Ina Fried

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Will Nokia’s New Lumias Mark a Turning Point for Wireless Charging Standard?

The notion of wireless charging has been around for a while now — even before the Palm Pre and its Touchstone charger. But despite the obvious appeal of ditching the cable, the technology has yet to go mainstream.

A group called the Wireless Power Consortium has been backing a standard called Qi (pronounced “chee”). It’s used by more than 100 products, but until Nokia’s announcement on Wednesday, it hadn’t really yet been baked into mainstream smartphones.

That left wireless charging with something of a chicken-and-egg problem where neither device makers nor accessory makers really had a big market worth investing in. It also meant that phones needed external sleeves in order to charge wirelessly — which takes away a lot of the elegance.

With the Lumia 920, though, Nokia is building Qi-compatible wireless charging abilities right into the product. An optional shell will allow the lower-end Lumia 820 to also charge wirelessly.

Nokia now has a big incentive to push wireless charging, and said it will work to get compatible chargers in more places, as well as offer a range of products for the home. The company announced two partnerships already — with Virgin Atlantic airline and the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf coffee chain.

Menno Treffers, chairman of the Wireless Power Consortium, said the adoption by Nokia is a big deal for his effort.

“We’re very excited about the announcement of their new flagship Lumia phones with Qi integrated in the devices,” Treffers told AllThingsD in an email interview. “This is a game changer for the mobile industry and we’re going to see a lot more of Qi this year in some really exciting devices and places.”

Treffers said that, “Qi has really taken off this year,” with some 8.5 million products shipping globally. He also tacitly acknowledged that the chicken-and-egg thing has been an issue.

“There’s a real network effect in that the more products that have it, the more useful the feature becomes,” he said. “The next step for wireless power is integrating Qi directly in mobile devices and in everyday spaces, so that you can take out your device at the coffee shop or in the center console of your car, for instance, and set it down to charge without wires.”

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