Marc Saltzman on technical revolutions and wireless power

22 April 2020

Marc Saltzman is a recognized and trusted technology and gaming evangelist in North America. Marc is a freelance journalist for more than 40 publications (including a syndicated column with USA TODAY), a prolific (16-time) author, radio and television personality, public speaker, and a “translator” of ‘geek speak’ to ‘street speak’.

We discuss the technical revolutions that he has seen over the past years and what is coming, the impact of COVID-19 on smart devices and much more. This episode was recorded in Apr 2020.


Yuval Boger (Chief Marketing Officer, Wi-Charge, @TheChargeGuy): Hello, Marc, and thanks for joining me today.

Marc Saltzman: Thank you for having me, Yuval.

Yuval: Who are you and what do you do?

Marc: Who am I? I’ve been trying to figure that out for almost 50 years [laughs]. Thanks for asking. I am a self-professed technology evangelist if you will. My goal is to preach about the benefits of technology to society and to consumers and businesses as well. I do so in many different ways. For over 25 years, I’ve been a freelance journalist. I write articles for about 30 publications, mostly in the US and in Canada, and very mainstream ones too like USA Today, I’ve been writing for them every week for 22 years, as well as AARP, the retirement organization, Costco Connection magazine, MSN, Yahoo, and so on and so forth.

I write books, too. I’ve written 16 books over the years. The last one was Apple Watch for Dummies.

I’ve hosted radio shows for many years, both a syndicated show in the United States called Tech It Out, as well as three shows in Canada. I also do quite a bit of TV work. I have a show that’s resuming on Bloomberg TV and Fox Business in the summer of 2020 called Tech Impact. That’s on, again, the impact of technology on society. I’m also a guest on several TV stations as a tech specialist, for lack of a better title.

My whole approach, Yuval, to everything that I do is what I call “breaking down geek speak into street speak” — demystifying technology as much as I aim to celebrate it. There’s a lot of geeks out there like myself, I wear my pocket protector proudly [laughs], who can talk the talk, and I love that kind of stuff, those are the kinds of podcasts that I subscribe to, for example, and the types of articles that I like to read, but I really try to cater to everyone, even if you’re not so tech-savvy. That’s always been my approach, whether it’s in writing articles and books, on the radio, on TV, or in my keynote speeches. I love seeing the audience’s face when they get a cool concept, like when you see that “aha!” moment. When the light bulb goes off, that’s very exciting to me.

Yuval: That’s fantastic. Sounds like there are three of you, and I know there’s only one.

Marc: Thank you. I appreciate that. You know how it is when you’re self-employed, a freelancer. You’ve got to hustle. It’s feast or famine, so I try to stay busy. I’ve been very fortunate in covering technology as long as I have. As I mentioned, it’s just over a quarter of a century. In the tech world, that’s like 100 years, like dog years. I’ve been very fortunate to have some … Even though I’m freelance, I’ve had some regular work for a long time. I’ve been able to build it over the years, and I’ve very grateful for that, but I work hard. I love this. Obviously, I’m super passionate about this space on how technology can enrich and enhance your life, personally and professionally. I try to serve as a bit of a translator to those who just need a little bit of help in understanding what’s trending and why.

Yuval: Absolutely. Over these 25 years, you must have seen a couple of, or quite a few, revolutions. If you could think about it, what are the two or three biggest revolutions that you’ve covered? Then if you could look into a crystal ball, what might be the next one?

 I think one of the more exciting evolutions in tech is the move from stationary computing, having to go to a dedicated spot, like a desktop computer, to portable computing, where we’re on the go with laptops and smartphones and tablets, to wearable computing, like smartwatches and smartglasses and some other innovations there. The next step would be from wearables to embeddables. We’re still a little early on that, but this fusion of man and machine, if you will, I think that’s coming down the road. We’re still just scratching the surface on the wearable side of things. People just think of Fitbits right now or Apple Watch, but there’s a lot more to wearables I believe.

I find that very exciting, just as I’ve found the evolution in interfacing with technology being another significant change. OK, so one trend is moving from a dedicated spot you had to go to for information or communication to having it on your body. The second major shift would be the evolution of the interface. What I mean by that is that we evolved from a keyboard, then a mouse, and then to touch, to voice. I find smart speakers and voice assistants very exciting, really opening up what’s possible when interfacing with your tech.

As I mentioned earlier, I write for AARP, catering to seniors, and in Canada, Zoomer Magazine, also for that very big group, a growing demographic of aging people who want to adopt technology, they want to use it, but they just need maybe to drop some of those barriers of entry. I don’t mean price. I mean just in the complications and trying to wrestle with your technology. I think voice has come a long way with the likes of Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, and to a lesser extent, Siri from Apple and Cortana from Microsoft. I find the evolution of the interface the second biggest thing to happen.

