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AirPower wireless charging pad could be a powerful 2018 iPhone accessory

Apple's rumored three new iPhones could charge simultaneously on this MIA wireless charger.

iPhone, Apple Watch and AirPods: AirPower promises to charge them all.

Apple/GIF by CNET

Don't think of Apple's AirPower as an iPhone afterthought. The wireless charging pad, which the company announced almost a full year ago, could be an important piece of Apple's iPhone strategy for 2018.

If Apple finally announces AirPower's sale price and sale date on Sept. 12 alongside up to three new iPhones for 2018, the device would work with the new iPhones -- iPhone XS or iPhone Plus, or whatever Apple will call them -- as well as with the Apple Watch Series 4 we expect, and 2017's Apple Watch 3iPhone 8iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X.

What makes AirPower so interesting is that the wireless charging pad doesn't just charge multiple devices when you drop it on top. It's that AirPower will also let the devices talk to each other to manage power consumption. All of Apple's wirelessly compatible devices will charge on Qi rigs from Belkin and others, but AirPower is Apple's specific attempt to make its mark on wireless charging technology, get more people to use wireless charging pads, and make some money in the process.

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Samsung's Wireless Charger Duo

Sarah Tew/CNET

At its September 2017 event, Apple said AirPower would appear some time in 2018, but since then we've barely heard a peep. It's unlike Apple to announce a product and not deliver. But competition is heating up.

Samsung has recently announced Wireless Charger Duo, a new wireless charger that will power up any of its compatible devices like the Galaxy Note 9 and new Samsung Galaxy Watch. Samsung's Wireless Charger Duo doesn't claim AirPower's powers of letting devices talk to one another. We've tried it, and it works just like any other wireless charger.

Although we're not exactly sure when AirPower will strike, it's a good time to look back and note what we know about Apple's wireless charger so far.

What is AirPower?

AirPower is Apple's oval-shaped wireless charging pad that promises to work with the iPhone X, iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus, the Apple Watch and a new wireless charging AirPods case that Apple will release some time in the future.

AirPower and Apple's new iPhones mark the company's deep dive into wireless charging and its adoption of the Qi standard. Wireless charging has been built into phones for years, but until January, two competing standards, Qi and Powermat, slowed innovation overall.

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Now that Apple has thrown its full weight behind Qi, and Powermat has joined that standard, the industry can get to work on faster, long-range charging, and putting wireless charging stations in more homes, libraries, coffee shops and cars.

You can see Apple's AirPower demo in the video below.

Why is AirPower different than other wireless chargers?

AirPower will charge multiple devices at the same time -- but other charging mats can do that, too. What's different here is that AirPower claims it can help devices communicate with each other to manage power consumption. We're not exactly sure how that works yet, but we're starting to get impatient.

Apple's AirPower demo from last September shows the iPhone screen tracking all the devices currently on the charger, and their battery status. It isn't clear if this will work with non-Apple devices, or if the technology has been built into a current iPhone as well as the AirPower pad.

How fast will AirPower charge my iPhone?

Apple didn't share any details about the charging speed, but the Mophie and Belkin charging pads sold through Apple's site claim output of up to 7.5 watts, which is what the iPhone 8, 8 Plus and iPhone X are certified for. The Apple Watch, on the other hand, only supports charging up to 5 watts, which is as much as its charging base delivers.

Now playing: Watch this: AirPower: Apple's vision for the future of wireless charging
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Read: iPhone 8 and iPhone X will charge faster with USB-C

Will I be able to charge non-Apple devices on AirPower?

AirPower will likely be able to charge any device that uses the Qi standard, but it isn't clear if Apple will prefer its own devices. Apple didn't respond to our request for comment.

Will AirPower's benefits come to third-party chargers?

Apple says that it's sharing its AirPower technology with the Qi standards body (called the Wireless Power Consortium, or WPC), so other vendors can incorporate Apple's tech in future products.

When can I buy AirPower?

As we've said, we don't know. Alongside the 2018 iPhones? Apple only has a few months left to make its self-imposed 2018 deadline.

What about a new AirPods case that works with AirPower? 

Apple could also release AirPower around the same time it starts selling the AirPods wireless charging case. The two devices were shown off together and are meant to work hand-in-hand. A recent Bloomberg report claims that Apple may release a new version of AirPods "as soon as this year."

So: Either a new version of the existing AirPods with a wireless rechargeable case, or maybe a whole new "AirPods 2." 

How much will AirPower cost?

This is another great question we don't have an answer to. Last November, an AirPower listing was spotted on a Polish retailer's website for 999 złoty, which converts to about $290, £205 or AU$375. Other rumors claim that AirPower will cost closer to $199.

For comparison, the third-party Qi chargers that Apple sells both cost $60, but these only work with one device at a time. Since Apple's AirPower can charge up to three devices, it'll likely cost more.

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This piece was originally published March 25, and gets updated with the latest rumors and speculation.