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AirPods Wireless Charging Case may not need precise location on a charging pad

A future version of the AirPods Wireless Charging Case may not necessarily require users to carefully line it up on a wireless charger for it to receive power, with Apple proposing a system where it could be placed in practically any position on an AirPower-style charging pad and still be able to inductively charge.

One of the issues with current wireless charging systems is that it requires a precise alignment between the charging coils in the charger and the receiving device in order for power to be transferred. If the two elements aren't lined up closely, the power transfer could take longer and potentially waste energy in the process.

While this isn't an issue for devices like the Apple Watch, which uses magnets to both ensure a close connection and sufficient alignment, not everything can use magnets in such a way.

In an Apple patent published by the US Patent and Trademark Office on Tuesday for an "Inductively chargeable earbud case," Apple suggests a method of allowing for the most efficient charging to take place on a multi-coil charging mat, regardless of how the receiving device is oriented.

To illustrate the process, Apple's patent uses images of a charging mat somewhat reminiscent of the AirPower charging pad, which is equipped with multiple small coils overlapping each other, as well as the AirPods Wireless Charging Case.

A version of the AirPods Wireless Charging Case with two coils at the base. Another version has two longer coils running at the sides.

Apple's solution is to use a pair of small charging coils in the case, occupying the bottom left and right hand corners of the rear section, typically the side that would make contact with a charging pad. Both coils would be capable of receiving a charge from a charging pad, effectively doubling its chances of being in an optimal charging position.

A second version uses two longer coils positioned towards the sides and running almost the entire length of the case. While taking up more room, the size would feasibly allow it to be more usable in a wider variety of charging positions.

While both points are capable of being used for charging, only one actually does get used, with a built in system switching between accepting power from one of the two receiving coils depending on how much power is able to be transferred at a time. Typically the weaker or more inefficient of the two coils would be disabled.

An example of an AirPower-style charging pad with multiple overlapping charging coils, and how the theoretical case design could function on it.
An example of an AirPower-style charging pad with multiple overlapping charging coils, and how the theoretical case design could function on it.

In one quite telling image, Apple displays the AirPower-like charging pad with a total of 16 charging coils, spread in three rows across the accessory's length and overlapping in sections. With the suggested dual coil charging system in the case, Apple suggests it would not matter if the case is placed lined up properly or at an angle across the entire surface of the pad, as it would mean at least one of the two receiving coils would be in a sufficient-enough position for charge.

In positions where both coils are capable of taking an adequate amount of power for recharging, again a switching system would disable the weaker of the two coils. Such a system would also allow for failure in a multi-coil pad similar to the hypothetical version depicted, as if one transmitting coil failed and one of the receiving points happened to be placed on top, there is a high likelihood the other receiving point would be in a position to accept charge from a functioning transmitting coil.

Apple files numerous patents on a weekly basis, but while the contents of the patents and applications show areas of interest for the company, it is not guaranteed to make an appearance in a future product or service.

Apple is currently expected to release its AirPods Wireless Charging Case and a version of the AirPower charging pad sometime this year, following some technical hurdles. While Apple has suggested that the AirPower could be used to charge multiple items at the same time, it is ultimately unknown if it has elected to use a system similar to the one outlined in the patent, both for it and the case.