Forward-looking: One potential new method of charging your phone or other portable devices could be to simply lay them on top of your laptop. Apple has been exploring this solution for years, and a recent patent shows Dell is also considering it. Patents often don't materialize into actual products however, so readers should only see this as an experimental concept for the time being.

Patently Apple has uncovered a Dell patent for using laptop surfaces to charge portable devices. The system involves laying the devices on top of an accessory attached to the laptop supplying inductive power.

The illustrations below are taken from Dell's US patent application 20220239124, published last week, showing a wireless charging clip that attaches to a laptop just below the keyboard using magnets and a power output connection on the laptop.

Devices like smartphones would lie on top of the clip comprised of a charging coil and a ferrite sheet.

Apple has patents for a slightly different charging system using the same basic concept. Instead of employing an attachment, Apple would install the charging coils inside new MacBooks which could charge an iPhone, iPad, or Apple Watch lying on top.

While a clip could presumably only charge devices while the laptop is open, Apple's concept would also let MacBooks charge them while closed, offering a wider surface area for more devices. However, Dell's idea for a separate clip could prove cheaper since it could attach to different laptops.

If either system ever materializes, it could lead to chargers occupying fewer power outlets than other solutions like charging pads. Apple canceled its attempt at a large charging pad - the AirPower - in 2019. Currently, the company offers the MagSafe Charger and MagSafe Battery Pack for those who need better longevity in their devices.

Other companies are experimenting with different wireless charging methods. Ikea's $40 charger mounts under a table or desk, charging devices sitting on top. Although that system is less conspicuous, it still requires cables. A startup called Wi-Charge is developing an IR-based system where a charger connected to an outlet beams power directly to devices. This solution appears versatile, but can't deliver enough wattage to keep a phone fully charged.