Say Qi: Apple Embraces Wireless Charging

Say Qi: Apple Embraces Wireless Charging

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On September 12th, Apple opened their brand-new 2.8 million-square foot campus in Cupertino to the press- dubbed Apple Park – to announce the company’s latest products. Although personally, I’m most excited for the Apple Watch Series 3 with cellular and Apple Music, the biggest stars of the nearly two-hour show were the iPhone 8, the iPhone 8 Plus, and, of course – the iPhone X, Apple’s 10 year anniversary phone. From FaceID to animojis, Apple’s newest phones have the entire tech world abuzz. But there’s one advancement in these three smartphones that many have felt is long overdue: wireless charging.

 

Wireless charging has been supported in smartphones for quite some time – even going as far back as 2009 – but it seemed like Apple was holding out on incorporating wireless charging into their products due to lack of industry standardization. But all that seemed to change earlier this year when Apple joined the Wireless Power Consortium (WPC), an organization that helps develop industry standards in wireless charging. The WPC backs the Qi Standard, which works either through induction (where wireless chargers contain special magnets and coiled wires that pass electricity to your smartphone or other device via a mat) or resonant charging. The Qi Standard is used across many brands, including Samsung, Google, HTC, Blackberry, LG, Motorola, and Nokia. And now Apple.

 

At their September 12th Keynote, Apple announced that the new iPhone 8, 8 Plus and the iPhone X all support Qi wireless charging, which is huge news because it means that these smartphones will be compatible with non-Apple products and accessories, such as from Belkin and Mophie, as well as many wireless charging mats that have already been installed in hotel lounges, cafes, and airports around the world.

 

However, Apple wouldn’t be Apple if they didn’t offer sleek (and expensive) accessories. The company also announced that they plan to offer their own wireless charging pad beginning sometime next year. Called AirPower, this wireless charging mat will incorporate the Qi Standard and will have the ability to charge multiple devices at once, such as an iPhone, an Apple Watch, and the new AirPod case.

 

Apple finally introducing wireless charging into their products is a step forward in whole-home wireless connectivity, but the concept of these wireless charging mats are somewhat misleading since the mats themselves still have to be plugged into an outlet, and your device will have to have a physical connection to the mat (i.e. touching it) in order for your device to charge. So yeah, not totally wireless.

 

There are other, truly wireless charging solutions on the market, and we’ll discuss them in the next blog post.

WiFi Router Upgrade Recommendations

WiFi Router Upgrade Recommendations

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If you’re like me, setting up your home router is as enjoyable as a trip to the dentist. Maybe that’s why I have a toothache and my home network is struggling with the 2.4GHz router that I installed 7 years ago. It was a pretty good router in its day, however, 7 years is more like 50 when it comes to technology. It’s currently running well below its optimum due to advances in WiFi standards, improved router technology and increased demands on WiFi from almost every new device I buy. I’m giving in and setting up a new router for my house. But which router should I get? At Blackfire Research, we are often asked for recommendations on which routers will best support whole home wireless streaming. I must mention that technology changes rapidly, so by the time you read this blog post, there may be an even better router on the market. With that in mind, reviews at Tom’s Guide and CNET are my two go-to references.

 

We do quite a lot of wireless demos and testing at our Blackfire office in San Francisco, which require high performing routers operating at the latest 802.11ac WiFi standard. Netgear and Linksys/Belkin make very fine routers, and the Apple AirPort Extreme is a popular choice, but, we’ve grown particularly fond of two from ASUS that are not only high performing, but reliable, easy to set up, and are now available at a much lower cost than when they were first launched. Those two routers are: the ASUS RT-AC56U and the ASUS RT-AC68U.

 

The more cost effective of the two is the ASUS RT-AC56U, but the ASUS RT-AC68U will give the highest performance. Here’s what we like about both of these routers:

  • Default settings out of the box are good for most situations
  • Subjectively cope with noisy environments better than other routers we’ve tested
  • Relatively low cost (for an 802.11ac router)
  • Mobile phone app simplifies both setup and maintenance
  • Mature design (launched in 2013) which is very reliable
  • Large user community, offering plenty of online advice.

 

The ASUS RT-AC68U has all the features of the 56U, but adds:

  • 1.3Gb/s (vs. 900Gb/s) data rate at 5GHz
  • 600Gb/s (vs. 300Gb/s) data rate at 2.4GHz
  • External antenna (for more flexible adjustment, tweaking and positioning)

 

We recommend that you upgrade to the 68U version if:

  • you have a big home
  • there are several walls between your router and your living space
  • you have lots of family members all connecting at once
  • your home internet connection is greater than 200MB/s

 

You can purchase both the ASUS RT-AC56U and the ASUS RT-AC68U on Amazon.

Further, here’s a breakdown of the tradeoffs between 2.4GHz and 5GHz:

 

2.4GHz:

  • supports most WiFi devices; better range; less attenuation by walls and objects
  • congested band due to Bluetooth, cellphones and lots of other non-standard wireless devices

 

5GHz:

  • Fastest data rates; relatively uncongested frequency band at the moment
  • Not suitable for many devices due to antenna, range limitations and power consumption

 

For my home, I purchased the ASUS RT-AC68U for the extra capacity for multiple users and flexibility in antenna positioning. For my next blog post, I’ll walk through how I setup my new router.

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  Redefining Smart Home Entertainment

Rescuing You From Entertainment Islands

With the advancement of smart phone capabilities and the growth of internet content, we are under the illusion that we can receive what we want, anywhere, any time. This is far from true, especially when it comes to home entertainment systems. Rather than allow us to enjoy our music, video or rich media applications wherever we want in our home, our Smart TVs, stereo systems, PCs, and speakers have stranded us on “entertainment islands” that prevent whole-home wireless connectivity. At Blackfire Research, we’re getting entertainment content off these islands, so you can mix and match your media, playing to anywhere, from anywhere, any way you want in the home. 

With over 30 patents, we’re making the smart home smarter. We’ve developed a software solution called the Blackfire RED framework, built from the ground up to overcome the limitations of conventional wireless. Blackfire RED does what nothing else can - stream both HD 5.1 audio and 4K video simultaneously across multiple devices over standard Wi-Fi, all while looking and sounding spectacular. 

If you think you’ve heard or seen this before, trust me you haven’t. Doing this is hard. Otherwise somebody else would have already done it.

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