AirPower fail: The latest victim of Apple's OCD

It was only a matter of time before Apple flew too close to the sun.
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer

On Friday, a year and a half after AirPower was first announced in September of 2017 in conjunction with the rollout of iPhone X and iPhone 8, and after months of speculation about its absence at the most recent Apple hardware events, Apple's senior vice president of hardware engineering, Dan Riccio, confirmed that the company would cancel the product. In an e-mail letter sent to technology website TechCrunch, he wrote that AirPower would "not achieve our high standards." 

To recap, AirPower was the extremely ambitious high-speed wireless charging pad that was intended to juice up an iPhone, AirPods and Apple Watch simultaneously using Apple's own implementation of the Qi wireless charging standard. 

Unlike other charging pads on the market designed to handle multiple products at once, the AirPower distinguished itself by having the capability of charging the iPhone, AirPods and Apple Watch all at the same time regardless of their orientation and positioning in relation to the charging coils. This would have made it the most user-friendly and desirable wireless charger on the market -- had it actually been released. 

Allegedly, based on conceptual patent filings, the AirPower was able to achieve this flexible orientation wireless charging by having many 3D coils in extremely close proximity to each other -- which also required extremely complex power management in order to prevent the coils from generating excessive heat and to mitigate the generation of overlapping harmonic frequencies between the coils.

As it is, Apple's own Qi implementation runs at a lower 7.5W rather than the maximum 10W and 15W of its Android competitors, reportedly because the newer generation iPhones with wireless charging capability got way too hot at those increased power levels.

Ultimately, I believe Apple did the right thing. Can you imagine the potential "PowerGate" of cooked iPhones, Watches and AirPods? It's far less egg on Apple's face to cancel the product outright than to release a dangerous dud.

Apple very rarely cancels products outright after announcing them. The last time it did this was in August of 1996, when it decided to cancel its Copland OS, which proved too difficult a project for the company. It eventually ended up migrating to Mac OS X, which is heavily based on NeXT's (and Steve Jobs') BSD UNIX OpenStep object-oriented graphical OS instead.

The public cancellation of AirPower is a huge embarrassment for Apple. But given the company's obsession with bleeding edge engineering and its compulsion for thinner, lighter, faster, more densely packed and difficult-to-repair products, such an embarrassment was inevitable.

It was only a matter of time before the technologically ambitious post-Steve Jobs Apple, like Icarus, would fly too close to the sun.

Indeed, Apple's obsession with sleek industrial designs that outperform rivals is what attracts many customers to the company's products in the first place.

But AirPower is not Apple's only problem product: Over the last decade we've had Antennagate, Batterygate, Flexgate, Bendgate, iPhone WiFi connectivity issues and various system stability problems over multiple generations of iOS 11 and 12. Most recently, the engineering quality of the keyboards used in the 2015 and later versions of MacBook Pro are under intense scrutiny by even the company's most loyal adherents.

It was the best of Apple, it was the worst of Apple

Many of these problem products are the result of Apple pushing the envelope to release new features, rather than concentrating on product stability. However, we have to give the company credit where credit is due. Without Apple's push towards innovation, without its capturing of the bulk of mind share in the luxury consumer electronics  market, we probably would not have seen competitors such as Microsoft, Google and Samsung release equally compelling products. 

Without the introduction of the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro, would we have even seen Microsoft Surface come to fruition and become the most desirable touchscreen Wintel PC laptop line in the technology industry? 

Would we have seen Samsung and Huawei release folding phones -- with cutting-edge through-the-screen ultrasonic fingerprint readers and facial recognition -- had Apple not upped the game with iPhone X? 

Would we have seen Google push the capabilities of smartphone cameras and image processing in the Pixel Phone had Apple not established the gold standard in mobile device camera performance in the iPhone 5 and later models? 

Would we have even seen an Alexa or a Google Assistant without the introduction of Siri? It's hard to say.

But all of this thinness, lightness, sleekness and density of features comes at a price. Consumer electronics, not just Apple's own products -- have become virtually unserviceable. There are no batteries on smartphones that an end-user can swap out, there's no memory or disk storage on most new laptops currently sold that can be field replaced or upgraded. 

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The thinning and sleeking of these devices has killed off the legacy expansion and built-in connectivity that we used to take for granted. We also now enjoy less business-friendliness and durability, and our devices now require thick, rubberized plastic cases -- negating much of the sex appeal of the iPhone and iPad -- in order to prevent severe damage in even shallow drop scenarios. 

Going case-less with an iPhone and with its Android rivals is now foolhardy at best, and will virtually ensure the device will be damaged with a single misstep or a sweep of the hand.

My recently corporate-issued MacBook Pro 2018 A1990 is a technical marvel of lightweight power. But to make it work on my desk at home, connected to a mouse, external keyboard, two 4K DisplayPort monitors, a HD webcam, a wireless headset and gigabit ethernet, I needed to buy a $300 Thunderbolt 3.1 hub because the thing only has 4 USB-C ports for connectivity. 

Arguably, most laptops requiring desktop peripheral connectivity have needed similar docking stations in the past. But even for basic connectivity in mobility scenarios, MacBook Pro customers complain about having to buy and carry multiple "dongles" to get the functionality they need because they are missing the necessary ports. The dongles on Apple products are so despised that they have become meme legend in recent years.

With the cancellation of AirPower, Apple has an opportunity to reflect on all of these things that have been the focus of customer ire and engineering embarrassment. The company needs to stop the ultra-thin, ultra-light train and focus more on product build quality and reliability. It needs to reconsider right-to-repair and overall ease of serviceability, and improving the customer experience with service requests at their retail stores.

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Has Apple finally flown too close to the sun with its cancellation of AirPower? What does it need to do in order to get back on track with shipping reliable and well-engineered products that gave it such loyal fan base in the first place?Talk Back and Let Me Know.

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