January 5, 2007 2:09 PM PST

Wireless power gets recharged

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WildCharge and Fulton will have initial devices sold aftermarket beginning this summer; for both, however, that's also just the first scratch on the surface. They have similar visions of entire ecosystems of wireless power.

If consumers embrace the technology, both companies hope that public and private spaces--hotel rooms, kitchen countertops, airports, coffee shops and cars--will one day be outfitted with pads or hot spots that would supply power for a host of mobile devices.

"The (long-term) strategy is if I buy (a laptop) battery, I can charge my laptop just by setting it down on my desk," said Fulton's Baarman.

"For it to be effective, it needs to be built into portable electronics, and so far, no major manufacturers have agreed to do that."
--Ross Rubin, director of industry analysis for the NPD Group

WildCharge and Fulton are banking on consumers' frustration with spending more money on a new adapter every time a new device is purchased.

"People are sick of buying a new adapter every time they buy a new electronics device. How many adapters do you throw away when you get a new phone?" said Baarman. "The social aspect of being able to have one adapter that powers all those devices is much more environmentally friendly and universally friendly to the consumer."

Of course, CES attendees have heard this before. At CES 2003, U.K.-based Splashpower showed off its wireless power product, a pad also using magnetic induction, but the company has yet to deliver the product to market.

Wireless power didn't exactly electrify the industry back then, so why do these companies think the second go-round will be different?

For one, the costs are considerably lower now, according to WildCharge's Matzkevich, who used to be MobileWise's vice president of marketing. WildCharge can make each pad for 66 cents per square foot, "a fraction" of what MobileWise could.

"There are a lot of challenges to do something like this mainly because the added cost to the building materials for this sort of technology is pretty high," said Richard Shim, an analyst for IDC. "When we're talking about adding it to low-margin products, it becomes a question of, 'Is this even feasible?'"

But backers say there's a demand for wireless capability today that has never existed before. "There's also increased awareness now, and excitement about everything else going wireless," Matzkevich said. "The only thing not wireless is power."

It's actually a chicken-and-egg issue, said Ross Rubin, director of industry analysis for the NPD Group. "For it to be effective, it needs to be built into portable electronics, and so far, no major manufacturers have agreed to do that," he said.

At least not specifically. Motorola is an eCoupled partner, though the company is refusing to say what the extent of its involvement will be. Supporters of eCoupled insist there's going to be a solid network in place very soon.

"In previous implementations, that ecosystem wasn't in place," said Wingrove of Visteon. With Motorola, Mobility and others on board, "we're poised to release things that are compatible with one another at the same time."

Whether the second time's a charm is a difficult question, Shim said, but he agreed companies are "smart" to consider this market.

"With notebook adoption growing and with more mobile computing devices becoming an integrated part of people's lifestyles, there's certainly an opportunity."

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