Sep 06, 2023

iPhone 15 Owners Say BMW's Wireless Charger Is Frying Their Devices

If you’re driving a newer BMW, you might want to hold off wirelessly charging your new iPhone 15.



The Qi standard for wireless charging has been around since 2008. That means people have been taking advantage of the technology for the better part of 15 years, and it's been fairly dependable over that time. That is, unless you're one of the subset of folks who happen to own both a BMW and iPhone 15 today, in which case, it may be wise to juice up your shiny smartphone the old fashioned way.

New iPhone owners across the internet have been reporting that the charging pads in their BMWs have been bricking the NFC chips inside of their new devices, rendering contactless payments, certain digital car keys, and other NFC-related features unusable.

As reported by MacRumors, users who experience the issue say that while charging, their iPhones display a white screen and enter into recovery mode. Once restarted, everything appears normal until the user tries to use any function that requires NFC.

Users with affected devices will then see an error message inside of the Wallet application that reads "Could Not Set Up Apple Pay." There does not appear to be a fix as of yet, though some customers report that Apple replaced their damaged devices following the error.

"[T]his has happened to my friend's new iPhone 15 Pro Max picked up from the local Apple Store last week," wrote a user on the /r/BMW subreddit. "He went back to the store and the Apple employees said it was not fixable, so they did a refund. The bigger problem was that they didn't have another iPhone 15 Pro Max to sell to my friend. All they could do was to place another order for him with an estimated delivery date of first week of November."

While Qi charging and NFC don't operate at the same frequency, both standards do employ a similar method of data transmission known as inductive coupling. This standard allows devices to wirelessly transmit data at close range.

NFC operates at a very low power frequency—13.56 MHz—and though it could technically be used for charging, that functionality would be fairly limited due to the maximum negotiated charging rate being just 1 watt. Instead, NFC's typical use case has been data transmission where proximity is important. For iPhones, it's used for Apple CarKey and Apple Pay contactless payments.

Qi, on the other hand, is a dedicated charging standard. Its main purpose is to wirelessly transmit power between a charger and the device without any tethering cables. Legacy Apple devices operate around 127.7 kHz, whereas new Apple devices capable of receiving 15 watts of charge with the Qi2 standard operate at 360 KHz.

That being said, it's not quite clear how or even if the NFC radio is getting burned out. The Qi charging and NFC radios have used two separate antennas located in two different parts of the phone; presumably, the location of each antenna remains the same in the iPhone 15 as well.

BMW also has been one of Apple's earliest adopters of Apple CarKey in the U.S. As noted before, CarKey uses NFC to authenticate a phone with a vehicle (unless, however, the car supports CarKey over Ultra Wideband like the BMW Digital Key Plus). For BMW Digital Key to work, the iPhone must be placed in the car's wireless charging tray to communicate with the car—similar to how a phone has to be in close proximity to a credit card reader to pay for your groceries.

It's also possible that the reason behind the burnout could actually be an underlying overheating problem exacerbated by the wireless charging standard.

"[T]he wireless charger in my G20 is essentially an oven heater," wrote one Reddit user. "Barely charges but makes the phone super hot."

Apple has recently noted that it has "identified a few conditions which can cause iPhone to run warmer than expected," like setting the device up for the first time using an iCloud backup. The Cupertino-based tech giant has vowed to address this in an upcoming software fix, though it seems the problem is limited to Apple's latest handsets. Separately, there are a few popular applications (like Instagram and Uber) that have reportedly caused increased device temps.

BMW told The Drive via email that it is "looking into" the issue. Meanwhile, Apple says that the iPhone is programmed to regulate its power draw and temperatures to ensure there are no long-term risks to safety or performance. That's typically how these devices are designed to operate, as anyone who has ever tried to use their iPhone on a hot, clear-skied summer day at the beach knows all too well.

It's still too early to place blame on either company at this point, but it is abundantly clear that devices' NFC capabilities are being bricked at this time. So if you own both a BMW and an iPhone 15, maybe it's best to keep that phone off the wireless charger and use the fob your car came with—at least for now.

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