AirPower Was Likely Doomed by Electromagnetic Interference

Posted on March 30, 2019 by Paul Thurrott in iOS, Mobile with 20 Comments

iFixIt is offering up what it calls an “informed guess” about Apple’s abrupt AirPower cancelation. The product most likely couldn’t meet stringent US and EU interference regulations because Apple amped up the power too much and couldn’t control the signals the device was giving off.

The organization makes a compelling case. Where existing wireless chargers require the user to adjust a phone or other device until you find the “sweet spot” for charging, Apple was trying to create a large charging surface that worked equally well everywhere. This would allow AirPower to charge multiple devices at once, from any place on the charging mat.

Apple likely succeeded at creating such a product. The problem, of course, is that it gave off too much electronic interference, which is both illegal and could have serious health implications. For example, it could stop a pacemaker.

Many were surprised by how suddenly and unexpectedly Apple killed AirPower. But that actually makes sense, too, iFixIt explains.

“What always happens is you get it functional first,” William Lumpkins, VP of engineering for O & S Services told the organizaiton. “No one looks at [electromagnetic interference] until the end [of the development process.” It’s quite likely that AirPower wasn’t even close to the regulatory requirements for such devices.

As iFixIt notes, many rumors pointed to AirPower running too hot. That, too, makes sense.

“Overheating means they’re putting too much current into it, which means they’re trying to up the power level,” Lumpkins continues. “My guess is they’re trying to pump out so much of a field, which is getting it to overheat.”

Put simply, what Apple wanted to do was possible. It was just illegal and dangerous. And this explains Apple’s statement in a way as well.

“We’ve concluded AirPower will not achieve our high standards,” the Apple statement read, in part. Apple’s high standards required that AirPower not have one to three wireless charging “sweet spots.” Instead, what Apple wanted was for AirPower to charge multiple devices, no matter where they were placed on the mat. I assume work towards this elusive goal continues. But that Apple realized it would be impossible to deliver on what it promised in a reasonable timeframe.

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Comments (20)

20 responses to “AirPower Was Likely Doomed by Electromagnetic Interference”

  1. Avatar

    eeisner

    This... this actually makes a lot of sense. I used to work for a company called TYLT (in marketing - I'm no engineer) who quite a few years ago managed to build a Qi charger that didn't require you place your phone on the "sweet spot" by adding multiple Qi coils into the charger itself - I believe they were the first to add 3 coils into the charger overlapped, like so. This allowed for ONE phone to lay wherever it wanted, in any direction on their easel-like charger and still charge, but not multiple devices. I know that when I left they were working on adding more Qi coils to new chargers to both bring faster Qi charging to the charger as well as allowing multiple phones to charge on the same surface regardless of position, like the AirPower - I remember a prototype with 5 coils in it for Quick Charge. And while I don't know the specifics of the issues they ran into, I know that there were heat and safety related issues, which caused the product to be limited/held back.


    It's definitely a hard problem to solve, and Apple isn't the only one trying to do so - Apple is just the only one dumb enough to announce a product before they solved it.

  2. Avatar

    sevenacids

    What's the big deal? Just put it inside an aluminum cage in shape of an apple (milled from a solid block, of course), put some white finish on it, and you're good to go. No more interference. :D

  3. Avatar

    dontbe evil

    butbut apple is the best they couldn't figure out such a simple device? and if something goes wrong just blame the user as usual

  4. Avatar

    jaunty

    "Apple likely succeeded at creating such a product. The problem, of course, is that it gave off too much electronic interference, which is both illegal and could have serious health implications. For example, it could stop a pacemaker"


    That would mean that they didn't succeed.


    is this the new place to come to for giving Apple free passes?

    • Avatar

      Oreo

      In reply to jaunty:

      Explaining why something did not work out is not the same as giving Apple a free pass. I find hearing the technical reasons illuminating. And that doesn't detract from the fact that Apple should not have announced AirPower.

    • Avatar

      MikeGalos

      In reply to jaunty:

      Not only didn't succeed but had marketing given so much power that they could announce it without it actually existing and had such bad internal communications that they, apparently, almost shipped a product "which is both illegal and could have serious health implications". That either meant upper management didn't care or they weren't given critical information. When bad news doesn't flow up the chain, bad decisions happen.

  5. Avatar

    TheJoeFin

    I used to work in the induction industry and this all makes sense. We were designing industrial inductors, and would always water cool them. Having an inconsistent load is difficult because usually the size, shape, and number of coils in the inductor are tuned for each application. Inconsistent loads would require more sophisticated controls and power supply. In industrial applications we didn't need to get FCC approval so we were more free to make some powerful inductors without shielding.


    Induction is pretty neat tech, but it can be very tricky to get right.

  6. Avatar

    skane2600

    Such a device, it it worked properly, would be kinda cool, but does it solve a real problem? "Oh, no! I have to plug this thing in just like I've been plugging electronic devices in for my entire life!"

  7. Avatar

    MikeGalos

    Based on the posts by people involved in induction devices over on the Premium side, it's even more amazing to see the level of hubris Apple marketing had by announcing 18 months ago how lots of companies had been working on the problem but Apple's engineers had solved it.


    Clearly they had no idea of the problems involved and just assumed that if they announced it their engineers would find a way to deliver what marketing had promised.


    It's just a good thing that they didn't "demonstrate" their prototypes to any press members with a pacemaker.

    • Avatar

      SvenJ

      In reply to MikeGalos: Sounds like a Dilbert comic, doesn't it?


    • Avatar

      shameermulji

      In reply to MikeGalos:

      John Gruber, a well-known Apple tech blogger, wrote about AirPower in September 2018 just right after the iPhone keynote. He, like Mark Gurman, has many sources within Apple.


      "AIRPOWER: I wrote about AirPower’s absence earlier this week. What I’ve heard, third-hand but from multiple little birdies, is that AirPower really is well and truly fucked. Something about the multi-coil design getting too hot — way too hot. There are engineers who looked at AirPower’s design and said it could never work, thermally, and now those same engineers have that “told you so” smug look on their faces. Last year Apple was apparently swayed by arguments that they could figure out a way to make it not get hot. They were, clearly, wrong. I think they’ve either had to go completely back to the drawing board and start over with an entirely different design, or they’ve decided to give up and they just don’t want to say so."


      https://daringfireball.net/2018/09/iphone_xs_xr_series_4_apple_watch_event

      • Avatar

        MikeGalos

        In reply to shameermulji:

        Note, that's a YEAR after the announcement. The keynote was in September 2017 and Gruber's column was at the one year anniversary of the announcement when the vaporware product still hadn't shipped and Apple and just introduced the replacements for the iPhones that they'd sold using the preview video of the AirPower charger.

  8. Avatar

    SvenJ

    Consider they were also trying to make this work for both standard Qi and their pseudo-Qi watch. have a gut feeling the two technologies were close enough, but dissimilar enough, they caused interference with each other when trying to overlap. I have yet to see a third party device that charges phones and the watch, without the watch charger being absolutely distinct. Many even have you using an Apple watch charger to accomplish it. There seems to be a device available that looks a lot like Apple's Airpower, and even supports the watch*. The comments do note that positioning is critical. That would actually be fine with me, a single compact unit with one cord is what I was looking for, for travel.

    • https://hardciderlabs.com/collections/test/products/slicecharge-3in1-wireless-charger
  9. Avatar

    steveh

    Wow... The Nokia chargers were never plagued by these "direction" issues, drop the phone in the centre at any angle and the charge circuit powers up? What's everyone suffering from?


    And the convenience of wireless charging -to simply place the device down and it charges...

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