Apple kept at least one of the capabilities of its iPhone 12 quiet for months, but reverse wireless charging has since been revealed in an Apple support document, confirming earlier suspicions. This means not only can the iPhone 12 be charged wirelessly with a MagSafe or Qi charger, but it can also charge other devices wirelessly. So far this ability is quite limited, but might be expanded in the future. Apple does have a tendency to plan ahead and include technology in its devices, even when the related product is months or even years from release.
There were indications in 2020 that the iPhone 12 might be able to reverse wireless charge an AirTag or future versions of AirPods. This came to light when Apple filed radio-frequency exposure documents, as required by the FCC, but this capability wasn't mentioned when the iPhone 12 launched. This was prior to the release of the AirTag, but it had been heavily rumored to be coming soon. Putting these details together, it made sense that the new iPhone might be able to charge an AirTag. When Apple's location beacon was announced in April 2021, it became clear that wasn't happening. AirTag in its current form doesn't support wireless charging of any kind. Instead, it relies on a user-replaceable CR2032 lithium 3V coin battery.
It turns out that Apple simply hadn't made use of the iPhone 12's full capabilities yet. With the release of the MagSafe Battery Pack in July 2021 however, that changed. Apple published a support document about this new device, as discovered by 9to5Mac. The accessory has a Lightning port and it can be charged separately, but it's also possible to attach it using the MagSafe connection to an iPhone 12 — and both will charge at the same time. Although reverse wireless is not specifically mentioned, in this arrangement, the iPhone is plugged into a Lightning cable and draws power to replenish the internal battery while the MagSafe Battery Pack is simultaneously charged wirelessly.
Uses Of iPhone 12's Reverse Wireless Charging
Since the MagSafe Battery Pack can be plugged in while attached to an iPhone 12 to charge both, it would initially seem like there is no need for reverse charging. Apple gave some examples to clarify the purpose. If supplying power to the iPhone 12 via CarPlay, it can be charging while playing music, giving directions, and interacting with Siri. Another example is when backing up an iPhone to a Mac. In both of these cases, when a MagSafe Battery Pack is attached, it can be charged while using the iPhone with a connected device. It seems unlikely that Apple would include this technology for use with just one compatible accessory, so there might be more products coming that can take advantage of the iPhone's newfound skill.
Based on the FCC filing, the Phone 12 should be capable of supplying up to 5 watts of wireless power. This isn't fast charging, but it's the same amount of power delivered to an iPhone and AirPods when using a Qi charger. Future versions of the AirTag might come with rechargeable batteries. Furthermore, Apple did mention various form factors for its tracking tags in a patent document.
Unfortunately, the story is exactly the same with the newer iPhone 13 series. All iPhone 13 models work the same with Apple's MagSafe Battery Pack, but offer no reverse wireless charging capabilities beyond that. In other words, it's another generation of iPhones that technically support reverse wireless charging — just in a very limited way. It's likely Apple expands the iPhone's reverse wireless charging to other use cases in the future (such as charging AirPods or other phones), but when that'll happen remains a total mystery. It could be with the iPhone 14, the iPhone 15, or not until the iPhone 16. Apple's notorious for taking its sweet time with rolling out new features to the iPhone. In the case of reverse wireless charging, it appears that strategy is no different.
iPhones Could Reverse Wireless Charge Through The Display
Nearly two years after the iPhone 12's launch, Apple has shown no sign of introducing conventional reverse wireless charging on current or future iPhones. The iPhone 14 series leaks and rumors provide no indication of this feature, or any charging upgrade really, being on the cards. However, Apple did patent an unusual reverse wireless charging solution for the iPhone and iPad. According to the patent application, an iPhone or iPad could wirelessly charge devices through the display. The patent is limited only to wirelessly charging accessories though, which could be restricted to devices like the AirPods, Apple Watch, and Apple Pencil.
iPads can already wirelessly charge an Apple Pencil by magnetically attaching it to the top, but the patent suggests it might be possible to do that by placing it on the display. The display of future iPhones and iPads could have a wireless charging coil underneath, along with magnets to secure the accessory in place. While it's certainly an intriguing solution, patented technology can take years to come to commercial products. For the moment though, it looks like Apple isn't in a hurry to bring reverse wireless charging to the iPhone.