Friday, March 29, 2019

AirPower Canceled

Matthew Panzarino (tweet, Hacker News):

Apple has canceled the AirPower product completely, citing difficulty meeting its own 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 an emailed statement today.


Everything I’ve personally heard (Apple is saying nothing officially) about the AirPower delay has been related to tough engineering problems related to the laws of physics. Specifically, I’ve heard that they ran too hot because the 3D charging coils in close proximity to one another required very, very cautious power management.

I guess this was a recent decision because AirPower is apparently mentioned in the packaging for the just-released 2019 AirPods.

Alistair Charlton:

Thankfully, the accessory industry has leapt at the opportunity and is now sprinted toward the open goal Apple left presented for them. Some wireless charging mats power two devices, some even power three, and they all look very similar to Apple’s fallen AirPower.

Juli Clover:

The Boost Up Wireless Charging Dock, which debuted in September, is the newest and most versatile offering, combining a Qi wireless charger with an Apple Watch charging puck and an extra USB-A port.

How come Apple couldn’t do what these other companies have? Do they have lower standards for heat/safety? Was AirPower trying for a smaller sized pad?


Update (2019-03-29): Uluroo:

Apparently they were going for 21 to 24 coils. They could have just done three, but they probably didn’t want to compete in the category unless they had a big quality differentiator

It was complex engineering in the name of a simpler experience. Having more coils would have allowed users to place a device anywhere on the mat, so different spots wouldn’t get better charge. It would have been good, but it seems to be one of those impossible engineering tasks.

Steve Troughton-Smith:

At least for me, AirPower poisoned the well for Qi chargers; I now need one that can charge multiple devices at once and won’t bother with anything less, but simultaneously Apple has effectively told us that multiple coils will burn your house down so don’t try it


AirPower was only a fire hazard because it had six or seven times the coils, and they overlapped. It’s safe to go with other options.

Benjamin Mayo:

Schiller, Sept 2017 event: “This is not possible with current standards but our team knows how to do this.” … “we will work with the Qi standards team to incorporate these benefits into the future of the standard, to make wireless charging better for everyone”.

Nick Lockwood:

Apple used to be famous for never pre-announcing products.

The very few times I recall SJ breaking that rule (3GHZ G5, FaceTime open standard), the feature never shipped.

Leaks are one thing, but how hard is it to simply not talk about a product until it’s ready to ship? 😔

See also: MacRumors.

Ryan Jones:

Dirty dirty move to selling Wireless Charging AirPods with a picture of your wireless charging mat, a week before killing your announced wireless charging mat.

Jeremy Horwitz:

Weird, all of the 2019 AirPods documentation and box dates say 2018, as if they were ready last year and delayed at the last minute for some reason…

Rouven Schmidt:

My serial number says that my AirPods were produced in week 37! September!!!

So perhaps it’s a good idea to wait until the early stock sells out to make sure you get new batteries.

Benjamin Mayo:

Another product in the thermal corner …

Ken Kocienda:

Rough week for Apple. The services announced earlier this week aren’t that special, aren’t shipping yet, or both. The AirPower saga demonstrates a failure to properly scope, develop, and ship a new product. Vaporware and cancellations are not a good look.

Mark Gurman:

The AirPower wouldn’t even have made a dent on Apple’s bottom line, but cancelling an announced product, no matter how big or small, is a huge embarrassment. Can’t recall them cancelling an announced device, at least in modern era. Even the white iPhone 4 made it out alive.

Steve Troughton-Smith:

There aren’t many cancelled Apple products that I can remember in the modern era. That puts AirPower alongside 64-bit Carbon, I guess?

Update (2019-04-01): Craig Lloyd:

We asked an engineer with experience building wireless charging systems what obstacles Apple was working to overcome. “Over time, these harmonics add up and they become really powerful signals in the air,” explains William Lumpkins, VP of Engineering at O & S Services. “And that can be difficult—that can stop someone’s pacemaker if it’s too high of a level. Or it could short circuit someone’s hearing aid.” If Apple’s multi-coil layout was spinning off harmonics left and right, it’s possible AirPower couldn’t pass muster with US or EU regulations.

Part of what’s astonishing about the AirPower cancellation is how last-minute it was, right on the heels of the AirPods 2 release. But Lumpkins says that happens sometimes. He speculated that Apple had AirPower working in their labs: ”Well, so what always happens is you get it functional first. No one looks at [Electro-Magnetic Interference] until the end.” The FCC rules for wireless charging devices like AirPower are quite strict, and limit exposure at 20 cm (8 in) above the device to 50 mW/cm^2.

