Michael Kaufman – Founder and Editor-in-Chief at The Architechnologist

13 February 2019

Michael Kaufman is a Father, Technophile, Journalist, and Advisor. He is the founder + EIC of ‘the Architechnologist’, Director for ‘RethinkToys’. We discuss whether consumers really need long-range wireless power, and where it is likely to be adopted.

Our conversation was recorded on Feb 5th, 2019

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

Michael Kaufman (Founder and Editor-in-Chief at The Architechnologist) :  Thank you so much for having me. It’s great to be here.

Yuval: So who are you and what do you do?

Michael: I’m Michael Kaufman. I am, by trade, a registered architect. I did a hard pivot about fifteen years ago and went more into the consumer technology space, how that integrates with the world around us, how modern technology is evolving so fast and changing how we experience it, how we deal with technology, how it’s becoming part of our everyday lives. Even the little things that we don’t realize are technologies, they are, and what would’ve been magic thirty years ago is now in a little piece of glass in our pocket.

And now I run a website called The Architechnologist which is a mouthful, but we talk a lot about the internet of things and again, that merging of consumer technology, the end-user focus of modern electronics and modern technologies and how it changes our perception of the world around us.

Yuval: Perfect. We at Wi-Charge obviously focus on long-range wireless charging which is delivering power from a distance. One question that we get from time to time is, “Who needs it?” I mean, if I want to charge my phone I could connect it to a cable, and it’s going to get charged. I’ve got devices around my home that are battery operated or that are connected to the wall. So while wireless charging or long-range wireless charging is certainly cool, maybe it’s a technology that no one needs. What do you think?

Michael: Well I think it’s a really great question because many years ago when I first did this pivot away from being an architect first, I realized that there was this magical thing called wireless charging that back then really was kind of a twinkle in somebody’s eye. And when I would go to the electronics show out in Las Vegas or any number of different places to see kind of emerging technologies, there was always somebody representing this idea, and it was not powerful enough. It was not fast enough. It was not any number of things that would’ve made it a non-starter, but look today and see … I have two different wireless chargers in my car. I have one on my desk. I have one next to my bed. I have one in the living room so that when my daughter comes home from school she just throws her phone into a basket and it starts to charge.

It’s not necessarily about answering a question that nobody needs. It’s about answering a question that nobody has asked yet. And I think that that’s the real answer. It’s a technology that’s answering something that we don’t know we want yet. But once it starts to get a foothold and starts to be adopted then we will see it become a much bigger thing, and then just a few years later if history is any proof, it’ll be just kind of everywhere. And everybody will say, “How did we do it before this?”

Yuval: But the examples that you give are contact charge, right? In the car or in the living room, you sort of have to take your phone and put it on a charging pad.

Michael: Exactly.

Yuval: Which is great, but do you think there is a need for the long-range charging? For your phone not having to be on any charging pad and just charge itself, or for a speaker to be on the wall without batteries or power cable.

Michael: Need? Need, probably not. But I don’t need contact charging either. It’s a convenience issue. It’s a cleanliness issue, and I use that word in air quotes that nobody can see. Because I have a few wireless cameras in my home, and they only get turned on when we go away, or when we’re out of the house for an extended period of time. But every time we’re going away, by force of habit I change the batteries. Because I wanted the little ones that didn’t have yet another wire hanging down the wall.

And this would answer that question straight out of the gate. It would be charged, it would have an internal battery that would hold a charge for a day or two, and it would just kind of constantly being trickle charged through the distance charging. And the same with phones. Does it matter that I lose the cable and gain a pad? That’s a tiny little step forward, but with true distance charging where it just happens. I walk into a room, or I get to my bedroom, or wherever I have that broadcast happening. Or for that matter my little dream that was the same dream that happened with wireless charging.

You walk into a coffee shop, every table has a pad in it. You come in, you put your phone down. Hopefully … I’m from New York, hopefully nobody grabs it. And it charges your phone. That happened in a few places, but because you are limited to putting your phone on this little puck, it was not as adopted in big numbers as one might have hoped. But having the same technology with distance charging would be, could be, a game-changer.

Yuval: Absolutely. And by the way, the way I sometimes answer it is I say, “Well, people have said that they could achieve their goals by connecting a cable and that it’s perfectly fine, but they said that about WiFi. You know, fifteen years ago, right?”

