Apple has taken us on a real rollercoaster ride with AirPower. It was first announced in September 2017 alongside the iPhone 8 and iPhone X. Though delayed, we still saw rumors throughout 2018 that it would cost around $150 at launch. Then, towards the end of last year came the first warning signs, as anonymous Apple employees claimed the product was “doomed to failure“. But as recently as January 2019, we saw reports with a renewed optimism that the wireless charging mat would finally see the light of day soon. The second-generation AirPods released in March even show an AirPower diagram in the manual!
Now, as this sorry tale comes to an end, Apple has finally admitted defeat.
Though Apple has been characteristically light on the details of its failure, analysis from iFixIt suggests that overheating and interference were the key factors in this decision. It turns out Apple’s dream of being able to charge three separate devices (iPhone, Apple Watch, AirPods v2) at the same time, no matter where each one was placed on the mat, was a step too far. That setup requires a huge number of charging coils to be overlapped within the device, all of which create harmonic frequencies with slightly different waveforms, that build in intensity as they collide.
That can cause all kinds of problems, from severe overheating of the product to actively dangerous electromagnetic signals that could potentially interfere with a nearby pacemaker, hearing aid, or similar device. The assumption is that Apple would have a hard time getting such a product through regulation.
In the end, it proved too much of an engineering challenge to solve. “Apple boxed themselves into an electromagnetic corner,” says iFixit’s Craig Lloyd. “What they wanted to do was physically possible—and they surely had it working in the lab—but they couldn’t consistently meet the rigorous transmission requirements that are designed to keep us safe from our gadgets.”
Rest in peace, AirPower. We hardly knew ye.