Home The Future of Charging in Public Spaces

The Future of Charging in Public Spaces

If you feel a bit worried when the battery of your mobile phone runs low, you are not alone. A recent City University study shows that battery life has a significant impact on people’s anxiety level and their behavior.

A Wired article summarizes this well: “when smartphones start dying, people get weird: they head home immediately, swipe cables from coworkers’ desks, demand chargers from random strangers or places of business.” Given how reliant we are on our devices, these types of responses come as no surprise.

People faced with a dying battery.

What do you do when you are faced with a dying battery? Many people will pop into a coffee shop, a restaurant or scour wherever they happen to be for an outlet. Public spaces often have outlets or have installed charging solutions like USB outlets.

Major chains like Starbucks and McDonald’s have made free Wi-Fi and the ability to charge an integral part of their customer experience. Yet, what’s currently available still leaves plenty of room for improvement.

Traditional power outlets require charging cables.

To charge, you must be near an outlet and must remember to bring the right cable with you. This limits where people can sit. Some places simply don’t have easily accessible outlets, or the outlets that they have are not in desirable spots. Sometimes the shape of a charger can make it impossible to put two into a socket side-by-side.

Has the line to charge your devices been a simple numbers game?

In a crowded McDonald’s or airport, you must compete with everyone else for the available outlets. If you get one, it may leave you huddled uncomfortably close to a bunch of other people around a charging pod. In addition, using USB charging ports presents a potential risk.

USB doesn’t just transmit power.

A USB sends data — which means that a port could try to access your personal information or upload malware onto your device. These types of attacks may not be widespread, but they can happen. Another charging solution is wireless contact pads.

The most popular of these wireless contact pads are based on an inductive charging method referred to as Qi. Qi charging allows for wireless charging over very short distances, is supported by major players like Apple, Samsung and Google.

Who wants to put their phone on a dirty charging spot?

However, the pad itself still needs an electrical connection, and a consumer attitudes report by Zogby Analytics shows that many people are not sold on Qi charging. The report cites issues like charging speed, the need to align the device perfectly, and availability as key problems.

A thick phone case could prevent the phone from charging, and Qi spots in public spaces are sometimes broken or dirty. Who wants to put their phone on a dirty charging spot?

Long-range wireless power.

Long-range wireless power – the ability to deliver power from a distance without wires or charging pads – solves these problems. Long-range wireless power frees people to sit where they like and not vie with others for a limited number of outlets.

There are many approaches to long-range wireless charging such as Ultrasound and radio frequency, to name a few. These technologies vary in the amount of energy they can safely deliver as well as in their efficiency.

A new and very promising approach is infrared light, which can safely and efficiently provide enough energy to charge a phone. From the user’s perspective, the benefit of having wireless charging in a variety of public venues is readily apparent. In addition, there are significant benefits that extend to the businesses themselves.

Wireless charging for businesses.

Wireless charging is a simple and inexpensive way for business owners to elevate their customer experience. It provides a way to differentiate themselves, to delight their customers and ultimately — to make their establishments a more comfortable place to spend time.

Aesthetic and renovation efforts for WiFi power in the office.

The alternative – providing power outlets near tables – can be a major renovation effort. It can be an aesthetic concern, as well. A cocktail bar in LA or a diner in NY may value the sleek appearance of their countertops. Having to accommodate outlets or Qi pads near every seat can be a blemish on an otherwise flawless decor.

Another useful way to think about this is to consider the evolution of free Wi-Fi. In the early days, not everyone offered it, but those that did had an edge, offering their customers a little something extra, a reason to linger.

Forward-thinking business owners understand that small gestures like providing easy plugin access can go a long way.

For example, a few years ago, Domino’s debuted a service where people could order a pizza by simply texting an emoji. Thirty minutes later, pizza. Domino’s was letting people do what they already liked to do, text and use emojis.

The result was a 10% boost in sales and 1.5 billion social media impressions. Similarly, wireless charging is another way of giving people what they want — a fully charged phone and unlimited connectivity. Examples like Domino’s are common. Restaurants are using mobile apps, streamlined delivery services and decision logic technology — anything and everything to further enhance customer experiences.

Restaurants have transitioned to portable point of sale terminals, like the ones made by Ziosk. Olive Garden, TGI Fridays, and other big chains have embraced this trend which makes ordering another drink or paying the bill much easier – right from the table.

However, keeping these terminals charged requires batteries or a hardwire. Batteries need to be removed daily and charged overnight, which means extra work before opening and at closing. Wiring these devices from the wall comes with the limitations already discussed above.

Integrating the wireless charging receiver.

By integrating a wireless charging receiver with the point of sale table-side terminal, the device could always remain on without requiring a wire or additional maintenance. Not to mention that vendors could also use their wireless power to let patrons comfortably charge their phones.

Final thoughts

A fast-food restaurant, cafe or public library with long-range wireless charging represents a fundamentally improved experience. In the mobile age, people expect everything to be quick, easy and intuitive. The speed at which something goes from a novelty to an expectation has increased.

Yesterday WiFi was something new, and today it’s essentially unthinkable that any restaurant or cafe would not have it. Long-range wireless charging is primed to follow a similar trajectory.

About ReadWrite’s Editorial Process

The ReadWrite Editorial policy involves closely monitoring the tech industry for major developments, new product launches, AI breakthroughs, video game releases and other newsworthy events. Editors assign relevant stories to staff writers or freelance contributors with expertise in each particular topic area. Before publication, articles go through a rigorous round of editing for accuracy, clarity, and to ensure adherence to ReadWrite's style guidelines.

Yuval Boger

Yuval Boger is the Chief Marketing Officer of Classiq Technologies, a company pioneering a new approach to designing quantum computing software. Boger served as CEO and CMO for technology companies from the seed stage to NASDAQ. He is now focused on quantum computing and its broad societal impact.

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