PhotoAfter what was described as a successful test run in the Boston Area, Starbucks has announced it will begin installing wireless charging stations for smartphones at select California stores in Silicon Valley.

The charging stations will use Duracell Powermat charging stations, which employ the Power Matters Alliance (PMA) standard. To charge a device, the user just places the phone on a charging pad.

The process is wireless, in that there are no wires connecting the electric source to the phone. However, the phone must make contact with the pad in order for it to charge.

"Duracell Powermat offers the cure for dead battery anxiety," said Stassi Anastassov, President of Duracell at Procter & Gamble. "Look around any Starbucks and you will see smartphones being placed on tables. Today these phones are losing power as they sit there -- but once a table is equipped with Powermat technology, simply placing a phone on the table will recharge it."

For Starbucks, adding a way for customers to easily recharge their mobile devices makes sense. It wants to encourage consumers to spend a lot of time hanging out in its stores, hopefully drinking coffee and eating snacks.

Home away from home

"More and more customers are using Starbucks as their home base and they are looking to recharge in a number of ways," said Adam Brotman, chief digital officer at Starbucks. "We have seen positive customer response to wireless charging through our tests in Boston, and are pleased to now extend this experience for our customers in the Silicon Valley area."

Wireless charging is a response to a need created by the introduction of smartphones. Ordinary cellphones, used only for voice communication, used very little power. A single charge might last several days.

As soon as smartphones were introduced, however, consumers quickly learned that battery life was much less. That's mainly because downloading and uploading data requires much more energy. Daily recharges are now a routine matter, though it doesn't make them any more convenient.

In addition to the PMA standard, there is also the Qi standard, also known as the inductive power standard. Established by the Wireless Power Consortium, it works in a similar manner. Some device manufacturers support Qi while some support PMA. A few support both.

No need for power cords

While the term “wireless” suggests your phone can charge while it is in your pocket or purse, that's not quite the case. However, both standards remove the need for a power cord with the right type of connector to fit your phone.

The need for charging stations, whether wireless or like the solar-powered stations being installed in New York City, would be reduced if smartphone batteries simply held a charge for longer periods of time. That's been an active area of research for the last couple of years.

Results, so far, have been fairly promising. Earlier this year researchers at the University of Illinois reported development of lithium ion microbatteries ten times more powerful than standard cellphone batteries.

Prof. William King, who led the study, says the microbatteries are simply part of a technological trend. Computers have gotten smaller over the years and so have cellphones. He says it's time for the battery to follow suit.

In their report, the researchers claim that you could jump-start a car with the power in your cellphone batteries. That's all well and good, but it might be a little scary walking around with that much power in your pocket.

Meanwhile, researchers at other universities and laboratories are at work on the problem too. In 2011 researchers at the University of Michigan invented what they call a "subconscious mode" for smartphones and other Wi-Fi-enabled mobile devices that could extend battery life by as much as 54 percent for users on the busiest networks. Work is still underway.

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