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Ex-BlackBerry chief joins Powermat as CEO

Thorsten Heins, who departed BlackBerry in late 2013, will now lead a wireless-charging company on the cusp of its global expansion.

Former BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins joins Powermat. Sarah Tew/CNET

Powermat Technologies, which champions wireless charging technology in mobile devices, tapped former BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins to run the company.

The company is bringing on the experienced executive as it makes a big push for global expansion.

Heins was pushed out of BlackBerry in late 2013 when the struggling Canadian smartphone maker failed to reach a deal to go private. Heins, who ran BlackBerry for less than two years, is trading the challenge of turning around a smartphone company for the effort of turning Powermat's wireless-charging standard the leader in its field.

Powermat, a privately owned Israeli company founded in 2006, sells wireless charging pads through the Duracell Powermat brand and sells charging spots to restaurants and cafes. Powermat also developed the inductive charging technology behind those products.

The company has been trying to beat out rival wireless-charging standard Qi, which was created by the Wireless Power Consortium. In a big step toward consolidation of wireless-charging technologies, two of the three major wireless charging groups, the Alliance for Wireless Power (A4WP) and the the Powermat-backed Power Matters Alliance (PMA), signed an agreement in February to ensure that their two standards will work together.

The PMA has positioned itself as the provider of wireless charging infrastructure, setting up charging stations in a few Starbucks and venues such as New York's Madison Square Garden. It also has a deal with General Motors to get its charging pads in its cars down the line, and AT&T has committed to using the technology.

But rival standard Qi is more commonly found in the smartphones themselves, which has resulted in a long-standing compatibility problem with wireless charging (Powermat sells phone cases that use its technology).

The compatibility issues are a "typical signature of an early market," Heins said in an interview on Tuesday. He said he is open to discussions about potentially bridging any gaps, but added that he would push hard to make PMA the mainstream standard.

"At the moment, we're on a pretty good path," he said.

Heins said wireless charging is at the beginning of a journey and it will take work to educate consumers on the usefulness of the feature. While the PMA's strong suit has been with retailers such as Starbucks, Heins said he agreed that the technology needs to be integrated into the devices for mainstream adoption to take off. He said the group was working hard to line up more hardware partners.

"Powermat is poised at an important juncture in its evolution and Thorsten will lead its expansion to take the wireless charging solutions we created into the mainstream," said founder and outgoing CEO Ran Poliakine, who will become Powermat's vice chairman.

In a follow-up interview, Poliakine said he would focus on evangelizing the technology and hand the day-to-day duties to Heins.

"The board is convinced he's absolutely the right guy for the job," he said.

Update, 10:48 a.m. and 12:34 p.m. PT: Adds comments from the new CEO and the founder.