Back in August, a video of an AirPower prototype gave us a closer look at Apple’s abandoned wireless charging device, but the unit was not functional in any practical way. Now, thanks to a collaboration between YouTube channels Apple Demo and Unbox Therapy, we can see an AirPower prototype that actually charges devices – albeit with some major caveats.
Announced in 2017 alongside the iPhone X, AirPower was designed so that an iPhone, AirPods, and Apple Watch could be placed on any portion of the mat and the devices would charge, which meant that multiple overlapping charging coils (22 in all) had to be included.
To demonstrate the charging, Apple Demo provided Unbox Therapy with a rare AirPower prototype with one functioning coil in the bottom right corner of the mat, along with an explicit set of instructions on how to use the ill-fated device without damaging the unit or injuring oneself in the process, given its propensity to overheat.
To power on the AirPower, Unbox Therapy uses a MacBook Pro’s USB-C port with a genuine Apple Lightning to USB-C cable, as advised. Like other AirPower prototypes, the unit does not feature the white exterior shell that Apple marketed the device with, exposing its internal circuitry on the back. Apple Demo cautions not to touch this side of the AirPower, as they had done so by accident and received a bad electric shock.
Apple Demo warns that only Apple devices should be charged on the AirPower, and preferably only iPhone X models or AirPods. The AirPower prototype is unable to charge any Apple Watch models or any newer devices with MagSafe magnets. Additionally, “Max” devices (like iPhone XS Max) should be avoided as well because they could cause damage if they draw more power.
Apple Demo also advises not to leave the AirPower connected to power for an extended period of time – up to a maximum of one minute – and to leave the unit for five minutes to cool down and prevent damage before placing anything else on it.
Respecting these instructions, Unbox Therapy places an iPhone X on the corner of the mat, whereupon it begins to charge wirelessly – and stays charging for the short time the phone is left on the mat. After a cooldown period, an AirPods case is placed on the mat that also responds to the working coil.
AirPower missed its original 2018 launch date goal and Apple shelved the project in March 2019 due to problems with overheating, buggy inter-device communication, and mechanical and interference issues. But the video also highlights the fact that in some ways AirPower was a product of its time and technology has moved on since Apple came up with the idea.
For example, Unbox Therapy makes the salient point that AirPower is poorly designed for many of today’s Apple Watch bands that don’t lie flat when taken off the wrist and placed down (the Solo Loop, for example). Whether this factored into Apple’s reasoning to abandon the AirPower is unknown, but it’s the main reason why most third-party multi-device wireless chargers come with a raised stand that enables the band to loop behind the charging pad without having to take it off.
Rumors in subsequent years about Apple’s work on a smaller wireless charger may have been related to MagSafe or the MagSafe Duo charger, rather than another AirPower-like device. That said, a report from reliable Bloomberg journalist Mark Gurman last year said that Apple is still looking into AirPower-like charging solutions for the future.
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