The third, I guess, would be the evolution of the cloud, going from local storage and local computing to having these massive servers in cyber-space housing all of your information, first as a storage solution that could protect your files from local threats, like a hard drive malfunction or fire or flood or theft or power surge or what have you, to running software and platforms in the cloud. I find that very exciting. And really big cost savings to companies, instead of having to build and maintain a server room with all that. Just leveraging these platforms out there, I find that pretty exciting as well. Wearing my business hat, I guess, for a moment, but also for consumers. It’s never been easier to protect all of your information by embracing free cloud services, even the likes of Dropbox and Microsoft OneDrive and iCloud and Google Cloud and Box and all that.
I think those are pretty cool. As far as where we’re going next, I really do think, other than what I’ve mentioned already, we’re going to see a lot more artificial intelligence, a lot more automation. Automation is obviously a super broad term, but that’s everything from IoT, internet of things, where our devices are going to be talking to one another over 5G networks, where you can send, for example, information right from your wrist to your physician with health data, things like that, without needing a middleman like a phone or anything like that, to I think we’re going to see more autonomous vehicles, which I think is exciting, cars and ridesharing services and trucks without a human driver. Still a few years away from that, but very exciting. I think it’s a matter of when not if.

And even robots. Speaking of automation, machines that will either have a dedicated job, like a surveillance bot that looks like a dog, if you will, walking on four limbs around an office building to protect your employees and your information, but also humanoid robots going down the road, obviously in many years, where we have something, someone, living with us that is like a robotic nanny, if you will, where it’s bipedal. It’ll look kind of human with facial expressions and will have very natural speech, just like we have like with Amazon Alexa and Google, but obviously with the lips moving and the facial expressions. If you think of like Hanson Robotics and Sophia, that kind of thing. It’s just going to get smarter and smarter. I find that very exciting.

Then finally, mixed reality, this fusion between the physical and the virtual or the physical and the digital. It’s happening already with things like augmented reality glasses and smartphones that all have this feature. We’re finding some really clever use case scenarios for it, but it’s only going to evolve as we have wearable glasses, wearable contacts that have the ability to superimpose digital information on top, and VR. A book or a movie, like Ready Player One, which is obviously science fiction, but where the virtual world is so much more appealing. It’s kind of sad in a way, but then the physical world in that particular piece of fiction, you can don a suit and be whoever you want in this virtual world. You have that avatar that is you represented. People are going to be congregating there, attending religious ceremonies and dating and attending virtual concerts and sitting in school. That’s going to happen increasingly in cyberspace. I think mixed reality is very exciting on a few levels.
I don’t want to take up this entire podcast episode on this, but you asked me to look into my crystal ball, and those are a couple of things I’m most excited about.

Yuval: That’s perfect. The tech world was going in a certain direction, and then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Now, we definitely see a lot of demand for touchless. If we were to meet face-to-face, we wouldn’t shake hands today, I would guess. People are looking to do touchless interactions with door locks and their pizza delivery and whatever it is that’s happening. What’s the impact that you see of this pandemic on the tech world, whether it’s home security or other gadgets that you cover?

Marc: Yeah. I think the big question is, are we going to go back to “normal” where everything was exactly as it was before and this was all just going to be a blotch on the recent history of humankind, spring, maybe summer of 2020? Or are we going to adopt new ways to work and play and communicate? I think we’ve already seen touchless technology, whether it’s a means to authenticate you, like already most iPhones out there today, they’ve already abandoned the biometric solution of a fingerprint in favor of your face, Face ID. That’s an example of touchless. If you adopt that and then it becomes more prevalent in the home as a way to let you into your own home without a key, that technology isn’t so far fetched. We’ve got that already today.

Then there’s touchless for convenience sake, or now with COVID-19, this coronavirus pandemic, maybe also for cleanliness sake. Hygiene is top of mind. I’ve been writing about, for example, the U by Moen kitchen faucet that debuted in April. This is a hands-free kitchen faucet. We’re used to this kind of convenience at a restaurant bathroom or in an airport where you don’t have to touch the handle, which isn’t necessarily the cleanest thing to do, but now we’ve got that kind of modern convenience in our home and in our kitchen. In fact, the U by Moen actually goes one step further and it’s got Alexa and Google support and app support. You can actually put a pot of water underneath the faucet and say, “Give me one cup of boiling water.” You can specify the amount you want and the temperature you want, which is kind of neat, but that’s sort of a … I don’t want to get too off-topic.

Touchless is something that we’re seeing a lot more of. Is it going to have a long-term impact on what we’re going through now in the spring of 2020? We shall see, but I think that already it’s possible to still interface with technology without necessarily touching it. As I mentioned earlier, voice is becoming a lot more of an interface mechanism where you don’t need to touch information. I know that when my kids are doing homework and they want to look up a fact for a history class or geography lesson, they’ll just ask the smart speaker that’s beside them for the answer without having to go to a browser and type it in.

Yuval: Absolutely. I think we also see that … You mentioned that you write for Zoomer Magazine and for AARP. Certainly, in senior living centers where there are a lot of people who might not be as young or as immune, physically strong as some of the younger generation, that touchless thing, in my opinion, is becoming important. You mentioned gadgets becoming smarter, IoT, face recognition, voice recognition, cloud connectivity. All these things are going to require energy in whatever device that you have them, whether it’s on your wrist or on your door or on your coffee table. Of course, my company makes wireless power to help get rid of the batteries and power cords for these devices. If, other than maybe your phone or tablet, there was one device at home that you could power wirelessly, never have to charge again, never have to connect to the wall, what would this or these devices be?

