Proprietary charging docks suck — but Motorola's much-anticipated Android watch could make things better
The smartwatch market is still in the very early stages of development, and the three main platforms out there right now — Pebble, Samsung Gear and Android Wear — all have their own unique quirks. But if there's one area of the smartwatch experience that's pretty much universally terrible, it's charging them.
Low-quality proprietary chargers and the relatively short battery life of current smartwatches make for a frustrating situation when it comes time to charge your wearable. Fortunately, though, there are signs of hope ahead, and it starts with Motorola's Moto 360 and the Qi wireless charging standard.
Right now, each smartwatch you buy — even watches from the same manufacturer or same product range — have their own fiddly, proprietary, lose-it-and-you're-screwed charging connector. As Adam Zeis of Connectedly bemoans:
"Last week I took my yearly beach vacation, and I was a bit bummed out when I realized that I forgot to pack my Pebble charger. Luckily it only fell a day short, but I was still a bit upset that I had every charger I needed except my special, propriety Pebble juicer. After picking up an G Watch I also realized that I've now amassed more smartwatch chargers than I ever thought possible. Nearly every watch I have — even those from the same manufacturer — all have different charging adapters, save for some watches like the Sony Smartwatch 2. Yes, most of the watches charge via microUSB, but not without a not-so-handy adapter in between. I get why these chargers exist, but that doesn't mean I have to like it."
When you're charging a device every day, being able to do so conveniently is a big deal.
Smartwatch charging cradles are all different, they take up extra space when you're traveling — and sometimes, in extreme cases, they can even break. When they do, with no easy way to charge your device, it becomes a paperweight. Even the better efforts like the Pebble's magnetic cable suffer from the fact that you're dealing with a nonstandard connector. True, many chargers are basically just USB over pogo pins — a requirement for water-resistant devices — but with no standard for this type of connector, good luck replacing your Pebble or Gear Live connector if you're traveling in an unfamiliar part of the world. (At the time of writing the only easy way to replace your LG G Watch or Gear Live charger is to purchase another watch.)
Yes, it's a first-world problem, but it's a very real one. And the move toward all these annoyingly different charging connectors is bizarrely regressive in a world in which most mobile devices charge quite happily over microUSB or a Lightning connector. As the gradual proliferation of wireless charging has proved, when you're charging a device every day, being able to do so conveniently is a big deal.
FCC docs spell it out in black and white: Wireless charging for the Moto 360.
Enter the Moto 360. In a live Google Hangout this March, Motorola told us its first smartwatch would feature a "secret" charging method, and in recent weeks FCC documents have blown the lid off that secret — the Moto 360, like many Android smartphones, will support Qi wireless charging. (The FCC on occasion blows it, and Motorola has given few details about the Moto 360, but the docs indeed say what they say.)
It all seems to match up quite nicely with photos of the back of the watch taken at Google I/O showing a circular formation on the back of the 360, possibly hiding some kind of charging coil.
As Derek Kessler reported for AC at the time:
"[The device is] named quite simply "Motorola Wireless Charger," though that it's been tested exclusively with the Moto 360 smartwatch and the Motorola Micro-USB AC adapter tells us that this is meant primarily for the Moto 360.
Heck, the basic "regulatory information appears here" sketch shows a device with a circular bottom, which matches nicely with the circular shape of the Moto 360 itself. Motorola's own letter addressing the FCC lists this as a Wireless Power Consortium protocol (you likely know it as Qi wireless charging) device that is "intended for use with the Moto 360 wrist-worn device.""
Nothing's official until it's officially announced, but the FCC docs are pretty explicit: This is a first-party Qi wireless charger for the Moto 360. And if accurate, it's an important step forward for the usability of smartwatches. While there may be some cable-based backup solution for charging the 360, Qi reduces the process of charging the watch to simply plopping it down on a compatible charging pad. No clips, no connectors, no pogo pins.
Unlike the menagerie of connectors used by rival smartwatches, Qi is actually a standard.
Unlike the menagerie of connectors used by rival smartwatches, Qi is actually a standard, so there's no reason to think the Moto 360 won't work with any Qi chargers you already own. If you're travelling to any large city, chances are you'll be able to track down a Qi charger without too much hassle. It's even easier to pick up a wireless charger online.
Even after the release of the solid but imperfect LG G Watch and Samsung Gear Live, many Android enthusiasts — and watch nerds — are holding out for Motorola's first entry into this category. After all, it's always been the better-looking Android smartwatch.
Sure, the Moto 360 remains an unproven product that we're still waiting to use in a non-demo setting. But if we're reading things correctly, its unique wireless charging system might be as big a draw for consumers as its premium metal design or curved watch face. Hopefully other manufacturers will follow, and slowly we'll begin to chip away at one of the main pain points of smartwatch use.
Are you planning on picking up a Moto 360? Any smartwatch charging horror stories to share? Shout out in the comments!