AirPower was announced alongside the iPhone 8, 8 Plus, and iPhone X at Apple's September event … in 2017. It was a preview, not a release, and Apple said it would only be available in 2018. Since then, iPhone X has come and gone and another September event along with it. Now it's November 2018 – late November – and AirPower is still nowhere to be found.
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2017: AirPower Year Zero
Recently, when Apple makes a big change, it likes to announce a big halo product to go with it. The best example is AirPods. iPhone 7 might have ditched the headphone jack but it gave us one of the most innovative consumer electronics products we've seen in the past few years. Custom W1 chips – tiny computers that enable instant pairing, switching between connected devices, and rock solid syncing between left and right, no cables needed.
They were announced during the September event in 2016 as coming later that fall. Apple even provided pre-release versions to reviewers to test so they could have the complete iPhone 7 and Apple Watch Series 2 experience. They ended up shipping late by a couple of months. Available for order December 16 and in stores by December 20.
AirPower was probably meant to be similar if not the same. iPhone 8, 8 Plus, and iPhone X. They ditched the metal backs for glass and gave us Qi-based inductive charging. Nothing innovative on its own – phones have been charging inductively for a decade – but Apple seemed to want to show not only its commitment to technology but its commitment to pushing it forward. That was AirPower. Not just an inductive pad or stand capable of charging the new iPhones, but a super pad capable of charging up to two iPhones, an iPhone, an Apple Watch 3 or later, and even a pair of AirPods in a new, inductive charging case all their own.
It would change the narrative from Apple finally joining the inductive charging club to Apple being Apple and doing inductive charging in a slicker, cleverer way than anyone else in the club.
They were not announced as coming later that year, but as coming the following year. Briefly, spring of the next year on one web page. But everywhere else – and eventually an updated version of that page too – just next year.
2018: AirPower Year One
The Apple Post, February 7, 2018:
According to a tipster at the American Best Retailer, Apple is preparing to launch the AirPower wireless charging mat and the new AirPods wireless charging case in March, claiming that Best Buy will stock AirPower from day one online and in-store.
Mac Otakara on March 23, 2018:
In addition, AirPower is said to be selling in March and to Qi wireless-charge with Apple Watch Series 3 at AirPower, it is detected with a special wave and is made possible to Qi wireless- charge as the same when the Apple Watch Magnetic Charging Cable is used.
With Apple set to launch its in-house designed wireless charge pad AirPower by the end of March
But spring came and gone, and the March event and the new 9.7-inch iPad with it. But no AirPower. Summer came and went as well, and WWDC and iOS 12 with it. But still no AirPower.
Mark Gurman, writing for Bloomberg on June 21, 2018:
Apple did not say when in 2018 it would release AirPower, but engineers hoped to launch the charger by June. The goal now is to put it on sale before or in September, according to one of the people. In recent months, some Apple engineers have ramped up testing the device by using it as their charger at the office, another person said.
AirPower still remained on Apple's website, albeit only on the AirPods page and only in reference to the currently unavailable wireless charge case.
Mark Gurman Writing for Bloomber on September 10, 2018:
AirPower Wireless Charger: This is Apple's charge pad that can charge simultaneously iPhone, Apple Watch, and AirPods without plugging them in. The company faced development challenges, but plans to launch it as soon as this month, Bloomberg News reported earlier this year.
Fall came and gone, and September and October events, new iPhones and iPads. But, yeah, still no AirPower.
John Gruber, writing for Daring Fireball on September 15:
What I've heard, third-hand but from several little birdies, is that AirPower really is well and really fucked. Something about the multi-coil design getting too hot – way too hot. There are engineers who have looked at AirPower's design and said they could never work, thermally, and now those same engineers have that "smiley look on their faces. Last year Apple was apparently swayed by arguments that they could figure out a way to make it not get hot. They were, obviously, wrong. I think they either have to go back to the drawing board and start over with a completely different design, or they've decided to give up and they just do not want to say so.
On September 16, 2018, Sonny Dickson, formerly best known for finding demo units of pre-production iPhone and other devices from the Chinese supply chain, posted what he heard was going on with AirPower:
Currently, the device produces far too much heat, which causes performance failures, and can affect the ability of the devices to charge if they become too warm in the process. It also affects the ability of Apple's custom charging chip, which runs a stripped down version of iOS, to function as intended.
The mechanism used for multi-device charging, which we can confirm, is comprised of between 21 and 24 power coils of various sizes to accommodate the three main products to be charged (AirPods equipped with a so-far-nonexistent wireless charging accessory case, iPhone, and Apple Watch), which is broken into three identical charging groups, is extremely difficult to build or refine, and has resulted in a significant amount of interference to this point, which reduces the efficiency of the charging mat, and contributes to the heat issues that engineers are facing.
One September 17, 2018, Binyamin Goldman wrote for Apple Toolbox:
According to two independent sources, Apple has canceled AirPower as we know it, and it will not appear at an event the company is planning for October.
The decision to cancel the device was made in the last month-and-a-half, and discussions about the next move have just begun.
People familiar with the project said the company is planning to begin working on a less ambitious wireless charging accessory for launch in early 2019. It is currently undecided whether a future device will inherit the AirPower moniker or if the brand will be trashed.
Apple Watch 4 came with a version of the Milanese Loop that could be opened up, apparently so it could work with AirPower. That was no doubt planned well in advance, though. But with the launch of the iPhone XS and iPhone XR, however, AirPower remained on the documentation included in the packaging, something far easier to change far later in the release cycle, especially for the typically fastidious Apple.
Place iPhone with screen facing up on AirPower or a Qi-certified wireless charger.
According to Guilllermo Rambo, writing for 9to5Mac on September 20, it also remained in the code:
Looking into iOS 12.1, we noticed that the component of iOS responsible for managing the charging interface that appears when using AirPower has been updated, which means that Apple is still actively working on the project.
On October 23, 2018, Kuo Ming-Chi reported, via MacRumors:
According to Kuo, Apple could launch new AirPods and AirPower either late in the fourth quarter of 2018 or early in the first quarter of 2019, but it does not yet know the company's specific plans.
Apple has launched products in December before. AirPods, of course, in 2016, and the Smart Battery Case for iPhone 6s in 2015. But it's certainly not the norm. HomePod, which was announced at WWDC in June of 2017 as coming later that year, then delayed early February 2018 after AirPlay 2 proved more challenging to nail down than initially expected.
2019: AirPower Year Three
If the December launch is not in the cards for AirPower, and the lack of noise leading to the last month of the year makes it seem more likely than early next year, be it February or March is the next likely window.
If the project is really in trouble or even canceled, as rumored, and another project under the same name or for a similar if simpler purpose is not quickly ramped up instead, then it could well be longer.
"Great artists ship." "Apple ships." It is one of the core tenants of the company. But, delays on everything from AirPods to HomePod, and most notably AirPower has put that tenant on the test. That's why there were no special halo accessories announced alongside this year's iPhone or iPad, New modular Mac Pro teased way back in 2017 not withstanding: Apple has learned the dangers of deviating from its ship-don't-tell strategy, and the pain it can cause them when forecasts do not match finish lines.
Where is AirPower? I'll do you one better: Why is AirPower?
AirPods challenged and changed our expectations when it came to how intangible wireless headphones really could feel. Even at its best, AirPower probably would not have done that for inductive charging. Not the way ubiquity would. Not the way in every coffee shop and restaurant, ever tray in every ride-share and plane, having inductive charging everywhere.
And that's more than a charger that can handle a wide variety of different devices. This will take a wide variety of devices that can be charged in the same way.