Can Apple drive wireless power to the masses?

Wireless power had a big showcase moment with the Palm Pre (s hpq), which featured the Touchstone inductive charging dock. But following Palm’s demise, the technology has quietly trudged along without capturing mainstream attention. But that may be poised to change.
Pike Research, in a new report, forecasts the wireless market to triple in size from $4.9 billion in 2012 to $15.1 billion in 2020.  And that’s not really considering the impact of Apple (s aapl), which just received a patent for an inductive charging dock late last month. Apple, to date, has not deployed a wireless charging system for its devices, but there is some speculation that it could introduce an inductive charging dock potentially for the next generation iPhone expected in the coming months.
Inductive charging utilizes a magnetic field to transfer power from a charging station to a device. Unlike conductive charging, inductive charging can work between very short distances without direct electrical contact.
Last year, the Wall Street Journal mentioned that Apple was experimenting with a new charging system for the 2012 iPhone. And in a patent application last year, Apple described a charging system based on magnetic fields, allowing an iMac, for example, to charge other devices such as iPhones, iPods, a mouse or keyboard. If Apple gets behind wireless charging in a big way, it could help convince a huge audience of the advantages of cutting the power cord. Apple not only has a large base of iPhone and iPad users, but it also has a reputation of making technology advances understandable to the masses.
But even if Apple holds off, Pike Research believes the wireless power market is promising. The research firm said the technology is maturing and key players from silicon vendors to manufacturers are increasingly working together on settling standards. By 2020, mobile devices will still be the largest market for wireless power with 36 percent of total revenue, said Pike. But the technology could be applied to many more application beyond just gadgets, everything from military and medical devices to electric vehicles and unmanned aircraft.
“While the market is still nascent, the rapid spread of wireless charging systems for mobile devices is a clear indicator that the broader wireless power sector has the potential to be a game-changer,” said Pike Research vice president Bob Gohn in a press release. “Evidence is building that wireless power technology can be an environmentally friendly technology and that, before the end of the decade, it could contribute to a significant reduction in carbon emissions and embedded energy used to produce, ship, and dispose of conventional charging equipment.”
Today, North America is the biggest market for wireless power but Pike predicts that Asia will overtake North America in the few years and will represent $6 billion in revenue by 2020 or 40 percent of the worldwide market.
Wireless power still faces hurdles in broad adoption. One issue is competing wireless power groups, including the latest addition, the Alliance for Wireless Power, or A4WP announced in May. This effort led by Samsung, Qualcomm (s qcom) and Powermat Technologies will compete against the Wireless Power Consortium, which was launched in 2008. That could lead to fragmentation and a lack of interoperability between power products. There are also some health and safety concerns from consumers that come with a new power technology. And then there’s the question of whether consumers will see the need for wireless charging, especially if it means higher costs or incompatibility with older devices.
Apple might not be able to solve all the questions about wireless charging, and it’s possible it might produce its own proprietary solution if it does. But it could help educate people about the technology and put it in a lot of people’s homes, bringing 2020 a lot faster.