A deep dive into over-the-air charging for the iPhone X

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).

New Dots:

  • 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.

Previous Dots:

  • 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.

4 Comments

  1. John Kirk said:

    “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.”

    Dogged for years for a lack of innovation? Frick and Frack! Do these analysts just TRY to be stupid, because it’s hard for me to believe they could be this clueless by accident.

    Let’s start with a little recent history. Most of the greatest minds of all time had all of their great breakthroughs before they were 30. Many continued to be productive, but after the age of 40, they seldom had those great insights that moved the world forward. Steve Jobs was an exception to that rule. Possibly because he knew he was dying, he had a creative burst of energy during his fifties that rocked the world. First, he took Apple from bankruptcy to respectability by recreating Apple’s desktop and notebook lines. But he was only getting warmed up. In 2001, the iPod. In 2007, the iPhone. In 2010, the iPad. Bing, bang. boom. The world will never be the same.

    Name me another company that had a burst of game changing products in so short a span of time? For that matter, name me a company that had more than one major product breakthrough ever? They exist, of course, but they’re the rare exception to the rule. Most companies are built around one great idea and live, thrive, whither and die on the strength of it.

    So, the critics say, Apple hasn’t created anything new since the iPhone? Maybe so.. But what other company has? What has Google done? Search. That’s it. Facebook? Facebook. That’s it. Microsoft? Windows, that’s it. Amazon? Online retail. I think you can argue AWS too. Who the hell has had a greater impact on the world in the past decade than Apple? The answer my friend, ain’t blowing in the wind.

    So what about today? If Apple hasn’t done anything since 2007, as some critics argue, then have they been sitting on their hands for the past ten years. Or, — duh — is it more likely that Apple is secretive and it doesn’t announce its products until they are ready for release?

    Oh, what’s the point. I can’t stop a jackass from braying. However, if they want to believe Apple is suffering from a lack of innovation, then what must they think of everyone else? Who else has created a product as big and meaningful as the iPhone? Hint. The answer is “no one.”

    Apple may decline one day, but saying they’re suffering from a lack of innovation ignores the the twin realities that innovation doesn’t come at regular, predictable intervals and that the really big innovations are few and far between.

    End of mindless, pointless rant. I wish I drank. I’d really like to get drunk right about now.

    4
    December 21, 2016
    • Robert Paul Leitao said:

      John:

      I don’t think the pace of innovation of Apple’s products and services has slowed. Increased technological sophistication combined with instinctive ease-of-use and seamless integration of services across multiple device lines is its own form of innovation even if enclosures often remain familiar to the user.

      The recently released AirPods, for example, were delayed due to the innovations packed into a product that are not necessarily apparent from a cursory glance at the product’s physical external form. Owners of iPhone 7 handsets know the advancements built into the handset series even though the external form is similar to the form deployed for the iPhone 6 series handsets. The criticisms of the tech press about Apple’s approach to innovation are often contradictory. The removal of the conventional headphone jack from the iPhone 7 series handsets to provide space for more advanced components brought about clamorous complaints. Yet the company’s decision to make use of the familiar form that first debuted with the original iPhone 6 handsets for the iPhone 7 also sparked vociferous complaints the company no longer knows how to innovate its products.

      You and I both know the common belief Apple is primarily a device maker is founded on a false construct. Apple does make devices but these devices are designed with the operating system, software and services that drive much of the functionality in mind. They are designed for and wedded to a comprehensive series of solutions envisioned for the user.

      While wireless charging would be a conspicuous innovation and a real convenience for device owners, I don’t think Apple “desperately needs” wireless charging to demonstrate real product innovation or further capture the imagination of the aspirational consumers who purchase Apple products. Unless wireless charging is available ubiquitously everywhere we carry our iPhones, it would be a conspicuous innovation but not yet a “game changer” for the product line. I expect an iPhone “super cycle” to commence in the fall of 2017 with or without wireless charging capabilities in the next iPhone handsets. If the technology is ready, so be it.

      2
      December 22, 2016
  2. Fred Stein said:

    Go for it John. Why not let loose? I enjoyed the rant.
    Seriously, wireless charging could be big. Bigger than just buying them for your iPhone, Apple Watch, AirPod, and Apple TV remote. Cafe’s might buy them, just as they provide free wifi. Cafe’s already provide handy charging options here in Silicon Valley.
    Looking further, the latest TouchBar is really an “iOS” device inside the Mac running on a new chip, the T1 (which is apparently nearly the same as the S1 on the Watch). And it has the TouchID and Secure Enclave. Could this be extracted and become a new product, that would also benefit from wireless charging, such as a video game controller or high-end Apple TV remote or a combo of both.
    All of these innovations would be seen as incremental, simply because Apple is already so successful.

    0
    December 21, 2016

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