Wireless Charging is So Wasteful, Right? USB-C is Better! Or is it?


Wireless Charging is So Wasteful, Right? USB-C is Better!

Or is it?

Too many cables — photo by author

Cables, cables, everywhere. Aside from what I’ve shown in the photo above, I have a similar rat’s nest of dissimilar cables in another part of the house: Lightning, USB-A, USB-C, USB Micro and Mini , and more— it drives me nuts.

Feeling similar pain, the European Union wants to force all tablets, cameras, headphones, portable speakers and handheld video game consoles to use USB-C charging connectors.

As I am plagued by my cables, you might expect that I’d be an enthusiastic champion of this idea and would love all my devices to be USB-C.

Nope. Forcing manufacturers to use USB-C is idiotic.

USB-C is not the bee’s knees

Like Lightning, USB-C has no right-side up requirement. You can’t plug it in upside down. That’s nice, but in dim light or when you cannot see the charge port at all, both Lightning and USB-C can be difficult to insert. That’s annoying.

Apple had a great solution: MagSafe. I’m talking about MagSafe as it used to be on older Mac computers and MagSafe 3 as recently reborn on the M1 MacBook Pro’s. This was and now is again a connector you can attach without seeing the port, without fumbling, and without worrying about damaging your computer should you trip over the cord. It’s a great idea, but probably too cumbersome for anything but a computer. It’s far, far better than USB-C.

Now, Apple’s new MacBooks would be fine under USB-C rules because they CAN charge through its USB-C ports. But what about devices that don’t have space for multiple ports? Suppose Apple or someone else brought MagSafe (real MagSafe, not wireless) to phones? I’d rather have that than USB-C, but it seems that the EU wouldn’t allow it.

The EU proposal does make mention of innovation, but it seems to require everyone to go along with any improvement. That seems like it could be a very long process!

What about Wireless?

That does away with cable mismatches, so it’s good, right?

No, it’s wasteful. Wireless charging wastes 40% or more of its power. I have an Anker wireless charger; it draws about 7 watts when charging my iPhone. The Apple charger draws a little less than 4 watts. At ten cents per kilowatt hour, the difference is unimportant to my electric bill, but if billions of people did this, it is significant.

I’m NOT using that charger; it was a well-intentioned gift.

A friend argued with me about this, saying that his new phone is so power efficient that he charges far less often than he did with his previous phone. Fair enough, but wireless charging still wastes power — perhaps less power is used overall for him, but it is still wasted.

He also insisted that wireless charging will become more efficient. I agree, but I cannot see how it can ever reach the efficiency of a cable.

So USB-C is the best, right? Or MagSafe, someday?

Maybe. I can think of something better. Suppose it was a magsafe-like cable that would tuck away in a little box but could be summoned by a device in need of a charge? The cable would crawl out of its box much like a Roomba vacuum, find the phone or whatever on your desk, charge it up, then detach and retract to its hiding place. You could plop all of your devices down at night and it would seek out and charge each in turn. It could even do the Apple trick of charging them to 80% first and returning to finish things off before you get up. You could prioritze which is most important when there is insufficient time to do everything.

That is absolutely possible and could be done today, though it would be a luxury item. Given time, it could become cheaper, but how could something like that ever find approval by the EU? Whoever designed it would need to have two ports or a USB-C within this find-me port.

This is why I think the USB-C proposal is foolish.

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