Wireless charging is set to gain a small but significant foothold in the marketplace in 2010, offering consumers a viable option to recharge various consumer electronic devices without the need for dedicated power adapters, according to iSuppli Corp.

While a number of serious challenges continue to present barriers to immediate wide adoption, wireless chargers will start shipping in meaningful volume this year and then quickly ramp up as the devices achieve greater market relevance, iSuppli figures show.

For product-specific wireless charging, solutions are projected to reach 3.6 million units in 2010, up from a mere 200,000 units last year. From then on, the numbers will rise by extraordinary leaps and bounds: to 31.0 million units in 2011, 101.8 million in 2012, 174.2 million in 2013 and 234.9 million at the end of the forecast period in 2014.

  Growth is also projected for aftermarket wireless charging at a massive five-year Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 133.4 percent—which will add another $2.9 billion to overall revenue by 2014. Product-specific solutions consist of a charger as well as a so-called “skin” or receiver sold for specific devices, while aftermarket solutions consist of universal chargers and various skins that can be utilized with multiple consumer electronics.

Given the projected growth, wireless charging devices will find their way into an increasing array of applications, including mobile phones, portable media players, digital still cameras and mobile PCs. Among these, mobile phones will contribute the largest share of revenue to wireless charging—not only because of the large volume of mobile devices expected to benefit from the technology, but also because of participation by name brands in manufacturing the device, providing much needed market recognition in the process.

  Of the four current wireless charging technologies in place today, magnetic inductive is the most widely adopted by nodes in the value chain. Based on the principle of electromagnetic induction, in which current generated from the induced magnetic field in the receiver coil is used to charge devices, the technology enjoys wide support from semiconductor vendors, device manufacturers, accessories makers as well as retailers.

The most successful proponent of magnetic induction is Powermat, a Michigan-based company founded in 2009 that also owned 62 percent share of the wireless charging market in 2009 — the largest slice in the industry. Other wireless charging technologies include conductive, developed by the company WildCharge and currently licensed to Procter and Gamble’s Duracell; near-field magnetic resistance, championed by wireless telecom giant Qualcomm as well as Intel Corp.; and far-field magnetic resonance, a technology that has raised safety as well as health concerns and for which no commercial products are available for the time being.

While most companies are thought not to be ready with any commercial products until sometime this year, several high-profile manufacturers are examining the feasibility of producing wireless charging solutions. The companies include Texas Instruments and ST-Ericsson from the semiconductor side; Nokia Corp. and Research In Motion Ltd. from the device manufacturer side; and Logitech International S.A. and Case-Mate from the accessory manufacturer side.

Although wireless charging is poised for growth in 2010 and the years to come, it will take several years for manufacturers to fully implement wireless charging in their devices, iSuppli believes. In particular, manufacturers will need to consider how to integrate wireless charging into the design of printed circuit boards, and significant adoption of wireless charging technology will be needed to drive down costs.

One way to spur adoption by the market is for the wireless charging industry to adopt a common standard that would ensure interoperability among solutions being developed. At present, all commercial solutions are based on proprietary technology, and the skin made by one company, for example, will not work with the charger pad of another company.

Until the industry finds a standard to follow, the wireless charging industry will be fragmented, iSuppli believes, and consumers will hesitate to adopt any solution that could be compromised by the rival companies. However, an open, standardized system will create a healthier competitive environment and prompt manufacturers to join forces—which will enhance consumer awareness and lead to adoption in the markets.