Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

Powermat Is Back With a New Charger and a Bigger Vision

One of my very favorite moments from the early years of the D: All Things Digital conferences occurred at D4, when Martha Stewart asked Sony’s then-CEO Howard Stringer about the confusing collection of wires that accompanied modern life, most of them chargers with different ways of connecting to various devices. “Why can’t that thing be this thing?” Stewart asked, to some applause. The moment even appears at the two-minute mark in the highlight reel shown at D10.

I referred back to that moment a few years later in 2007 when I wrote in Businessweek the first story about an interesting start-up called Powermat. It’s not a start-up anymore. You can now get at several of the major electronics retailers a tabletop mat and phone-enclosure combo that will charge your iPhone or BlackBerry or Android device just on contact, and last year Powermat was included in a roundup of wireless charging products by The Wall Street Journal’s Katherine Boehret.

But the vision for Powermat was to be bigger. Founder Ran Poliakine described for me an ecosystem where pretty much any flat surface — including walls — could be connected to the power grid, and thus able to charge and power a personal electronic device. Office and home furniture manufacturers were in talks of varying degrees of seriousness, I wrote at the time.

The vision hasn’t gone away. Powermat, in a tie-up with Procter & Gamble’s Duracell battery brand, today took a big step forward with a new generation of the Powermat product. This time it’s being branded as the Duracell Powermat 24-Hour Power System, though the schtick is pretty much the same. Wrap your phone in the PowerMat-enabled enclosure, set it down on the mat, and the charging just happens, courtesy of the principle of electromagnetic induction and the discoveries of Nikola Tesla. A new third piece is the Portable Backup Battery. Also charged by the Powermat, you can, as they say in Minnesota, take it with. It has micro-USB and Apple connectors so can charge pretty much any phone or device you might have with you.

But here’s where the vision thing gets a little more interesting. What if you didn’t need that backup battery? What if you just knew that any place you might happen to be was pretty much assured to have tables and counters and other surfaces fully enabled to charge your phone on contact? We already have a habit of setting our phones on the table when we stop for coffee, or in a meeting at the office. Why don’t those tables charge our phones, too?

That, in a nutshell, is the vision. And Powermat and Duracell today nudged it forward. Having already cut deals with Madison Square Garden and General Motors, the duo todY announced a batch of new partners in and around New York City, including The Barclays Center in Brooklyn, which is opening a $5 billion venue this fall; the Jay-Z owned nightclub in the Flatiron District, the 40/40 Club; and the Delta Sky Club, among others. The deal with GM is also yielding some fruits. And if all that weren’t enough, Jay-Z has added some of his star power as an investor in the Duracell/Powermat joint venture.

These not exactly places where I find myself all the time. But it’s progress toward the vision that Powermat laid out for me five years ago. A partnership with Starbucks? Now that would be something.

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