(Pocket-lint) - In early 2019, Apple admitted what a lot of people had suspected for a while: AirPower, its long-awaiting charging mat, was dead.
It had been killed by Apple's desire to be able to charge devices wherever you put them in the mat rather than having a single position for the Apple Watch, for example.
There was some talk following its demise that the mat could still launch in late 2020 - a mere three years after it was first announced - but that of course never happened. Given that the accessories market is now pretty saturated, not least with numerous AirPower-style triple iPhone, Watch and AirPods mats, we suspect the AirPower mat is now a distant dream, but here's its story anyway.
What is the Apple AirPower mat?
- As well as compatible iPhones, AirPower would also have charged Apple Watch and the AirPods 2 with wireless charging case plus AirPods Pro
- Would have charged any Qi-compatible devices
Apple's AirPower was set to be a wireless charging mat that, like others, plugs into the wall but transfers electrical charge into compatible devices through contact alone. You just place your devices on it and they will charge without a wire and with minimal fuss.
The iPhone X, iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, iPhone XS, XS Max, XR, iPhone 11 series, iPhone SE (2020) and iPhone 12 series all feature wireless charging and work with hundreds of existing Qi charging mats and accessories.
AirPower would also charge Apple Watch in addition to the iPhone and AirPods 2 with wireless charging case and AirPods Pro. It would have been big enough for you to charge all three at the same time - your iPhone, Watch and AirPods. There are now numerous third-party mats that do the same, but not with the ability to place devices randomly that Apple wanted.
In early 2020, Apple leaker Jon Prosser had sources confirm to him that the project is still very much underway and that Apple isn't giving up on its wireless charging dream. Bloomberg also supported this idea. However, Prosser was duped by a clearly fake mockup mat leaked to him - which he went to lengths to defend - and we're no longer sure he's a reliable source. It of course doesn't help that no AirPower has launched yet and we're now well into 2021.
Prosser said at the time the mat was codenamed C68 and will cost a not-insignificant $250 with a probable launch date late in 2020. With no sign of the mat yet, the dream is slowly dwindling.
There will apparently be an Apple A11 chip inside to manage heat and regulate the charging voltage.
What happened to AirPower version 1?
- Didn't meet Apple's high standards
- Project cancelled as a result
The charging mat was originally announced in 2017 and we subsequently thought we might see it launched at various points afterwards. It never happened.
Apple said in an emailed statement that AirPower just didn't meet its high standards:
"After much effort, we've concluded AirPower will not achieve our high standards and we have cancelled the project. We apologize to those customers who were looking forward to this launch. We continue to believe that the future is wireless and are committed to push the wireless experience forward,” said Dan Riccio, Apple's senior vice president of hardware engineering, in a statement.
Another version of the box - which we believe might be a pre-release version - showed a diagram of AirPower on the back.
What's more, we thought it had gone into production. ChargerLAB spoke to someone within Apple's supply chain late in 2018 who said that production of AirPower had started.
The source cited Luxshare Precision as the manufacturer, saying the company is the maker of AirPods as well. In January it was also reported that the Lite-On Semiconductor was manufacturing hardware for AirPower.
What were the problems with AirPower?
- Too hot, too many coils
- Desire to be able to place devices anywhere was too challenging
According to Bloomberg in late 2018, the mat faced several issues including technicalities with the internal circuitry. According to Chongdiantou, the mat would have incorporated a whopping 22 charging coils (this number was disputed, but it's a lot).
Why so many coils? The idea was that it would charge your device wherever you put it on the mat. You don't need to be precise with your placement of, say, an Apple Watch. And, apparently, there were different sizes of coils which overlapped. And that caused heat and interference issues.
Renowned Apple blogger John Gruber of Daring Fireball said in 2018 that AirPower's delay was indeed down to the "multi-coil design getting too hot — way too hot".
Sonny Dickson added that "the mechanism being used for multi-device charging... is proving extremely difficult to build or refine, and has been resulting in a significant amount of interference...which reduces the efficiency of the charging mat, and contributes to the heat issues that engineers are facing."
Back to Gruber: "Apple was apparently swayed by arguments that they could figure out a way to make it not get hot. They were, clearly, wrong." According to Dickson, there were also software issues, with the mat failing to feedback AirPod and Apple Watch charging data to iPhone - Apple's original concept showed real-time charge levels shown on your iPhone (just as you get for AirPod or Apple Watch now in the iOS battery widget).
Apple AirPower rumours: What's happened so far?
Here's a history of the rumours and leaks surrounding AirPower.
6 August 2021: AirPower charging mat reappears as working prototype
SlashGear reported that a working prototype of what would have been the AirPower mat appears online, suggesting how close Apple was to releasing the product.
2 November 2020: Apple sends invites to another Special Event
Apple has sent invites out for another Special Event, set to take place on 10 November. The invite says "One more thing" but no further hints or details are revealed.
13 October 2020: Apple announces iPhone 12 series
Apple revealed the iPhone 12 series during an event on 13 October. No sign of the mat though.
15 September 2020: Is Apple about to launch a new magnetic wireless charger for the iPhone?
If this rumour is true, the new iPhone charger would attach to the back of the iPhone in the same way the Apple Watch charger does to the Watch. It's essentially a larger disc that would potentially cover the middle part of your iPhone.
15 September 2020: Apple holds Special Event, no AirPower revealed though
Apple held its Time Flies Special Event on 15 September but the event focused on new iPads, as well as the Apple Watch Series 6, Apple Watch SE and new services like Fitness+.
8 September 2020: Apple event scheduled for 15 September
Apple announced a virtual Special Event for 15 September 2020. It is not confirmed what products would be revealed at the event, but the AirPower is possible as that would coincide with the rumours of an end of 2020 release date.
26 August 2020: Apple still working on version of AirPower, report claims
A Bloomberg report suggested Apple is still working on a less ambitious version of the AirPower wireless charging mat. The report centered around a wireless startup company called Aira, said: "More than a year after AirPower's demise, Apple is developing a less ambitious wireless charger for the iPhone."
18 June 2020: Apple Watch is now working with the prototype which uses USB-C
Tech analyst Jon Prosser shared images of the device (see above) and said that it would use a USB-C cable for power instead of Lightning. He also claims Apple now has Apple Watch working with the mat.
13 April 2020: We now have a rumoured AirPower price and release date
Prosser now says the mat is codenamed C68 and will cost a not-insignificant $250 with a probable launch date late in 2020. There will apparently be bn Apple A11 chip inside to manage heat and regulate the charging voltage while the Lightning cable currently plugs into the side; this might not be
23 March 2020: Apple might resurrect its AirPower wireless charger
Tech analyst Jon Prosser has sources who have confirmed the project is still underway. The main coil design would appear to have been completed with prototyping taking place. However, Prosser says that a key problem is the lack of Apple Watch support in the prototype.