Every few years, tech brands hit us over the head with their vision of a wirelessly charging future—one where phone batteries stay juiced thanks to magical, long-distance wireless chargers. But these same brands refuse to make wireless charging accessible today, as they exclude the technology from their budget and mid-range phones.
It’s a frustrating and stupid predicament. Wireless charging is a popular feature that costs little to implement. Not to mention, it’s been around forever.
Technology is supposed to become cheaper and more accessible over time. Just a few years ago, 5G networking and high-refresh rate displays were exclusive to high-end phones. But now, these technologies are included in even the cheapest devices, as they should be.
Wireless charging is the only mobile technology that seems to defy this rule. And that’s pretty freakin’ weird, because induction power transfer was discovered in the 1890s. Tons of products used the tech throughout the 1990s, including Oral-B electric toothbrushes, and the first wireless chargers for phones launched in the late 2000s.
Early wireless chargers for mobile devices, such as the Powermat, were slow and awkward. They also required expensive phone cases and other add-on accessories, as mobile devices didn’t have built-in charging coils just yet.
Nokia and Microsoft were the first manufacturers to take mobile wireless charging technology seriously. Their Nokia Lumia 920, a Windows phone from 2012, was the first handset to offer Qi wireless charging without any add-on accessories.
Again, the Nokia Lumia 920 came out in 2012, a decade ago. And what’s worse, the Lumia 920 only cost $100 at its launch. Well, it also required a contract, but the point still stands—if built-in wireless charging was introduced in a $100 phone ten years ago, then why isn’t it available in some $500 phones today?
Okay, maybe there’s a good explanation for this predicament. Wireless chargers can generate a lot of heat, which can damage batteries. So, maybe manufacturers exclude the feature from cheap phones to cut engineering costs?
This explanation feels pretty neat and tidy, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense. We rarely hear about wireless chargers causing significant damage to phones, and manufacturers literally have a decade of experience with the technology. Plus, if a budget phone has thermal problems when charging wirelessly, manufacturers can just reduce the charging speed—most customers wouldn’t know the difference because wireless charging is already slow as molasses.
So, I guess we need a different explanation. Maybe manufacturers skimp out on wireless charging to cut costs? Or maybe the wireless charging hardware takes up a lot of space in a phone; that would present a problem for engineering teams, right?
These excuses are also a bit nonsensical. Wireless charging receivers are basically just copper coils that vibrate when exposed to a magnetic field. As such, they cost about a dollar apiece at AliExpress, and manufacturers who buy in bulk (from a proper supplier, not AliExpress) probably spend just a few cents on each of their Qi wireless charging receivers.
Also, wireless charging receivers are less than a millimeter thick. Fitting this hardware in a phone shouldn’t be a problem, especially when building a budget device, as affordable phones are rarely as densely-packed as flagship devices.
Wireless charging is incredibly popular, and it’s one of the few features that customers actually understand. You don’t need to demonstrate wireless charging to the average customer; they’ve known about it for years. Wouldn’t this feature help manufacturers compete with other budget phone brands?
The answer is probably “yes.” People get super excited when an affordable phone launches with wireless charging. The iPhone SE 2 is a fantastic example—customers overlook this phone’s outdated design and tiny display because it offers features that are actually in demand, such as wireless charging, solid cameras, and reliable performance.
But instead of following the iPhone SE 2’s success story, manufacturers continue to ignore customer demands. The latest budget phones now feature high-refresh rate displays and other features that don’t matter unless you’re an enthusiast. Yeah, 90Hz displays are buttery smooth, but do your friends and family know what 90Hz means? Probably not, but they almost certainly understand wireless charging and its benefits.
Wireless charging technology is older than Hades and cheaper than bottled water, yet it’s still missing from most budget and mid-range phone releases. What the heck is going on?
Our best guess is that phone brands want to keep their budget, mid-range, and flagship devices distinct from one another. Wireless charging is one of those features that anyone can understand; it isn’t confusing and opaque like processing power and other specs. Customers already know that mid-range and flagship phones are “better” than cheaper devices, but they may need something simple and obvious, such as wireless charging, to justify buying a more expensive phone.
Whatever the reason, phone manufacturers choose to make wireless charging a premium feature. That choice isn’t beneficial to consumers, and it may explain why wireless charging technology hasn’t advanced much in the last few years—why spend money developing something that only a few customers will experience?