Michael: Exactly.

Yuval: And now no one can imagine, or would want to go back, to life without WiFi where you had to dial-up to your internet service provider or make sure that your computer is physically connected with an Ethernet cable to some-

Michael: And just even look at the way the hardware has evolved. I mean, pick any modern slim laptop. The MacBook that I have in front of me has only USB-C. If I want to connect to an Ethernet cable, I have to get a special adapter that will connect to an Ethernet cable. With their being technologied out of existence. And I think that’s just gonna kinda be the way that it continues to evolve.

Yuval: So let’s assume that long-range wireless charging existed in a widespread way. Who do you think would adopt it first? Would it be business people like in the case of cell phones many years ago? Would it be technology geeks like we see in virtual reality? Would it be consumers? If you had to guess, if you had to look into your crystal ball, which group would adopt it first?

Michael: I think that as with most evolving technologies, ones that are really really bleeding edge, it’s going to be answered by wherever it makes a financial decision. It always comes down to the pocketbook. If the first person that puts out, to use the example I used before, the first company that puts out a truly wireless camera system and you don’t need to run wires for power or swap the batteries out. We’ve already gotten rid of the wires for connectivity. So it’s all WiFi. So that’s saved. But if that’s the first place that makes this happen at a reasonable price point, then that’s where it’ll happen first. It’ll be that kind of consumer model.

If its first place, that it kind of becomes widespread, is I don’t know, laptops or cell phones and it’s more reasonable for somebody to put that in their conference rooms then business people will pick it up first. It really depends where a financial advantage comes from. And there’s always gonna be the early adopters and I am a chronic early adopter much to my wife’s chagrin. I have more technology that never quite made it sitting my home collection, my museum of technology that I thought was awesome but nobody else did, then I am happy to admit. But someday I’ll be able to open a whole museum of it because there’s a lot of it on my shelves.

Yuval: So you mention money and making financial sense. Let’s take the cell phone example. If we go back to WiFi, and let’s assume you didn’t have WiFi, and I allowed you to use WiFi for two weeks on your phone or your MacBook, then you’d never want to go back, right? And so let’s assume that I allowed you to use, or provided you with the opportunity to use long-range wireless charging. So your phone is always charged. You don’t have to think about it. I am guessing you wouldn’t want to go back to cable or contact charging either.

But the question is, how much would you pay for it? So if a cell phone sells for say $500, would you be willing to pay $1, $5, $100, $1,000? How much do you think you’ll be willing to pay for that extra feature, that extra option, of wireless charging?

Michael: If we’re using specifically cell phones as the example then it’s kind of difficult to quantify because you’ve got such a huge, broad range of price points already in phones.Going back to my daughter, I bought her the cheapest phone that I could possibly find because well, she’s a teenager and she’s going to drop it, break it, lose it, lend it to a friend for a year.

So it’s really gotta be one of those things where it becomes so ubiquitous and available everywhere to put a real kind of financial dollar sign on it. Because for her, she’s gonna use whatever is available. Where for me where I blow through my battery on my phone in half a day before I have to recharge it just because I’m constantly using it. I run my business almost entirely off of my phone.

And I would love to be able to get in my car and there’s an adapter in my … a broadcast transmitter in my car charging my phone that way. Like I said, in my car, I have two wireless pads that I can just put my phone in, and that’s very convenient because my wife, even with a totally different phone, can just put her phone into exactly the same charging pad, and this would work the same way.

So that’s, again, that ubiquitousness of it. That everywhere ability is where it really becomes a dollar sign. But once you accept that, then putting it on to a few hundred dollars as an added feature, I think it’s just going to be one of those things that you don’t really get a choice. Just like wireless charging. Even if I never used it, and only went with a cable because I have all these cables that I can use and that are everywhere, and I don’t need to worry about it. Then that’s what I’ll do.

But it’s, for a few hundred dollars, I think adding that to a phone as a feature is going to be a big thing.

Yuval: Got it. So let’s talk about devices at the home. When you think about a smart speaker like an Amazon Echo or Google Home smart speaker, that became possible because you had on one had speech recognition and some AI, and on the other hand WiFi that was powerful enough so you could actually stream music to wherever you are in your home.

If you think of devices that are either wired today or battery-operated, and you could unwire them. You could disconnect them from the power outlet or you could give them more featured if they’re battery operated. Do you have a sense of what devices you’d like to see in a home or in an office that would first benefit from wireless charging? You mentioned cameras.

