Comment: Managing expectations for AirPower release, price, and features

We’re four months into 2018 and AirPower is still not available despite its announcement back in September. While there’s a lot unknown about Apple’s special charging mat — like when it will be available and how much it will cost — there are a few things we can reasonably expect…

The latest iPhones work with existing Qi wireless charging pads, but there’s still a one device per charger limitation. Some Qi charging pads cleverly integrate multiple charging points in a single pad, but they do this by having specific charging targets — there are no Qi charging pads that let you place multiple devices anywhere on the surface to charge.

That’s where AirPower will be different. While it will only work with specific Apple devices, AirPower will charge up to three devices by placing them anywhere on the charging mat.

If you have the right devices, the benefit is having one dedicated charging station and being able to travel with a single charger versus three. That’s a huge convenience if you’re all in on Apple products (iPhone, AirPods, Apple Watch) or have a shared charging space.

There’s even a neat animation and battery status indicator on the lock screen of the charging iPhone that shows charging progress of a paired AirPods case or Apple Watch.

Most future Apple products become part of the public consciousness by way of rumors and reports, but Apple decided to pre-announce AirPower on its own terms. The preview came in the form of a “Sneak Peek” during the iPhone X introduction with Apple’s Phil Schiller ending on the tease to “look for the AirPower charger next year.”

In recent years, Apple has pre-announced products months and even years before their release for various reasons (original Apple Watch, iMac Pro, HomePod, modular Mac Pro) with language like early 2018, next year, and after this year to set expectations without a firm release date.

In Apple lingo, early next year means sometime between January and the end of April, next year can mean January through December, and after this year can mean next year or the year after — if the product is ready.

AirPower falls into the ‘next year’ camp, but excited customers have understandably wanted AirPower from the moment it was announced — and some have considered it late before the year even started.

So why did Apple pre-announce AirPower so far in advance? Apple could have easily offered their own charging pad for iPhone 8 and iPhone X, but in typical Apple fashion wanted its solution to offer more than the existing market. By pointing to solutions from Belkin and Mophie, Apple gave wireless chargers a solution today, and showing AirPower early addressed the question of why Apple didn’t offer their own solution before customers could ever ask.

Apple did reference ‘early 2018’ in fine print in iPhone ads, but that might be an oversight from someone in marketing. The official line from the keynote was intentionally ‘next year’ for a reason. Apple has AirPower far along enough to know it will work with the current lineup of products, but the experience is not perfected and it doesn’t know precisely when it will be ready.

When AirPower is ready, it will need no event to launch. It’s a charging accessory that has already had keynote time, so I expect it will ship as soon as it’s ready without artificial delays. And while I don’t expect AirPower to slip into 2019, there’s a reason it hasn’t been released yet. Apple is clearly still perfecting the technology, and getting it just right could always take ‘a little more time’ in Apple parlance.

Releasing AirPower tomorrow would be great! Releasing AirPower at WWDC would be exciting. Releasing AirPower at the next iPhone event would be weird since it’s been shown in marketing for the current iPhone lineup, but fine. And releasing anytime in 2018 would technically not be late by Apple’s standards.

But frankly, releasing AirPower anytime after December 31 because of an unexpected delay in getting it just right doesn’t seem impossible either. As exciting as the concept of AirPower is, it’s also important to remember that it’s just a charger — not the next iPhone or anything.

When AirPower is finally ready, I fully expect we’ll all smoothly transition from being agitated that it wasn’t available since September to being shell-shocked by the price. At least one dubious report has claimed a $200 price tag, but that doesn’t seem too farfetched. AirPower will almost certainly cost too much, and a lot of us will almost certainly complain then still buy one (or a few).

Single wireless chargers sell for $60 and Apple sells its not-that-special Apple Watch dock for $80. Perhaps Apple will surprise us with AirPower and charge a competitive price, but it’s also a three-in-one charger that won’t really have a competitor on the market. If I’m guessing, $150 to $180 feels right while anything under $100 feels near impossible.

Also consider that AirPower only works with certain iPhones, AirPods, and Apple Watches. Everyone will need the new optional wireless charging case for AirPods which I would guess will sell for around $70 based on the current replacement case cost — this only really makes sense if you’re buying new AirPods since having spare cases isn’t that beneficial — and AirPower only works with Apple Watch Series 3, not the first-gen, Series 1, or Series 2.

So regardless of how much AirPower costs, expect to either upgrade or add-on AirPods even if you already have the latest iPhone and Apple Watch. AirPower will be convenient, but it won’t be cheap!

Could the “delay” suggest some surprises when AirPower ships? Just like with HomePod, I think Apple is simply working on getting the 1.0 version of the product finished and shipped versus including some unannounced features. Don’t expect AirPower to actually charge your iPhone across the room or anything.

That doesn’t mean Apple couldn’t still surprise us. A sub $150 price would certainly surprise me. So would offering a space gray/black version alongside space gray/black AirPods, but I’m not holding my breath for either.

For a recap of how Apple introduced AirPower last September, this was Phil Schiller:

So wireless — just like iPhone 8, iPhone X is also built for a wireless world. It has Qi charging through the glass back and they work with the Qi charging devices like the ones we mentioned earlier from Mophie and Belkin. They also work with third-party Qi devices that are Qi certified. And there are a lot of great devices, they’re going to start to come to market particularly because of iPhone 8 and iPhone X.

But we also think we can make the wireless charging experience even better. So our team wants to create something — I think all of us are going to want to use and it might actually help move the entire industry forward. So we’re going to give you a sneak peek of this idea right now.

I’m sure many of you do this. I do this, have a lot of Apple products. I love them and use them all day long. I charge them at night. You plug in your cables, you plug in your chargers. You take those cables and chargers with you on the road when you travel. We think we have an idea of how to make this a better experience.

And here it is. It’s a mat that you place your iPhone 8 or iPhone X down and it just starts to charge. And it has a beautiful new interface. It doesn’t stop there. You can place your Series 3 Apple Watch down on it and it starts to charge as well. And you can place your AirPods with the optional new wireless charging case on it and it starts to charge as well. They all charge. The system has a great interface. They intelligently work together and communicate with each other to manage the charging through one more efficient charging system. This is not possible with current standards but our team knows how to do this. We call it AirPower.

We hope people love it, that it encourages others to create more advanced solutions based on technology like this. We’re going to be working with the Qi standards team to incorporate these benefits into the future of the standards to make wireless charging better for everyone. So look for the AirPower charger next year.

While Schiller said Apple “knows how to do this”, I would guess that the ability to “intelligently work together and communicate with each other to manage the charging” is the hardest part to get perfect.

While it’s not fun waiting for a promised product to ship, it’s also important to manage your expectations on both timing and price for Apple’s special charging mat — and all pre-announced tech products and features.

It’s a much harder tightrope to walk for marketing, but I personally prefer having some official insight into Apple’s product pipeline.

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