Thursday

What Happened to Apple’s Airpower? Will It Be Back?

Apple is known for some fantastic products and one of them was supposed to be AirPower. Unlike so many other products that either took the world by storm or just faded into obscurity (like the iPod Hi-Fi), the AirPower went a completely different route that no one expected. We’ll cover what the AirPower was, what it was supposed to accomplish, and why you’ve never seen it on store shelves.


What is AirPower?


You’ve likely seen wireless charging mats before. These are mats where you can place a wireless device like a smartphone, tablet, or watch and charge them without any cables. The AirPower was in many ways a conventional charging mat, but with that classic sophisticated Apple twist.


This mat was made so that you could charge your iPhone, AirPods, and Apple Watch all at once. That’s pretty conventional, but there were two key differences. The first was iOS integration. The mat would have connected with your iOS devices to show you the current battery life or whatever devices were on the mat.


Not sure if your Apple Watch is done charging? Just check on your phone or tablet. It’s a cool concept.


Apple’s Airpower


The second big difference is charging ease. Most charging mats require you to place the device above the charging coil (more on this later). If the device isn’t placed properly, then the battery won’t charge. AirPower was supposed to solve that by letting you charge anywhere on the mat.


Timeline


AirPower was first announced during the iPhone 10 conference in 2017, which in technology time is an eternity. Apple promised to have the product ready and shipped out by next year. Well, 2018 came and there were no announcements about the AirPower. Apple has said very little about AirPower since.


They did the opposite. Apple was quietly closing the project and erasing all traces of this product. They removed listings from their website, took down any mention of the product, and tried to remove it from the Internet. But, try as they might to be stealthy, people took notice and this had the opposite effect.


People became obsessed with finding any last traces of listings, videos, images, and any evidence that remained of AirPower. People found it on shipping boxes for certain products while others would hoard any scrap of info they could find on AirPower. As always, Apple was good at building hype, even if they didn’t want to.


There were a few mockups made and shown at some Apple events around this time. However, reports and videos showed that they weren’t working as expected. This isn’t too surprising when you understand what was going on under the hood.


Thermal Issues


So, why was the AirPower being erased from existence? As we said before, there were two special characteristics of this mat and one of them was causing issues. AirPower was having thermal issues as it was consistently overheating. Engineers reportedly knew this was a problem and expressed their concerns, but the powers-that-be swore it could be fixed.


It seems like it couldn’t. This makes a lot of sense when you compare it to other charging mats. A conventional charging mat has one to three thermal coils and a device has to be on the coil to charge. Three coils usually provide enough coverage, but there are gaps.


Apple couldn’t stand that. They wanted a product that charged on every square inch of the mat, regardless of where the device was placed. That may not seem like a lofty goal, but it turned out much grander than you would expect. They were planning on having between 20 and 30 coils on the AirPower.


This is 10x more coils than a conventional charging mat and Apple couldn’t balance the thermal output of the device. Apple was being ambitious, but unlike many other products where they could pull it together, they were just being too ambitious this time.


Canceled


Apple tried to stay quiet about the AirPower, but they did finally make a small announcement that it was being canceled. The official reason was that it didn’t live up to their high standards, which is an abbreviated version of what truly happened.


This isn’t the first time Apple canceled a product before or shortly after launch. There were the aforementioned iPod Hi-Fi, the Newton tablet, and the Twentieth Century Mac. However, it was the first time that they canceled a product that gained such hype.


Aside from the quiet erasure that captured the attention of the Internet, this is one of the few times that Apple promised to make a product and cancel it before it launched. Usually, they canceled products far before launch and they never saw the light of day, or they were quietly discontinued shortly after launch.


So while there were a few differences between this and other times Apple canceled products, it’s just the hype built when people were finding small fragments of the AirPower still around online or on the packaging.


Similar Products


Here are a few products similar to what AirPower was trying to achieve.


  • Nomad Base Station: comes in normal and Apple Watch variety. Can charge two devices wirelessly and a USB-A and USB-C port for wired charging.

  • Belkin Boost Up Charging Dock: has dedicated areas for a smartphone, Apple Watch, and a wired USB-A charging port.

  • Spansive Source: this vertical charger can wirelessly charge four phones and has two wires for a total of six devices. It can even charge through rugged cases.

  • AirUnleashed: made to look like the AirPower, it’s a three-coil charger for your phone, AirPods, and Apple Watch.

Conclusion


AirPower was a concept that was never fully realized. While some mockups were made, the issue with thermal regulation prevented the AirPower from ever being fully realized. This also represents one of the first times that Apple tried to quietly remove a product, and also one of the few times they canceled a product that they swore would come out soon.


It’s a shame because it would have been a great charging mat, but there are many other options available that are nearly as good.