From a Kiwi standpoint, the unveiling of the latest iPhones was a bit of a letdown.

Some had been hoping it would be the shining moment for Auckland startup PowerbyProxi, bought by Apple last year for a price revealed as $100 million-plus in an Overseas Investment Office filing.

After all, this time last year, as Apple first revealed its PowerbyProxi acquisition, it also demo'd a wireless power mat that would let you charge multiple devices at once, simply by laying them on its surface (Samsung already has a similar product on the market for $179).

The US tech giant said the AirPower mat, as it was dubbed, would be released in 2018. The stage was set.


But last Thursday, as Apple took the wraps off its new IPhone XS Max, Watch Series 4 and other new products, close observers of the company noticed AirPower was AWOL.

"AirPower must be well and truly f****d. No one at Apple will say a word about it, even off the record," tweeted well-connected blogger John Gruber to his 360,000 followers. Scores of fanboy sites followed his lead, noting the wireless charging mat's absence.

A representative for Apple Australia-New Zealand had no comment when approached today.

But indications are that PowerbyProxi will not end up as one of the local tech companies - such as touchscreen maker NextWindow or security software maker Endace - which are toyed with, then forgotten by a multi-billion dollar US buyer.

When the Herald went to knock on the door of PowerbyProxi's central Auckland office today, it was met by a notice saying it had been vacated earlier in the month.

The shift seems like an upgrade. The former startup has moved from its worn building opposite a New World to its own floor in the Datacom building at trendy Wynyard Quarter - a gleaming new structure that sits between Air New Zealand and Fonterra's flash new digs.

PowerbyProxi co-founder and chief executive Fady Mishriki now bills himself on LinkedIn as managing director at Apple, New Zealand.

Mishriki was not immediately available to talk, and other staff were loath to go into even basic details.


But one fact is public: Apple is in hiring mode, with four Auckland-based roles being advertised on its website. All are for high-end wireless power technology roles, and come on top of 11 similar local positions advertised in March.

The ads imply that some of Apple's most exciting R&D is happening in Auckland. "The Wireless Power Technology team develops bleeding-edge Wireless Charging designs that are central to Apple's products - the iPhone, Apple Watch, AirPods, AirPower and more. New challenges arise every day that require the sharp problem-solving skills of talented & smart individuals," one says.

The outfit formerly known as PowerbyProxi has moved from a worn office opposite a supermarket to the sixth floor of the new Datacom building in Wynyard Quarter.
The outfit formerly known as PowerbyProxi has moved from a worn office opposite a supermarket to the sixth floor of the new Datacom building in Wynyard Quarter.

Another adds that the successful applicant will "help drive the resolution of ambiguous problems."

And that's probably the rub. New technology products are typically fraught with glitches and delays. In reality, the surprise would have been if Apple had got the AirPower out on time.

The global ICT skills shortage is also probably coming into play. Apple is looking for a very particular set of skills for each position, which would be why two positions have been advertised since May.

Another factor in the mix: PowerbyProxi qualified for up to $25m in matching R&D funds from Crown agency Callaghan Innovation for a five-year period ending this December.

It might rankle some that the world's most profitable company could be receiving a subsidy from the New Zealand taxpayer. But it is a condition of recent Callaghan Grants that most R&D activity must be kept in NZ after a buyout, or funds returned. Today, neither Apple nor Callaghan would comment on the progress of talks that have been dragging on for a year since the takeover.

PowerbyProxi was born out of research at the University of Auckland.

According to the TIN100 2017 report, PowerbyProxi has 60 staff in 2017, split between its main office in the Auckland and a satellite in the US.

Revenue was estimated at $20m. PowerbyProxi did not make any of its own hardware, instead licensing its technology to manufacturers. Beyond its consumer products, it also developed wireless power technology for industrial settings.