Can’t find a socket to charge your phone? IDT’s got a solution.

March 26, 2012
IDT’s wireless recharging chips, on right, versus a rival product.

(Updates with cost details)

Ted Tewksbury wants to get rid your iPhone cable.

The chief executive of San Jose, California-based Integrated Device Technology is pushing a set of microchips he hopes will eventually render “contactless charging” — charging your smartphone by simply placing it on a specific spot — commonplace and eventually make phone-charging cables a thing of the past.

On a recent visit to IDT’s offices, Tewksbury showed me the chips he’s just started selling. They’re IDT”s twist on existing technology, using inductive coupling, which has yet to reach critical mass.

The idea is, instead of plugging your smartphone into the wall when its battery runs low, you toss it onto a wireless charging surface that could be built into your desk, a cup holder in your car, or even the armrest of an airplane seat. And there it would juice up.

If Tewksbury has his way, that sort of inbuilt design will become de rigeur in cars, homes, airports and elsewhere, so people may not even notice when their devices are charging. Competing “wireless” charging products on the market now require the user to tote around a charging pad that itself must be plugged into a socket, making them less-than-truly mobile and defeating the purpose of going “wireless”.

IDT hopes to grab a slice of a small but potentially sizeable market for wireless smartphone charging chips that he reckons could reach $800 million by 2014. 

How does it work? An electric current passes through a wire coil built into a trasmitter, creating an electromagnetic field. A similar coil in the back of a smartphone turns that electromagnetic field back into electricity if the phone is within range. IDT’s chips keep the whole process working smoothly. For example, the chips can recognize different phone models, or detect if lint or other foreign objects are between the phone and the charging pad.

Tewksbury believes that if enough phone manufacturers back that techology and builds it into their smartphones, then carmakers, airlines and eveb furniture makers may jump on board and start building it into their products as well. And tangled phone charging cords, multiple chargers, and expensive replacement gear really could become a thing of the past.

It’s unclear how IDT’s technology might boost cost to both producers and consumers. IDT’ says that in mass production, the chips by themselves would add less than $2 to the cost of a smartphone.

Wireless charging technology could also be used for laptop computers, digital phones, tablets and MP3 players.

Texas Instruments and other chipmakers are offering competing chips but IDT’s are smaller and cheaper, Tewksbury argues.

“We expect some revenue by the second half of the year,” he said. “By 2014 you can expect IDT will be the market share leader. How much revenue? That will depend on how many other players there are and how fragmented the market becomes.”

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