SAN FRANCISCO — When Starbucks announced plans to add wireless charging mats to cafes in San Francisco, GeekWire decided it would be a good idea for me to drink some coffee and charge my iPhone 6.
For the love of geeky science, I agreed.
First, the good news: Being able to charge your phone just by sticking a ring over a pad on a table feels kind of magical. The bad news: The feeling lasts for about two minutes before reality sets in.
When I walked into the San Francisco Starbucks at 3rd and Market, the first challenge was finding the mats. Built into the dark counters and tables, the disc-shaped charging locations were not in plain view.
I asked the barista for a large cup of coffee and one of the charging rings required to get an iPhone to connect with the mats along the tables.
“I can’t wait to get one of them,” my barista said.
Theoretically, each cafe is supposed to have a supply of rings that customers can borrow while they’re sipping on a latte, but the tiny display that was supposed to hold the loaners had just one remaining — unfortunately for an earlier-model iPhone. Every other ring in this particular store seemed to have gone missing, probably because the baristas weren’t able to keep an eye on them.
Given this unfortunate turn of events, I decided to purchase one of the wireless charging devices, forking over $10, about the cost of two lattes. These silly looking green dongles attach to your iPhone, and allow it to interact with the Powermat technology. It is worth noting that some devices — including Microsoft’s Lumia 830 and the Galaxy S5 equipped with a wireless charging back cover — can be charged on the Powermat without the dongle.
But during my visit, I didn’t see anyone manage that.
In fact, for the remainder of the day, I was the only person I noticed who purchased one of the charging rings. (There was a guy who took the last communal charger, attached it to his iPhone 4S, and then left with it about an hour later).
Overall, it took about 55 minutes to get my iPhone 6 from 74 percent battery to fully charged.* It may have gone slightly faster under ideal conditions, since I had to use the Personal Hotspot capability for about a minute, and checked my Twitter feed every now and then. But I think that my use was representative of what someone might do with their phone while sitting around drinking coffee.
Actually getting a charge can be an exercise in frustration. If I moved the ring even half an inch off the center of the mat, my phone would stop charging until I moved it back into place.
And then there’s the frustration of not being able to pick up your phone, and keep the charge flowing.
I also ran into issues when I whipped out my fourth-generation iPad for a charge. I plucked the green dongle from my iPhone, and plugged it into my iPad without any problem.
Since the ring is designed for an iPhone, I didn’t have particularly high hopes for getting my tablet powered up. That skepticism was well placed: during an hour and fifteen minute session, the iPad’s battery life barely budged, going up by just 11 percent.
Now, the wireless charging technology may serve a different purpose for those who don’t have to mess around with a dongle. After all, if I just had to leave my phone on the table without attaching it to a silly-looking loop, It would be a lot easier to pick up and put down.
Overall, the Powermat doesn’t appear to be the quickest charging solution ever. But it does reduce the need for people to crowd around a handful of outlets in a cafe, which is nice. Personally, I’d rather Starbucks just install USB ports at each seat.
So, now that I have my $10 charging ring, will I be headed to the nearest Starbucks to get another jolt?
Probably not. I usually carry a battery pack with me that charges my phone when I need it, so I’m never dying to plug in anywhere.
If I happened to have the charger in my bag, and I happened to need it, and I happened to be in a Starbucks, I’d use it again. But I’m not going out of my way to do any of those things any time soon.
* This isn’t a perfect metric, since Apple’s percentage indicator is actually based on both the current rate of battery drain as well as the amount of charge left in the device, but it’s the best I could do at the time.