Wireless Charging
iQi

This iQi Hack Shows Why Apple Hasn’t Bothered With Wireless Charging

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iQi is a hardware add-on that brings the tech Apple hasn’t — wireless charging (using the Qi standard) — to your iPhone without the need to put it in a bulky case. Think of it as akin to Bill Gates’ quest for sensation enhancing graphene condoms. Or, er, having some cake and eating it.

The slender iQi gizmo is designed to work with soft cases, including Apple’s leather iPhone 5 sleeve, so you don’t have to compromise the overall look of your iPhone just to be able to wirelessly charge it. Although, once this phone-hugging gizmo is installed, there will be a slight bump on your phone’s rear, i.e. where the case has to swell to accommodate its wireless-charge providing passenger.

Visually, this is an all-but imperceptible bump if you’re using Apple’s leather sleeve, but it’s a bit more sticky-outy when paired with some soft plastic cases. The slight swelling does mean the handset won’t now sit entirely flat on a table or other flat surface.

iQi

Wireless charging has huge potential, albeit much of that promise remains to come. For now it plays a relatively small role in the consumer electronics space — possibly making a few mobile owners’ lives slightly more convenient by allowing them to charge their device by sticking it on a charger plate, rather than fumbling around to plug in a power cord once per day. (Although wireless chargers still have to plug the charger plate in at some point, and make some space for it  — and its unpleasing cable — on their desk.)

Nokia adding wireless charging to its flagship Windows Phone Lumia smartphones wasn’t enough to convert legions of iPhone users to the platform and save the once mighty mobile maker from having to sell that business unit to Microsoft. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t appetite for the tech, even among iPhone owners. More Android flagships are adding built-in wireless charging (including Google); yet Apple continues to stand aloof.

iQi’s Indiegogo campaign for its slender, soft-case compatible iPhone wireless charger, concluded a successful crowdfunding run last December, raising over $161,500 (from 2,350+ backers) — more than 5x its makers’ original target of $30,000. So even though Cupertino hasn’t seen the point of wireless charging yet a portion of iPhone owners are clearly keen. Or keen enough to shell out $25+. (Update: The iQi is now on general sale available, via its maker Fonesalesman’s website, for circa $35.)

But, is the iQi any good? Well, it certainly doesn’t look like much when my test unit arrives, being packaged in an envelope housed on a piece of card with a small paper user manual. But that’s a good thing: less, not more, is exactly the point of this iPhone wireless charger hardware hack.

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It’s basically a couple of pieces of cardboard (smaller than a credit card in size), sandwiched around some low profile electronic innards, with a flexible connector sticking out one end that plugs into the iPhone’s Lightning connector port.

Plugging the iQi into your iPhone is pretty straightforward, although it helps to have a fingernail long enough to push the connector snugly into the port. At that point you just bend the flexible plastic ribbon over so the main bulk of the iQi sits flush with the back of your iPhone (that’s bend, not fold; the ribbon won’t stand up to any kind of creasing). A flat silicon disk is also provided in the pack which you can stick onto the iQi’s rear to stop it sliding around on the phone’s rear. Simples.

Of course you do need a Qi charger plate to use the iQi with — such as the KoolPuck or KoolPad — or another charger plate that uses the Qi wireless charging standard. You’ll also need a soft-case to help protect the iQi and keep it fixed in place — unless you fancy augmenting your iPhone’s rear with duct tape.

iQi

Now to the main issue: does the iQi actually work? Not, I’m afraid to say, reliably. Which may well illustrate why Apple thinks this nascent tech isn’t worth bothering with (yet).

Some of the issues I encountered while testing the iQi (with an iPhone 5) are likely those generally associated with the Qi standard. As my TC colleague John Biggs has previously noted, Qi is slow and finicky — requiring the user to align the device with the charging place in just the right place or no dice. Or rather, no juice.

Which isn’t a huge hassle per se but it is a problem for a device that only offers an incremental convenience boost anyway. To add to the irritation, when it’s not aligned, the iQi beeps persistently, like a mournful robot child in need of a bottle feed.

One time I left it charging — everything apparently going tickety-boo — yet when I returned to the house half an hour later I heard its urgent call. Turns out the phone was sitting there, where I had left it charging on the plate, now not charging but beeping. Stuck on 99% battery.

Perhaps the iQi cuts out charging when it’s almost full and beeps to signify this but, if so, that’s going to get really annoying if the moment it chooses to pipe up coincides with the middle of your night.

I did also have a missed call, which perhaps caused the charging function to cut out. Whatever triggered the Qi break, the iQi’s reliability evidently can’t be relied upon.

It had been working prior to this point, but after this break it stubbornly wouldn’t resume charging — even after I tried draining the battery a bit to give it more scope for juicing. I also swapped out the KoolPuck charging plate for the KoolPad. But it still didn’t want to charge (even though the charger light on the plate switched to blue, as if charging, yet the battery indicator did not respond).

Next I tried removing the iPhone sleeve. Still no joy. So, finally, I did the inevitable reboot of removing the iQi and then plugging it back in again. And lo it started working again. So, yeah.

Another caveat: this is a hardware hack of the iPhone. iQi Mobile notes on its Indiegogo page that it’s not part of the MFi program, and “as such is not Apple certified” — so, while it claims the iQi “works well with iOS 7.0.4″, that statement carries an implicit caveat that it can’t guarantee smooth operation with future iterations of Apple’s OS.

So, down the line, iQi owners might have to choose between their iPhone having a sporadic wireless charging ability, and their iPhone having iOS 8. So, yeah…

Bottom line

If you really are desperate for an iPhone that supports wireless charging, and are willing to live with temperamental tech while you wait for Apple to take the plunge itself, the iQi does get around the need to stick a bulky, unattractive case on your iPhone. It’s certainly very visually unobtrusive, especially paired with Apple’s leather case.

Just don’t expect your phone to sit entirely flush with any flat surface, ergo prodding a resting-on-a-table iPhone’s screen or pushing its home button will result in the handset rocking about or lifting up like an angry ouija board.

But — above all — don’t expect the iQi-powered wireless charging to ‘just work’. Much like the nascent convenience of wireless charging generally, the additional functionality offered by the iQi can be marginally useful sometimes — but only when it’s not being a bit annoying.