Mention the word Formica to any American of a certain generation, and it’s sure to conjure images of retro midcentury interiors, furniture, and especially kitchen countertops, outfitted with the slick, synthetic laminate surface. It’s the look of kitsch that defined the Mad Men era, into the 1970s. Now, Formica is ready to dust off its legacy image with a splashy new introduction for 2018: wireless charging technology.
Yesterday, the company announced a partnership with ConvenientPower Systems to develop a system of scalable, wireless charging infrastructure for residential and commercial applications—with the first releases targeted to launch this calendar year.
“Formica has become more of a surfacing company, and as you think about where surfaces are being used, this idea of becoming interactive is just a natural extension for a company like ours,” says Jeff Taylor, Group Vice President of R&D at Formica. “We come into contact with these surfaces constantly. So why not use them to do more than what they’ve ever done in the past?”
In spite of its enduring and dated public image, Formica Group has remained a major global player in the architecture and design industry through the years; in 2007, the company was acquired by Fletcher Building, a publicly traded building and construction company whose annual revenues stack at $8 billion.
It’s also easy to forget that Formica Group began in an innovative space. When the company was first founded in 1913, with the launch of its signature synthetic laminate—a literal substitution for mica, the natural mineral—it was a cutting-edge material, and its primary applications were used for electronics, long before it trickled down to the mainstream consumer market, and into the living rooms and kitchens of the suburban American home. If the popularity of Formica fashions seem to have gone out of focus in more recent decades, it’s only been for the material’s sheer ubiquity, used widely across both commercial and residential applications. That range, according to Taylor, includes surfaces, furnitures, products, and interiors for hotels, bars and restaurants, to stadiums, airports, and hospitals.
With this new venture, Formica brings a rare design presence to the tech-dominated Wireless Power Consortium: a group of companies—among them Apple, Samsung, and Belkin—creating products with the Qi wireless charging standard. Through induction technology, Qi can charge mobile devices simply through surface contact.
“Formica started its brand as an innovator, and we hope that this will help bring back some of that innovative halo that has truly been part of who we are,” says Amy Gath, the company’s VP of North America Marketing.
With mobile usage now surpassing desktop computing, and the smart home market expected to grow to $41 billion by 2020, Formica’s move is certainly strategic. Other home design companies, such as the furnishings giant IKEA, have started releasing wireless-charging tabletops and lamps. But Taylor and Gath suggest Formica’s surfaces could have even larger-scale uses, though they demure at what specific offerings will result, how they’ll be installed, and when exactly that first launch may occur.
Could this signal an era of Formica that’s more Jetsons, less Mad Men? It’s a wait-and-see game for now, but we say, bring it on.