Marc: Yeah. That’s a good question. I would say two that come to mind. One would be a smartwatch, a wearable, because they don’t have great batteries. Some of them are better than others, but generally speaking like one day apiece. There are some exceptions here and there, especially if it’s just like a mono screen, like a black and white screen Fitbit kind of thing.

Let’s say Apple Watch, for example. You’re still getting one, maybe two days max. The catch is that you’re supposed to make it a habit to lay it on a charger overnight when you maybe charge up your smartphone, but a lot of people like wearing their Apple Watch to bed for capturing sleep data or as an alarm clock without disturbing your significant other, having it vibrate on your wrist or what have you. When are you supposed to charge this up? I could see smartwatches with Wi-Charge, for example, being appealing. As small as those devices are, the batteries are even smaller. If that was at all possible, I’m not sure if technically that’s too small for Wi-Charge, at least for the foreseeable future. That would be one from a practical standpoint so you can wear it all the time.

Secondly would be smart speakers. We’re talking I think 170 million of them are in American homes already. I think that’s just Amazon, not even Google. We’re talking about something that requires an AC outlet, but people like to place them around the home. Some are even mounting them to their walls. I have seen, and have been sent, some battery solutions for smart speakers, but they’re tied to a specific shape and as you likely know, Amazon and Google, they evolve these quite a bit. As soon as they change the form factor, that base, the battery underneath, it’s done. It’s not useful anymore because it doesn’t fit the dock. Secondly, that battery doesn’t last too long because the smart speaker is always on and always listening for that wake word. I think having a stationary smart speaker in a kitchen or in a bedroom or in a home office without having to plug it into the wall, having more options where to place it so you don’t see that cable, that would be also welcomed, in my world at least.

Yuval: As we come close to the end of our discussion today, for you as a consumer, if there was a wireless power source that met all your requirements, that was long distance, meaning you didn’t have to be close to the charger, that was safe, that was efficient, that could power a lot of your devices, would you prefer to look at it as a one-time purchase, like a television I buy it once and that’s it, or more as a utility, internet service or electricity, where there’s just a monthly fee for wireless charging?

Marc: Personally, I think it would be a lot more successful if it was a one-time thing. I think a lot of people are suffering from subscription fatigue, where they’re paying a monthly cost for their mobile phone, their internet, maybe their cable TV. They’re paying for their favorite streaming services, like Netflix or Amazon Prime Video or Disney+ or Apple TV+, and so on. There’s services for your car, AAA.

Marc: There’s just so many things that we’re paying for monthly that while it may be more lucrative to a company to have an ongoing revenue stream with monthly services, that’s always the preferred way to make money by any company of course, it’s ongoing, I think that for it to succeed I don’t know if people are willing, especially as it’s relatively new technology. I don’t know if people will want to pay every month unless it’s just so inexpensive that you’re like, “Whatever. $5 a month? Why not?” Instead of making a big investment of a couple of hundred bucks.

Personally, I’m like many who are trying to reduce the ongoing fees that I’m paying. I would much prefer a one-time, just hit me up once. That’s it. That’s what I would prefer. I would be curious to know what I guess the general public would prefer.

Yuval: Absolutely. I think one of the things we’re seeing is that sometimes the existing service providers, maybe an electricity company or phone company, might just offer you this as an upcharge. You’re already paying them $50 a month. Now, pay them $55 and you’ll also get these benefits. That may be easier to stomach than yet another line item on your credit card bill.

Marc: Yeah. I wish I was paying only $50 a month to my utility company [laughs]. Maybe it’s an occupational hazard with all the tech I’ve got plugged into the wall, but no, I pay through the nose for electricity and then, to a lesser extent, for natural gas and water. These are the kinds of expenses that I didn’t even get to earlier. Look, I think if I ran a company that sold technology, of course, everybody would … they would no doubt prefer, the board and investors would no doubt prefer, a recurring expense, a recurring revenue, a monthly subscription, but I just think that a one-time fee might be more desirable. That’s just from my point of view.

Yuval: Absolutely. The $50 a month was more of a figure of speech.

Marc: Yes, I just had to chuckle when you said that. I don’t know what the electricity costs are like where you live, but nevertheless. Yeah. No doubt.

Yuval: Marc, it sounds like you’re really hard to miss, but if there was one or a couple of places, where could people get in touch with you or go to learn more about the work that you’re doing?

Marc: Thanks so much, Yuval. If someone prefers to contact me privately, my website is marcsaltzman.com. Then my email address is there. If you’re on social media, I try to stay busy on social with a daily tech tip of the day. I link to my articles and my videos and my radio interviews and so on. I’m on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook, and YouTube. I guess Twitter is the platform I’m most active on, and I’m @marc_saltzman. Again, it’s Marc with a C. Yeah. Thank you so much.

Yuval: Perfect. Thank all three of you for joining me today.

Marc: You’re so funny. Thanks, Yuval. Be well.

Yuval: Have a good one.

Marc: Stay healthy. Thank you.

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