Last year, Marriott placed portable charging stations throughout lobby areas of 29 of its hotels. The units, made by Kube Systems, allow guests to recharge up to six phones or tablets, using a variety of built-in connectors including USB, Micro USB, Apple Lightning, and Apple 30-pin. But each unit also contains a transmitter that recharges devices without wires, simply by resting the device on top of the station.
The Kube units, called KS Portable, use a wireless inductive charging technology called Qi (pronounced “chee”). It may not be a household name, but Qi charging stations can be found at McDonald’s restaurants in the United Kingdom, the new NX automobile from Lexus, and Verizon Wireless digital signage that double as charging kiosks at major U.S. airports, in addition to Marriott hotels.
For Marriott, the idea of bringing the KS Portable to its hotels stems from guests’ requests for ways to recharge their mobile devices (Marriott’s research found 75 percent of its guests carry one or more devices), and tapped Kube to create something that’s not only easy and cost-effective to roll out (each KS Portable can be self-powered, as there’s a built-in 18,000 mAh) but doesn’t require users to bring their own cables. It’s an added value for both sides.
The WPC paints a picture where a traveler can leave the cords at home, and charge wireless from car to plane to hotel.
The WPC sees the travel industry as one major area that stands to benefit from Qi, which includes cars. According to John Perzow, vice president of Market Development at WPC, since 2014 when Qi entered the public deployment phase, the technology has been rolling out into places like hotels, airports, and restaurants. There are now 15 car models with Qi built-in or as an option, with a similar number in development. The WPC paints a picture where a traveler can leave the cords at home, and charge wireless from car to plane to hotel.
“We’re in an organic phase now,” Perzow says. “All of these [entities] are investing in Qi chargers because it adds value to the business. It’s not a promotional campaign. The WPC is not funding these initiatives; these are being done because [companies] recognize the value to their customers, so it’s on an organic growth trajectory.”
In theory Qi is a simple solution to cutting the cord, but putting it into reality requires consumer adoption, and that’s harder to achieve. The number of Qi-enabled smartphones is increasing; since the 2014 International CES show, it has grown from 52 devices to more than 80 just prior to this year’s Mobile World Congress show. Major brands like Samsung, Nokia, Motorola, and Sony are adding Qi to their high-end devices. But consumers have yet to embrace wireless charging en masse.
“Consumer awareness is required, and it is frustratingly low.”
Unlike competing technologies from Qualcomm or the Power Matters Alliance, Perzow says the WPC is a nonprofit that’s supported by dues, so it lacks the marketing engine. He says WPC’s setup as an engineering organization is good for consumers, but it lacks the resources to promote the technology. So it’s relying on its members to handle marketing.
“Our members will do it to the degree that makes sense in their business,” Perzow says. “Verizon, Ikea, Marriott, and some of these big brands will do more of that because it’s in their interest to do so.”
It would require a juggernaut like Apple to push inductive charging to the mainstream, but there’s no indication that it plans to do that, even though it could be easily implemented over the iPhone’s NFC chip (there are third-party solutions for iPhone users, however they are messy affairs).
Still, as Perzow tells us, the WPC has only just started deploying the technology out to the public, and it will be a long-term project that requires consumer education. The technology will improve by year’s end, with new features like faster charging, higher power for appliances, and transmission through thicker materials like wood. And with names like McDonald’s, Toyota and Lexus, and Marriott incorporating the technology into their businesses, as well as new devices like the upcoming Samsung Galaxy S6, wireless charging may become more significant in the travel sector.