The long road to integrate wireless charging into cell phones

Today wireless charging for cell phones is pretty kludgy — mobile devices usually require a variety of additional parts, like this special charging back that is needed to wirelessly charge the EVO 4G using technology from vendor Powermat. But the idea — and eventually the goal of Powermat — is that one day the cell phone companies will actually embed the company’s wireless charging tech right into the phone itself, making the wireless charging experience a whole lot more simple.
One way Powermat thinks it can get there is by moving up the value chain and making the tech more attractive to the cell phone companies. That’s one of the reasons why Powermat has teamed up with lithium ion battery maker Leyden Energy to combine Leyden’s batteries with Powermat’s charging gear.
With Leyden’s battery help, Powermat will now be able to sell its wireless charging receiver bundled with the batteries, which could be a more attractive offer to cell phone firms, compared to asking the cell phone makers to use different battery doors and cases that come with chips for receiving electrical charges wirelessly.
Wireless charging will eventually follow the evolution of the Wi-Fi equipment market, where devices became integrated into consumer electronics and networking equipment, Beth Harrison-Meyer, vice president of global marketing at Powermat, told me.
“In Wi-Fi, you had to insert something into laptops to use it (initially). Now you can get Internet anywhere,” Harrison-Meyer said. “That’s the path wireless charging will follow.”
Getting the design right for the battery-integrated receiver was a bit tricky, says Harrison-Meyer. Powermat’s mat needs a battery that takes up less space so that there is room for the receiver, but the battery has to deliver similar if not better performance as the factory-installed version. Given that battery life is important, you can bet that consumers aren’t going to want to sacrifice battery life for the ability to do wireless charging.
So Powermat is counting on Leyden to deliver battery designs that can do the job. Leyden, as we mentioned in previous posts, has developed an electrolyte that it says can withstand high temperatures and prolong battery life. The California-startup raised $20 million last year to mass produce batteries with the new technology. Its first product was cylindrical cells for after-market laptop batteries. For Powermat, Leyden will use pouch cells, which are flat and thin.
“The beauty of Leyden’s battery is it’s so high in density that we are able to add our electronics and maintain and maintain the same footprint,” Harrison-Meyer said.
Powermat envisions selling the new battery and receiver product as both an aftermarket and factory-installed unit. Consumers could conceivably own two or more such battery receivers so that they can swap out the depleted one with one that has been wireless charged and ready for use, said Noam Kedem  vice president of marketing at Leyden Energy.
When the company will launch the products have yet to be determined though. Powermat is still working with Leyden on developing them. Given that battery designs aren’t standardized in mobile gadgets, Powermat and Leyden will have to roll out multiple versions to fit different mobile phones and other devices. Leyden already contracts with manufacturers in China to make its batteries and could end up supplying an integrated battery and receiver products, but whether that will be the case for its deal with Powermat remains to be seen.
Images courtesy of Powermat, and Leyden.