Louis Basenese connects all the dots but one.
“We are just at the beginning of a truly wireless future.” —Jony Ive, introducing AirPods.
If I didn’t already believe that wireless charging (WC) over distance (3 to 5 feet at first, up to 15 feet in a few years), will someday be a killer feature, Louis Basenese would have persuaded me.
In a report posted Tuesday on Disruptive Tech Research, the former Morgan Stanley investment consultant connects the dots between Energous Corp. (symbol: WATT), a start-up with some interesting wireless charging chipset designs, and Apple—a company that, in Basenese’s words, “desperately needs” a product feature like this to differentiate itself.
“After being dogged for years for a lack of innovation, AAPL needs long-distance WC to spark a massive upgrade cycle by addressing the biggest pain point for consumers—battery life.”
Several analysts—including Morgan Stanley’s Katy Huberty, Barclays’ Mark Moskowitz and Credit Suisse’s Kulbinder Garcha—have listed wireless charging as one of the new features they expect on the next iPhone. Nobody has dug as deeply into the technology—or connected the dots more thoroughly—than Basenese.
Here, with his permission, are those dots, divided into two groups: The new ones (from Tuesday’s post) and the old (from his first deep dive into WC last February).
- On March 26, WATT announced an agreement with Pegatron, bringing the total number of deals with major AAPL suppliers to three.
- On May 17, a LinkedIn review revealed AAPL hired more than a dozen staffers with expertise in WC over the last two years, underscoring a serious interest in the tech.
- In September, AAPL’s Regulatory Certification Program Manager, responsible for the global certification processes for iPhone, iPad and iPod joined WATT as Director of Regulatory Operations.
- On November 8, WATT announced a strategic partnership and $10 million investment from Dialog, bringing the total number of deals with major AAPL suppliers to four.
- On November 23, KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo reported the iPhone 8 will feature a glass case.
- AAPL’s iPhone 8 timeline now perfectly syncs up with WATT’s product timeline for a mid-range transmitter in “late Q3, early Q4 2017.”
- Consensus is forming among bulge-bracket analysts (Morgan Stanley, Barclays, Credit Suisse) with deep supply chain contacts that APPL will indeed unveil long-distance WC.
- AAPL and WATT are both members of ANSI’s Working Group (C63.30) to develop standards “for compliance testing of Wireless Power Transfer products.” All other major OEMs and WC at a distance companies are noticeably absent.
- Currently deployed WC technologies are incapable of charging at any meaningful distance, ruling out obvious partners like TXN, BRCM, QCOM, IDTI, etc.
- If AAPL developed its own “breakthrough” solution there would be more IP-based evidence. There is not—only 5 patents and no additional innovation since 2013. [Update: Still no new patent filings concerning long-distance WC.]
- Three technological approaches to true WC at a distance exist – radio frequency (RF), ultrasound, and lasers. Only RF is close enough to commercialization.
- Of all the RF-based approaches, WATT is the most commercially advanced. It’s the only one with a development and licensing agreement with a Tier 1 consumer electronics company.
- Both companies’ technical expertise and focus coincide, which helps explain WATT’s rapid tech development.
- AAPL and WATT share two manufacturing partners in common—Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company Ltd. (TSM) and Foxconn Technology Group. [Update: Total is now four]
- AAPL’s rumored timeline matches up with WATT’s guidance to be in products “at the end of 2016 or early 2017.” [Update: As addressed in this report, rumored timelines for AAPL changed, as did specific guidance from WATT.]
The plan, as Basenese explained it to me, goes like this: Energous designs the chips, Dialog and Taiwan Semi build them at scale, Foxconn and Pegatron stick them on the motherboard, Apple sells them by the millions.
There’s still one dot to connect, one that looms especially large after the AirPod’s delay: Apple has to get the technology into iPhones and out the door by next September, when everybody seems to expect it.
Baseness puts the odds of that happening at better than 50%.
Below: Energous demo from nearly two years ago.