Wearables may be getting all of the hype at CES 2014, but that doesn't mean they're the most interesting tech on display.
There were at least 3 different wireless charging technologies on display at last night's Pepcom Digital Experience event (and there could have been more; it was crazy enough that I could have missed one).
In addition to the inductive charging tech which is integrated into some mobile devices currently on the market (73 tablets and smartphones, and counting)there were two new charging technologies which aren't on the market but could one day show up in one of your gadgets.
The first is Rezence, a tech which is based on the principles of magnetic resonance. They had a pretty cool tech demo, but with a range of 2" to 4", it faces many of the same limitations as inductive charging. On the plus side a single charging pad can serve several devices.
They said we can expect to see it in the third or 4th quarter of 2015. Given that the inductive tech is more widely adopted by device makers, I don't see a competing tech with similar limitations getting much attention; but I could be wrong.
Speaking of inductive charging, there isn't much in the way of consumer adoption (few people want to pay for a charging plate) but that could change. One of the demos I saw last night was an insert for charging station which would go in new cars.
As it was explained to me, car makers want to integrate smartphones into their "smart car" plans, but before they can do that they need to guarantee that the smartphone always has power. One solution to this is USB ports so you can plug in your smartphone, but another solution is inductive charging.
I'd rather go for a USB port to charge my cheap smartphone, but I can see how the maker of a smart car might decide that wireless charging is worth the extra cost.
But installing those inductive charging stations could well prove a waste because a better tech has come along.
The hot story right now in wireless charging is WattUp by Energous.
Do you remember the patent Amazon filed in 2013 for a wireless charging solution, the one which could charge a device from across the room?
Energous says that they have pulled off a similar feat, and they have the tech demo to prove it.
WattUp uses radio frequency charging to provide power to any compatible device within 15 ft (I know Engadget said 20 feet, but I was told 15 ft). It's a smart system, which means for example that you can set it to give specific devices charging priority or tell it to ignore the devices which don't belong to you. I'm told it beams power at specific devices rather than just oozing energy into the open air.
This tech isn't on the market yet, but it's been shown off since at least May 2014, and it is expected to go on sale later this year. The charging base station and cases which will retrofit existing mobile devices will be sold separately. The base station is expected to cost $250 to $300, and the cases will cost around $75 to $125 and come with a built in battery.
With those prices there isn't going to be much of a consumer market at first, even though Energous has found a workaround: they've partnered with Haier to integrate a WattUp base station into some of Haier's refrigerators (but how often do you replace a fridge?).
But that's okay because WattUp has a guaranteed market: schools.
I doubt many consumers will want to pay hundreds of dollars for the privilege of not having to charge their mobile devices, but schools will be interested.
One of the biggest problem for schools trying to use more mobile devices in the class room is keeping all of the devices charged. It's a hassle to make sure that all 30 of the tablets or Chromebooks in a classroom are plugged in, and this is a problem which WattUp can solve.
I don't know if Energous has talked to Chromebook makers, but if I were them I would have done so. This tech might be pricy but it is perfect for schools.
And if it is widely adopted in schools the price will drop enough that consumers will be interested in getting it, and it will become the new standard.
But if this isn't adopted by schools then I don't see it being any more successful than inductive charging. That tech is in 73 mobile devices, but how many consumers actually use it? Given the high cost of a charging station, my guess would be damned few.
And due to its high cost, WattUp will have similar issues.