The furniture giant Ikea has announced a new line of furniture with built-in wireless charging pads. If you have a compatible phone, you can set it on top of the pad, and it will draw power without having to plug anything in.
Ikea is entering the market with a range of products including tables, desks, and lamps, which will go on sale in the United States on April 15.
Many cell phones already support wireless charging, and this is expected to become a standard feature in the next few years. But a big obstacle to widespread adoption is the lack of a universal industry standard. There are two competing technologies, and phones designed for one won't work with charging pads built with the other.
Ikea is getting involved in a standards war
Wireless charging will only work if your smartphone supports the same charging standard as the charging station. And right now, there are two different wireless standards being developed, each with a roster of influential companies behind it (Some major vendors, including LG and HTC, are members of both groups.):
- Two industry groups called the Alliance for Wireless Power and the Power Matters Alliance merged back in January with the aim of creating a new industry standard. This coalition enjoys the support of Samsung, Intel, Qualcomm, Duracell, and other companies. The PMA has a charging station called the Powermat, but it will likely be superseded by a new standard that the new group will create.
- Ikea chose to go with an opposing group called the Wireless Power Consortium. It's supported by Verizon, Philips, Nokia, and several other companies. The group is backing a standard called Qi that is already supported by dozens of devices from Samsung, HTC, and other companies.
This battle is of interest not only to device makers, but also retail establishments that might offer charging stations. For example, Starbucks has signed on to offer Powermat charging stations in its San Francisco stores.
Ikea joining the Wireless Power Consortium is a bit of a risk because it means that if the Alliance for Wireless Power eventually prevails, the charging stations in Ikea's furniture could quickly become obsolete. Then again, Ikea's support could help the Wireless Power Consortium win.
This kind of standards battle isn't uncommon. Thirty years ago consumers had to choose between the VHS and Betamax standards for VCRs (VHS eventually won). More recently, there was a fight between the HD-DVD and Blu-Ray standards for high-definition video discs (Blu-Ray won).
At some point in the next few years, we can expect this race to reach a tipping point, where a critical mass of companies endorse one standard and support for the other one collapses. That means winning a prominent supporter like Ikea is a big deal because it increases the chances that the WPC will prevail.