Why Apple’s AirPower had to die

Apple could have pushed out a simple three zone charger, two standard Qi, one Apple Watch, and been done with it. But, Apple had far bigger ambitions than “just a pad with two phone coils and watch magnet”.

Instead of three sweet spots that you had to find, and different charging areas for phones and watch, the entire AirPower pad was meant to be one, giant, uniform charging area that you could just drop any device, phone or watch on, anywhere, and they would just figure out the very different charging requirements all on their own.

Well, a phone, a set of AirPods in an inductive charging case, and a watch, or two phones and a watch at any rate.

It wasn’t going to be Qi standard either. Because Qi couldn’t do that back then. It was going to be beyond what the Qi standard could do, but Apple said they were going to work with Qi to make it part of a future standard so that everyone could benefit from whatever advancements Apple brought to the table.

But, to date, absolutely no one has been able to do what Apple set out to do with AirPower.

Yeah, not even Apple.

So, what went wrong?

Too many coils in too small a space, because physics. I covered this part back in November of last year so allow me to… introduce myself.

What about Apple’s relationship with the supply chain, has that changed?

No… This was never about parts. Apple literally makes the parts that make the parts. This was about those parts, given the current limits of technology and, you know, physics, not being able to create the product Apple wanted to create.

But Apple just secured the Trademark and included AirPower in packaging and in iOS and…

Yeah. Throughout this long, tortured saga, Apple has kept on fighting to bring AirPower to market. Feeling like they were getting close to success, to release, planning for it, anticipating it, convincing themselves it was about to happen, maybe a few times over the last year but especially this year…

But, yeah, no. At some point, after delay after delay, failure to ship after failure to ship, investments and expectations and trademarks and packaging and even pride be damned, Apple had to make the call: Ship a product that just didn’t work and risk further, long term damage to their brand, or kill it, even after everything that’s gone in to it, and take the short-term hit now, and learn and do better next time.

Shipping is core to Apple’s culture. Great artists ship is one of their oldest and most closely held mantras. But they’re also a company that thinks in years, not months or days.

So, while I have no doubt this was a hard choice, one they knew would disappoint a lot of customers and lay waste to a lot of the work everyone inside the company had put into it so far, and would haunt them for years to come — while I have no doubt about that, I also think, ultimately, it was the right choice and the only one.

Because if AirPower had shipped and not even worked, it would have been infinitely worse for everyone.

Can Apple start over and make a new AirPower?

Apple could make a much simpler, less ambitious inductive charging pad, and even brand it as AirPower pretty much right away, certainly in the time it’s taken them between announcing and canceling the original. That they didn’t choose to do that, and that they outsourced their original, basic Qi chargers to Belkin and Mophie, probably means that kind of product isn’t high up on Apple’s todo list, though.

Could Apple make AirPower as originally conceived? Maybe one day, with more time, maybe years more time, when technology advances and all those coils can be managed effectively all at the same time.

So, what alternatives are there to AirPower?

While there’s nothing on the market that does what AirPower wanted to do, there are a few multi-device charging options out there that do something much simpler and much more realistic, and, hey, exist.

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