Wireless Charging of Consumer Electronics: Rubbish Heap or Mass Adoption? (Reprint)*
Remember Digital Audio Tape (DAT)? How about the Apple Newton? Whatever happened to Betamax?
While these disruptive technologies all seemed like great ideas at the time, today they exist mostly in museums or landfills. For a variety of reasons – they were too expensive, something better came along, they were poorly marketed or executed – they never ‘crossed the chasm’ from early the adopters to mainstream consumers.Today, wireless charging for mobile consumer devices is a technology that is receiving a lot of attention. Some are asking if is this just a nice option or something now so fundamental so as to be included in the must-have feature-list.
Let’s answer the question by first looking at the adoption rate of similar consumer technologies that successfully went mainstream, and then comparing the growth profile to the wireless charging market adoption rate.
Crossing the chasm1
It may seem like a basic technology-marketing truism, but market adoption of disruptive technology usually follows a predictable pattern. First, the initial product launches in its rudimentary form and is generally first adopted by visionary and early adopter individuals who understand the innovation, appreciate the technical contribution, and are not dissuaded by high initial pricing.
These early adopters are often in markets where the benefits are particularly valuable. Think of GPS, which was created for military use, then quickly found its way into new and higher-volume applications as cost came down and new uses were made possible. At a point called critical mass2, the annual growth rate exceeded 50 percent and the technology became self-sustaining.
The Tipping Point
The tipping point into mass adoption occurs when critical mass is achieved and the cost of the function drops to the level the mainstream market deems appropriate for the benefit. In the following chart, we can see the tipping point for Wi-Fi. Complex consumer devices depend on the application-specific integrated circuits (ASIC) that support the function, and because cost and volume data are available, the ASIC is used as a proxy for system price and volume. We can see that IC price-drops led shipment increases by about 18 months. Anticipated volume often drives pricing just as lower prices enable newer, higher-volume and more cost-sensitive applications. Buoyed by $5 ASIC costs, the tipping point for Wi-Fi occurred in 2007 and 2008, when shipments grew at 51 and 50 percent respectively. Interestingly, Wi-Fi didn’t achieve 50 percent penetration until 20133.
The Tipping Point for Wireless Charging
The figure below5,6 charts the shipments and ASIC cost for wireless charging receivers (cell phones, cases, digital cameras, wearables, etc.). Wireless charging ASIC cost dropped below the $2 point in early 2012 and because volumes started doubling in 2013, wireless charging may be said to have achieved critical mass. I should note here that this is an analysis of 5 watt wireless power systems, which represent all present CE wireless charging products now in the market. Wireless charger ASICs are largely power management devices and power management ICs do not scale with smaller IC feature size. Therefore, the 15 watt ASICs that support the >5W chargers now being introduced will have a higher average selling price for the increased power they offer. The higher power ICs enable wireless fast-charging, so the added cost will be more than offset by the added benefit. The first phone with integrated wireless charging receivers was launched in 2011, which was the LG-Revolution. With the launch of the Samsung Galaxy S6 and S6 edge in March 2015, we witnessed the migration of embedded wireless charging from high-end smartphones and accessories to high-volume mainstream smartphones.
There are now more than 80 models of phones that have embedded Qi wireless charging or have wireless charging accessories specifically designed for that phone (e.g., a case or card that is added beneath the back cover of the phone). The installed base of wireless charging products is now over 160M7 units, which is still below the 50 percent target-market penetration point necessary to declare that the technology has become a mainstream requirement. Given the fact that wireless power has hit critical mass (shipments have exceeded 50 percent every year since 2012), it is easy to understand why Juniper Research predicts >40 percent penetration into all U.S. households by 20218.
Probably the best leading-indicator that wireless charging is becoming an indispensable feature in cell phones, wearables and other CE devices is the rate at which the automotive sector has embedded wireless charging into new cars and trucks. The automotive market tends to be late (conservative) adopters. This is for good reason as new technology must be thoroughly vetted for value, safety and reliability before it is designed into a “consumer device” that has a 10-to 15-year lifetime. Auto makers want to know that a feature that occupies some of the most valuable real estate inside the cab, the center console, will continue to add value in five or ten years. As of January 31, 2016, thirty-two models of cars offered wireless charging as either standard-equipment or a factory option and all but one of the top auto makers worldwide had at least one model of car available with wireless charging. It appears that the automotive industry has placed a bet that wireless charging is here to stay.
Part of our daily journey
It is clear that wireless charging is well on its way to becoming a must-have consumer feature in consumer electronics, cars and many public locations such as hotels, airports and restaurants. Wireless charging has crossed the chasm into mainstream adoption. Shipments have been growing at a 50 percent clip or greater since 2012. All but one of the world’s top car manufacturers have designed wireless charging into at least one model of car despite this industry’s normal behavior to adopt new technology later then other market segments. However, less than 50 percent of the target market has adopted wireless charging to date.
The reasons for this level of consumer adoption are 1) the convenience of easy charging, 2) the elimination of proprietary chargers, and 3) the new business-to-consumer benefits that wireless charging enables. Wireless power should be designed for the consumer’s daily journey. The auto maker’s vision for wireless charging is that the driver and passengers can customize their experience when they place their phone in the charging area. Restaurateurs and hoteliers share the vision that wireless charging enables guests to interact with their environment in ways that were not otherwise possible. As is typical with new technology, use cases are emerging that were unimagined when the technology was first introduced. For all these reasons, it’s safe to say that wireless charging is fast becoming a permanent, ubiquitous aspect of our daily journey.
1. Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling High-Tech Products to Mainstream Customers. Geoffrey A. Moore, Harper Business Essentials, 1991, ISBN 0-06-051712-3
2. Diffusion of Innovations, Rogers, Everett M. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2003. Print.
3. ABI report October 13, 2003. http://www.scribd.com/doc/173132403/13-10-03-Innovatio-v-Mult-Def-WiFi-Patents-FRAND-Determination#page=78
5. Wireless power receiver shipment data: IHS 2013 and 2015. Used with permission.
6. Wireless power receiver ASIC cost: Author’s independent survey of semiconductor companies worldwide, 2015 – 2016
8. Juniper Research August 2015 “Wireless Charging, A Surge of Interest” white paper
*“Wireless Charging of Consumer Electronics: Rubbish Heap or Mass Adoption?” reprinted with permission from Advantage Business Media, Wireless Week, ©2016.
Wireless Power Consortium
John Perzow is the vice president, market development for the Wireless Power Consortium. Prior to joining the WPC, John was the marketing director for Analog Devices Power Management group, the marketing director and product line manager for the power group of Broadcom Corp. and marketing director for National Semiconductor power group. John began his career as part of the start-up team of Comlinear Corporation, which designed high-speed amplifiers and data converters. He holds a BS in Electrical Engineering Education from Colorado State University and an MBA from the University of Colorado. John is co-named in six patents in power electronic circuit design, a guest lecturer and a member of the Industrial Advisory Board of the Electrical and Computer Engineering department at Colorado State University.
The Wireless Power Consortium is the not-for-profit, IEEE standards group that created Qi, the global wireless charging standard.