While it is generally considered bad manners to peek at someone's device over their shoulder, even if it is just to see how much battery juice they have left, Sony's latest patent filing could easily make it a bit more normal. US Patent 20170063431 describes a method by which the near field communications (NFC) technology inside CE could be used to share both data and power. More specifically, the patent describes a "plurality" of antennas, with at least one in the first CE device and another in the second CE device. The antennas would be connected and configured based on a graphical user interface on both devices – presumably to allow a user to either send data via NFC or to share power. Perhaps most interestingly, there does not appear to be anything about the filing that would tie the technology, as it is described, solely to smartphones. The patent itself was originally filed in November of last year and was only approved as of March 2.
Current wireless charging works through the use of an electromagnetic field – created by the charging dock or station – which activates and generates power within a coil located inside of a given device. NFC is mostly used as an energy-efficient data transfer technology that requires no wires but only works over a range so small that devices must often be touching. By way of example, Android Pay and other similar mobile wallets are currently the most common use for NFC. The use of NFC, coupled with the above-mentioned diagrams, for power sharing has several implications. Perhaps most obviously, the limits of NFC would likely be brought directly into focus by a charging use-case. In truth, the effective range of near-field is so short that it may end up simply being impractical for mobile devices. However, as the patent suggests, there would likely be many other – much more useful – implications for the technology as it is described. Diagrams associated with the patent do show two phones connecting via the proposed technology, but another diagram appears to show a display and several devices of varying types. Each device in that appears to be interconnected and sharing power.
Bearing in mind, as always, that patents are a protection of intellectual property and not a guarantee of implementation. There are also several challenges to overcome if such a technology is ever to become mainstream. In addition to the impracticality associated with effective range, NFC is generally a very low-power-consumption technology. That doesn't mean it can't be done and Sony probably wouldn't have filed a patent if it could be deemed completely impossible. Needless to say, that doesn't mean the technology in this filing will make its way into any CE devices anytime soon.