Michael: Absolutely.

Yuval: But is there anything else that you’re thinking of right now?

Michael: The big one, other than cameras and I think that is by far the biggest one that I was able to think of because you kind of want those stashed away in corners. Wherever they’re gonna have the best view, and that’s not necessarily, and usually quite honestly … It’s the least convenient place for running power to by its very nature.

The other one that jumped to my thought, and again it’s that internet of things connected devices mindset that we have at The Architechnologist where connected deadbolts … Anything that’s connecting up to the IoT system. So think about all of those examples that you have with your Echos and your Google Homes and all of those. I can unlock my front door through my smart speaker. I can … If I wanted to put a subwoofer somewhere in the apartment, I always hated having to have that one wire running across the floor, and we got rid of the audio cable, and that was great, but you still needed to have it plugged into the wall. I’d love to be able to run a speaker and put it anywhere.

The other thing that was an interesting idea, and I think all the parents out there will appreciate it, is potentially doing it with kids toys where I don’t know how many of those rechargeable batteries I own, but I know it’s a bucketful. If there was a way to have those toys just kind of juice themselves up, even if it was a way to do swappable batteries through the distance charging, that might be an interesting thing.

Again, it really depends where it’s gonna make the most impact on the bottom line.

Yuval: And we see people thinking about it on two levels. The first is, you mention, “Oh, I have this device that’s connected. I could disconnect it from the wall, or I have this where I need to replace batteries, and wouldn’t it be great if I don’t have to worry about my deadbolt running out of battery. And it would just be there.” And that’s great. I think that the next level is even more exciting. What could I do if I had more power, or more portability, than I have today?

And to me, that’s where we’re really gonna get some amazing innovation.

Michael: I think you’re right, and I think that once one thing catches on … So let’s say hypothetically … We use my example, and the one that hits first are cameras in the home. And you buy a set of these cameras from whoever, and it comes with a wireless transmitter to transmit the power to it. And you figure out how it works, and you get it all set up.

And then the same company says, “Well look, you’ve got this transmitter already. You can buy a case for your phone, and it’ll just charge your phone.” Then you’ve got something. Because then it’s made the jump to another product. And once you have it on … And then you say, “Oh well I love this thing on my phone. I never have to plug my phone in ever again,” then all of a sudden the coffee shop down the street, they’re gonna buy one of those transmitters even if they don’t have the camera to say, you know, distance wireless charging. Come on in and have a cup of coffee and charge your phone without ever having to worry about it.

Then it’s just going to snowball and you’ve got a whole different kind of echo system to worry about.

Yuval: Absolutely. So if you were controlling, and I know it’s sort of a difficult question, but if you were controlling the work plan of Wi-Charge for say the next year and a half, and we would say, “You know, Michael, just tell us what to do, and we’re gonna do it.” What would you have us focus on?

Michael: I think the big question right now is just the same that contact charging was seeing five, ten years ago. Before all the big names had bought in and everybody had gone to a standard, and I called it back then. I said this is gonna be something that somewhere along the line will get adopted by something that will snowball and cause an avalanche of adoption.

The trick right now is gonna be to find what that trigger is, and could it be phones? Maybe. Everybody’s got one. But you’ve gotta update your phone or carry around a big case that does the magic. And we saw that that didn’t really work all that well. It was again, the early adopters that took that on. So I would find that one easy hit to bring the adoption to most people at the most value to cause it to be … To cause the adoption of the standard. And once you get that, then you can start to say, “Look, the same technology works here.” I love being able to charge my watch wirelessly. That was way more attractive to me than charging my phone, but the phone came first. Because everybody had one.

Yuval: Understood. Yeah so focus on a use case that people just gotta have.

Michael: Exactly.

Yuval: …and can have soon enough. So Michael, I think I’ve taken plenty of your time. How could people connect with you to learn more about what you’re doing?

Michael: Well, the easiest way is through the website which is Architechnologist.com. It’s … Well, it’s spelled just the way it sounds. It’s not archeologist. It’s architechnologist.com. You can also find me on just about all social media as TheMrKaufman. You can reach out to me there. I’m happy to discuss further.

Yuval: Michael, thank you so much for your time today.

Michael: Thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure.

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