A new patent has just been published that would give reverse charging capabilities to the iPhone and iPad, and implement them in a subtly but very different way than how other devices do.
Reverse wireless charging isn’t new to Apple. The second-generation Apple Pencil magnetically snaps onto current versions of the iPad Pro, iPad Air, and iPad mini. When in place, it automatically starts charging from the wireless charging cradle mounted on the edge of the iPad.
At the time, it was claimed to be probably the smallest wireless charger you could find.
Since then, the MagSafe battery pack has been released, and it may have revealed a new first: the pack appears to show two-way wireless charging on the iPhone, or the battery pack, or both. This is because when you charge the iPhone 13, for example, via the Lightning cable and the battery is magnetically attached to the back of the phone, the battery will also be charged, wirelessly by the iPhone.
So the new patent, spotted by the reliable Patently Apple along with an interesting in-depth review of related Apple patents, gives us a glimpse of what might happen for the next iPhone or iPad. This is wireless charging, but done in an unprecedented way, as you will see in the patent title: “Wireless charging via display”.
He says, “Personal electronic devices like smartphones, tablets and even laptops can be used with accessories like smart watches, wireless earbuds / headphones, styluses, etc. In at least some applications, it may be desirable for personal electronic devices to provide the capability to charge associated accessories. In some embodiments, such charging can be provided by a wired connection between the personal electronic device and the accessory. In other embodiments, such a load can be provided by a wireless connection between the personal electronic device and the accessory.
So, to put it in a more common language, you can place, for example, an Apple Pencil on an iPad screen, or a pair of AirPods Pro on an iPhone screen, to charge the Pencil or the AirPods wirelessly.
This method appears to be a subtle but important advance over the reverse charging systems used on other phones. For these, you need to put the headphones, or whatever else you want to charge, on the back of the phone. The phone must therefore be placed face down, which is not always practical or desirable: if the only surface is rough or dirty, you risk damaging the phone screen. Plus, obviously, you can’t see what’s going on on the device’s screen, which is irritating if you get a notification. If the phone is face down, it’s just enticing.
If the phone or tablet is face up and the AirPods or pencil, for example, only occupy the bottom or side of the screen, it may be possible to see notifications while charging.
It’s unclear what might happen to the screen itself. Perhaps some elements, such as the image on the screen or the touch sensitivity, would be temporarily suspended, in which case the benefit of seeing the screen is removed (although this still prevents you from scratching the screen of the phone or tablet).
Although the patent specifically mentions smartwatches, it seems to me that any compatibility with an Apple Watch would require an entirely different design of the watch. The convex back of the watch appears to benefit from a concave charging pad for more efficient charging.
Could this go from patent to reality in time for the iPhone 14 or the next iPad? It is possible, but since it is a patent, it is impossible to know if or even when it might one day appear.
But it shows something Apple is researching and the company’s continued interest in delivering innovative features.