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The crazy next-gen wireless charging tech we want in our phones is almost here

Updated Sep 24th, 2021 1:43PM EDT
Xiaomi Mi Air Charge
Image: Xiaomi

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  • Chinese smartphone vendor Xiaomi announced the Mi Air Charge technology, a long-distance wireless charger that can recharge handsets several feet away.
  • The tech localizes a phone in the room and then beams waves to it to recharge the battery at 5W speeds.
  • Mi Air Charge would work with multiple devices that are in the range of the transmitter, but Xiaomi can’t say when it’ll be commercially available and what upcoming smartphones will support it. None of the current devices are Mi Charge-ready.

Vaporware is defined as ”a computer-related product that has been widely advertised but has not and may never become available.” It can be anything, hardware or software. Some companies constantly engage in vaporware announcements, announcing technology that isn’t immediately available for purchase, or tech that needs several years to mature into a product that anyone can purchase.

That’s what Xiaomi practically did on Friday, with a product that promises the wireless charging tech that we’ve been dreaming of. “This is a revolutionary innovation of wireless charging,” Xiaomi explains in its announcement, adding that “it’s not science fiction, it’s technology.” But it’s technology you can’t buy now or in the very near future. There’s no telling when the Mi Air Charge will be available either. It’s exciting vaporware.

A few years ago, when there was talk of Apple working on wireless charging tech to the iPhone, we saw several reports indicating that Apple might do something different. Rather than developing the same wireless charging smartphone that everyone else had, Apple would come up with an iPhone that can be recharged over the air from a charger placed in the same room. You wouldn’t have to place the device on a charging surface and stop using it while it recharges with such tech in place. Simply being in the same room with the long-distance wireless charger would be enough for the gadget to recharge automatically. The same tech could apply to other devices, and that’s the true wireless charging future we want. Apple never launched such iPhone charging tech.

Fast forward to Friday, and Chinese smartphones and electronic maker Xiaomi is ready to announce the Mi Air Charge tech. The white box in the background of the following image can locate a smartphone’s position in a room and recharge it wirelessly at 5W speeds.

Xiaomi Mi Air Charge
Poster of Xiaomi Mi Air Charge transmitter and supported phone. Image source: Xiaomi

The white bo thing is actually quite large, as seen in the following animation. Aside from smartphones, it might support additional gadgets in the room, provided that they themselves have the right hardware. Here’s how Xiaomi describes the tech in that white box:

The core technology of Xiaomi’s remote charging lies in space positioning and energy transmission. Xiaomi’s self-developed isolated charging pile has five phase interference antennas built in, which can accurately detect the location of the smartphone. A phase control array composed of 144 antennas transmits millimeter-wide waves directly to the phone through beamforming.

And here’s what has to happen on the smartphone side of things:

On the smartphone side, Xiaomi has also developed a miniaturized antenna array with built-in “beacon antenna” and “receiving antenna array”. Beacon antenna broadcasts position information with low power consumption. The receiving antenna array composed of 14 antennas converts the millimeter wave signal emitted by the charging pile into electric energy through the rectifier circuit, to turn the sci-fi charging experience into reality.

In other words, none of the current phones will support remote charging. They’re not equipped to work with the 5W charger. Xiaomi confirmed to The Verge that no 2021 smartphones would support the tech and did not offer a timeline for the first devices that will come with Mi Air Charge technology on board.

Xiaomi Mi Air Charge
Xiaomi Mi Air Charge technology recharges phones wirelessly several feet away from the transmitter. Image source: Xiaomi

There’s no guarantee the product Xiaomi just unveiled will ever become available in stores. Apple’s AirPower universal wireless charger is a rare Apple failure, a product that was announced during an iPhone show but never made it to stores. There’s no telling if Xiaomi’s Mi Air Charge will be more successful than that.

But Xiaomi does have a major incentive to create this particular device. The company sells a growing number of devices for the home, including smart home gadgets that could benefit from long-distance wireless charging. And Xiaomi has been at the forefront of pushing the limits of traditional wired and wireless charging on smartphones, so Mi Air Charge might be the next charging innovation coming out of its R&D departments.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.

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