Duracell Breaks New Ground in Wireless Charging Market

Duracell is making a push in wireless charging, working with partners to try and do for public gadget power what Intel did for public Wi-Fi.

The idea: Get popular restaurants to install special charging surfaces that will charge phones while patrons eat. Duracell, in partnership with PowerMat, already has wireless charging pilots running in New York's Madison Square Garden and at 17 Starbucks locations in Boston.

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Wireless charging lets you replenish your specially equipped phone by simply laying it down on a charging surface—no cables required. Of course, there are drawbacks to the idea. Unless your phone is one of the few with wireless charging built in, you've got to put a special case on the phone to enable charging.

Which is more convenient: carrying around a special case, or just packing a charging cable or extra battery?

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On Tuesday, the potential for a move into wireless charging grew when PowerMat announced that it will merge with rival PowerKiss. The Finnish company has the rights to install wireless power charging stations in European McDonald's locations, which makes the deal a bit like a land grab. If wireless charging stations were conveniently spread around everywhere, maybe they'd be more alluring.

The latest twist on charging technology might just help wireless charging take off. Though Qi is the best-known standard for wireless charging, Duracell PowerMat is pushing the Power Matters Alliance (PMA) standard instead, and it has some big name compatriots including AT&T, BlackBerry and ZTE.

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What's so great about the PMA standard? It allows the owner of a charging station to manage how it's used, much like Wi-Fi. Now instead of a dumb socket, you've got a business model. Maybe the first 10 minutes of charging is free, and after that you've got to pay—or hand over your email address. Or maybe loyal customers get free charging minutes. You get the idea.

Even with this latest drive, wireless charging faces major hurdles. It cost Intel tens of millions of dollars to properly push public Wi-Fi and its Centrino chipsets—and it had the benefit of near-monopoly status in PC microprocessors. The wireless charging crowd will have to get buy-in from either a major component supplier like Qualcomm or Samsung, or from a major smartphone maker like Apple ... or Samsung.

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Until then, wireless charging will be that perennial next big thing.

—By CNBC's Jon Fortt. Follow him on Twitter: @jonfortt

email: tech@cnbc.com