The NFC Forum has now announced approval and adoption of the Wireless Charging Specification (WCL), enabling limited wireless charging via NFC.
For clarity, that's the technology traditionally used for tap-to-pay solutions. But that doesn't necessarily mean that users will be receiving an update that allows wireless charging. While the new standard will enable that for future hardware, a simple software update isn't going to deliver the feature. New hardware will be required.
The new wireless charging standard also won't allow users to charge up their smartphones wirelessly over NFC. At least not yet. To begin with, the standard only supports power transfers of up to one watt. Current solutions built on the Qi Standard utilize up to 5-watt reverse wireless charging. More expensive devices can charge up wirelessly much more quickly, with 10-watts serving as a common middle-ground.
Setting that aside, the newly-reported support does make it possible to "wirelessly charge small, battery-powered consumer and IoT devices with a smartphone or other NFC charging device." In fact, the NFC Forum explicitly stated that as a goal of the adoption.
What are the benefits of Wireless Reverse Charing via NFC?
The biggest advantage revealed in the announcement comes in the form of cost savings. While Qi has overrun the market in terms of wireless charging solutions, it's not cheap to implement. And the feature has largely been relegated to flagships like the Samsung Galaxy S20 series as a result.
Less common still is the use of Qi Wireless Charging for reverse charging. Samsung and others have adopted the technology and that use case primarily for charging up accessories they also happen to sell. In the case of Samsung, that's the wireless-charging enabled Galaxy Buds. But there is a commonality between the two technologies on that front.
When used for reverse wireless charging, Qi has been left at a lower-charging rate, as noted above. That's still more power delivery than is offered via NFC solution but not by too much.
More succinctly, NFC is not going to charge up a smartphone but it will charge other devices. But NFC's top competitor here isn't a viable option for using one phone to charge another either. Conversely, wireless earbuds, smartwatches, fitness trackers, battery-powered styluses, and other IoT gadgets can be charged with a single watt.
Since, aside from a few outliers, NFC is almost ubiquitous in the mobile world, the new technology can be added without much extra cost.
This still isn't necessarily coming soon
The use of NFC for power delivery is at once unexpected and promising. The technology may ultimately deliver reverse wireless charging as a feature on devices typically held back by pricing goals. Namely, that's phones in the mid-range and budget Android segments. But there are a few big drawbacks here aside from charging rates.
Qi Wireless Charging standards are, as noted above, almost ubiquitous. And NFC charging will require new hardware. That means NFC has quite a lot of catching up to do before it can permeate the market. So users shouldn't expect to see the technology featured in upcoming smartphones for some time.