How wireless charging will change our devices

PowerByProxi's charging box can work with either wireless power standard
PowerByProxi's charging box can work with either wireless power standard

If you're anything like us, every time you leave the house you take an armful of cables, chargers and just-in-case batteries to fuel a camera, smartphone, tablet and laptop to amuse you between a constant hunt for the next recharge, the next top-up.

What a terrible way to travel.

Anyone who's 'upgraded' from an e-Ink e-reader like an original Kindle to the Kindle Fire HD or Kobo Arc only to miss the once-a-month quick charge of old will know exactly what we mean. And with wearable gadgets like smart watches and smart glass imminent, it's only going to get worse.

Luckily, some clever innovations are afoot including wireless charging and power-efficient displays that could help us at last enter an era of ubiquitous computing.

What is ubiquitous computing?

The concept of ubiquitous computing was popularised by Mark Weiser in 1988, and describes a world where people interact with computers that 'weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it'.

"It's just another term for mobile or portable computing," says Kevin Curran, senior member at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). "The biggest barrier to ubiquitous computing has simply been the poor battery life on mobile devices."

What about solar power?

If you're going off-grid to hike or camp for a few days but still want to use your tablet-smartphone-Kindle-GPS there are options. If staying at home in a darkened room isn't one of them, you could invest in something like the Goal Zero Yeti 1250 for £914 (around $1,400 USD/£1363 AUD), a battery with a solar generator that stores an incredible 150W of power within.

That's enough for about 20 laptop charges, though it does take 20 hours to recharge from light alone. It also weighs a hefty 54kg. Other options include the foldout, pocket-sized Freeloader Classic for £35 (around $54 USD/$53 AUD) that's good for a few hours charge of a phone, though does take eight hours doing it. The OffGrid Solar Backpack for £150 (around $229 USD/$223 AUD) is another option, its 2W solar panels on the outside good for a five hour charge for a 17-inch laptop stored within. Such blue-sky thinking, however, has its limits - and who wants to carry around extra gadgets?

Could we not just have a phone that uses less power?

Nail on head - especially with some smartphones now using power-hungry six-inch screens. Options here include the single AA battery-powered SpareOne for £65 (around $100), a GSM phone that can last for 15 years if unused, or for 10 hours talk time, but it's certainly not a smartphone. A more innovative attempt at efficiency is the YotaPhone, a dual-screen phone with a colour LCD on one side and an electronic paper display (EPD) on the other.


YotaPhone pairs a regular LCD screen with an electronic paper display that uses almost no power

"I think many of us in the industry can remember where we were when we first heard of the concept and immediately went 'why did I not think of that!'," says Curran, who calls the use of e-Ink - which only uses power when it's refreshing the screen - a 'no brainer'. "I expect many smartphones, tablets and laptops to integrate similar displays." Smart watches, too, could use e-nk; the Pebble already does.

So is e-ink making a comeback?

E-Ink is just one manufacturer in the wider Electronic Paper Display (EPD) industry that's currently awash with power-saving innovations.

Ubiquitous Energy uses a unique molecular power film across a screen that will ultimately charge a device while it's being used. "The film is transparent in the visible part of the light spectrum, and absorbs in the near-infrared to generate energy," says Curran, who expects to see the first batch of prototypes used on e-nk readers like the Kindle.

Could E Ink tech make a comeback?

Could E Ink tech make a comeback?

Such a display could have a colour screen, too, if Liquavista changes ownership from Samsung to Amazon. Don't forget Apple, either; as we reported back in 2011, Apple patented a method for displaying static content in e-ink while other sections of the screen appear using standard LCD technology.

Jamie Carter

Jamie is a freelance tech, travel and space journalist based in the UK. He’s been writing regularly for Techradar since it was launched in 2008 and also writes regularly for Forbes, The Telegraph, the South China Morning Post, Sky & Telescope and the Sky At Night magazine as well as other Future titles T3, Digital Camera World, All About Space and He also edits two of his own websites, and that reflect his obsession with travel gear and solar eclipse travel. He is the author of A Stargazing Program For Beginners (Springer, 2015),