connection point is different, doesn’t make it wireless.

  18. mpias3785 - 7 years ago

    7 Reasons wireless charging is stupid:

    1. It’s not wireless. A wire has to run to the charging pad.
    2. It’s not as easily portable. A cable and power converter vs a cable, power converter and pad.
    3. Less efficient.
    4. More bulk. If my phone needs to be thicker to accommodate the receiver, I’d rather have it be thicker to accommodate a larger battery.
    5. Picking the phone up for any reason stops the charge.
    6. More circuitry means more expensive.
    7. Cable still necessary for syncing since WiFi syncing is slow and unreliable.

  19. dreneeps - 7 years ago

    First, let me say that I enjoyed the article and many of the comments.

    Everyone has their preferences. When it comes to charging and phone usage everyone is different. I sometimes use my phone a lot, I would say that I probably use it much more than the average person and in much more intense ways. I can connect to my home’s fiber optic based internet connection to a dedicated 802.11ac AP and transmit at speeds that can be up to 900mbps. That, along with other variables, can drain a lot from the battery very quickly.

    It is really REALLY useful and functional to not have to plug a cable in and out of my phone dozens of times a day and also be able to charge it whenever it is not in my hand and actively being used, even if it is just for a few minutes. Though I charge it while using it also sometimes because…I have a phone that charges from an inductive pad or from a cable…obviously not an iphone. I actually have a few portable battery packs with built in charging pads about twice as thick as my phone and about the same size in the other dimensions. So I often charge my phone in my pocket or wherever I want to with no cords involved. it is useful for some situations, and definitely convenient. I can even hold it in my hand with my phone if I want to and really have the freedom to charge and use wherever I want to. That 1-2mm of additional thickness added to a fraction of the surface of the rear of my phone is pure hell though….uugghhh….it is like I am lifting weights! I have to stop and look carefully at my phone sometimes just to be sure I am not actually holding a brick or like an ingot of lead or something! ; )

    The current revised spec for most charging pads call for a triple coil and they are easy to use and don’t have a “sweet spot’ that is difficult to find.

    I have two boys, one is five and one is sixteen months old. When they have the opportunity to grab my phone and attempt to do something with it they go for it. They are not very good at being careful about a charging cable that is plugged into it, or about not damaging and creating a loose connection at the port from being to rough with it as they handle it with a cord attached.

    Oh and I also can charge my original OEM battery (that is about double the capacity and the same voltage as most iphone batteries) from 0% to 100% in about an hour +5 minutes give or take. So sometimes I like the cord. I wouldn’t want just one option. (Sorry if that last sentence makes no sense to you, this is 9to5mac, so I understand if that’s the case.) ; ) (I just couldn’t help myself, I meant it as joke, I am not a hater.)

    Oh yeah, and most of the time my favorite thing I like to do to keep my phone powered and going for as long as I need to and wherever I am is to just carry 1 or more of the inexpensive, small, light, and slim battery packs in my pocket. I think it takes about one minute for me to pop my back cover off, swap the battery, and be right back to what I was doing. In fact my phone actually maintains my open apps after the process of being power cycled like that. I can also charge my spare batteries with an extremely inexpensive separate charger so they are ready when I need them.

    So yeah, plugging in when your battery is low and waiting for it to charge or using it while it is plugged in works just fine for some people in some circumstances. I would also say that plugging it in doesn’t work well for some people, and is hardly ideal for many situations.


Avatar for Ben Lovejoy Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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