Ryan Jones:

The ifixit “explanation” about what killed AirPower is naysayer speculative junk.

We know Apple could make it, the issue was between lab → factory. Issues such as yield rate, cost, components, suppliers, etc.

Juli Clover:

There are already a number of AirPower-like alternative products on the market, and we're likely going to be seeing additional replacements in the future. None of these accessories do exactly what the AirPower promised because there are dedicated spots to charge each device, but each option will charge more than one device at one time.


But there is one problem (the biggest problem) that every single Qi wireless charger still has. They require us to place our phones precisely. If we don’t place them just right, or if we nudge them in the night, or they vibrate just a little too much, our phones will stop charging, and we’ll wake up with 7% battery.

John Gruber:

I have long been wondering, if Apple were ever to just give up on this thing, who’d take the blame in the announcement. Looks like it’s Riccio.

Ken Segall:

There is no good way to look at the saga of AirPower. Eyes have rolled, jaws have dropped, and we can only wonder how on earth Apple could ever put itself in this position. There are but two possibilities. Either Apple engineering truly believed it could build the product and discovered the awful truth later—or Apple knew that the technology wasn’t yet feasible and gambled that the engineers would ultimately work their magic. If it’s the former, Apple engineering made a terrible judgment. If it’s the latter, Apple management made a terrible judgment.

Benjamin Mayo:

I’m sad that the product will not exist and I’m also not thrilled with how Apple handled the cancellation. When Apple finally decided to release the AirPods wireless charging case earlier this month, which carried a hefty premium over the normal second-generation AirPods, they clearly knew that they had given up on the mat. They decided to wait until after the rush of AirPods orders had gone through to announce AirPower’s fate. Therefore, plenty of people bought the wireless charging model with the AirPower mat use case in mind, none the wiser to Apple’s internal plans. I am one of those buyers. Apple made more money by making its announcements public in that order. Even if the total of those purchases is small, it is a bit sketchy. I know I regret paying the extra £40 for my new AirPods.

Update (2019-04-09): Accidental Tech Podcast received a crazy tip that Apple announced AirPower before finalizing the acquisition of the company whose technology would be used to develop it.

9 Comments RSS · Twitter

I think you can reinterpret "high standards" as follows: we cannot improve enough upon other market options enough to differentiate our version from existing market offerings and/or justify a premium charge for it.

If they dropped all the “political activism” (“curation” aka censorship) and “pivot to services” maybe they’d have the bandwidth for “quality” and “innovation.”

I agree w/ Jon Spain. Making a regular 3 coil QI charger would have been a "subpar" product according to Apple, with no real reason to differentiate from the existing market options and therefore unable to set the cost as high as they probably had in mind.

Instead of compromising, they just canceled it, laughing at millions of users who were likely waiting/going to buy one.

But because it's Apple, users will defend it with some lame: "I'd rather not be on fire!"; I've used a bunch of QI Chargers with Android/iPhones and I have yet to see a "fire" or extreme heat.

Lily Ballard

The existing multi-coil pads are basically just multiple pads stuck to each other, they still require you to align your devices properly on them and use a separate area for each device. AirPower's whole schtick was effectively 3 pads merged into the same physical space so you could put your devices wherever you wanted, in whatever orientation, and charge multiple ones at once that way. If they can't do that, then there's no point in Apple having their own pad at all instead of just working with Belkin on theirs.

Don't understand the attraction of wireless charging.

At best it's 80% efficient. It'll require 5 "charges" of power to recharge a device 4 times. That may not seem like much but multiplied across all the devices & all the user base that's a lot of power wasted because folks are too lazy to plug stuff in.

Gotta go with csnazell on this one. Wireless charging is a waste of energy and, at least for me, less convenient than just plugging stuff in, because I can still hold and use my phone when it's plugged in with a cable. Also, I have magnetic cables, which snap to my phone when they're nearby, which is probably more convenient than trying to place the phone on the charging mat properly. Wireless charging mats are terrible, wasteful products even when they work perfectly.

I hope this stays dead, and takes the rest of the wireless charging industry down with it.

Electroboom just tested a wireless charging pad and measured that it wasted 38% more energy compared to wired charging:

The whole idea of wireless charging is bad all around.

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