AirPower prototype shows how Apple's charging mat would have worked

(Image credit: Apple)

Apple’s AirPower charging pad was cancelled in 2019, but we now see what it might look like now that a prototype has surfaced in a new short video.

The device, which was tweeted out by Giulo Zompetti, does seem to be a prototype of the AirPower, given the bare handful of other examples that have floated around over the years. If true, it’s the first time we’ve seen any version of the AirPower in action.  

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But you can’t just use any iPhone with the prototype, apparently – only special prototype iPhones (presumably like the one in the video) can charge on the mat, according to Zompetti, who spoke with The Verge. As an Apple prototype collector who claims to have 35 devices – including a pre-first generation Apple Watch, per Vice – Zompetti acquired the AirPower prototype from ‘Chinese e-waste sources’ and was able to charge two devices at once on it. 

In the tweeted video, along with images Zompetti supplied to The Verge, his device looks like some of the less-intact AirPower prototypes we’ve seen appear here and there – especially the 22 controller circuits on the rear. Even if it lacks exterior housing that may have given it a different look, we still know that, at some level, Apple made some charging work.

Analysis: what AirPower could have been

Despite suspicions the AirPower might once again be in development, it seems the charging mat is still dead – but this is proof that Apple was making progress toward developing its own charging mat that would wirelessly juice up multiple devices at once.

AirPower became a curiosity after it was cancelled in 2019, partially for its mystery – Apple announced the device and then didn’t speak about it again until they quietly confirmed it was no longer in development, leaving us to parse through rumors and leaks for what happened. But fans were also morbidly fascinated by the one device Apple publicly introduced and couldn’t quite crack.

Apple’s AirPower mats reportedly ran too hot – because, as TechCrunch reported, the device needed a staggering 20 coils to charge devices regardless of how they’re positioned on the mat. The dream was to produce a charging mat that could recharge your iPhone, AirPods case, and/or Apple Watch simultaneously, but the device “will not achieve our high standards,” Apple senior VP of Hardware Engineering at the time Dan Riccio stated in a 2019 email announcing AirPower’s cancellation. 

While other product makers have released their own multi-device charging mats, their construction looks based on simpler designs with fewer coils requiring users to precisely align their phones and smartwatches over narrow charging areas. But take a look at Zompetti’s video again and see, with the neat animation on the iPhone confirming it’s charging, what the AirPower could have been.

David Lumb

David is now a mobile reporter at Cnet. Formerly Mobile Editor, US for TechRadar, he covered phones, tablets, and wearables. He still thinks the iPhone 4 is the best-looking smartphone ever made. He's most interested in technology, gaming and culture – and where they overlap and change our lives. His current beat explores how our on-the-go existence is affected by new gadgets, carrier coverage expansions, and corporate strategy shifts.