Predictions for Wireless Power with Mark Vena from Moor Insights

11 December 2018

Mark Vena is a proven strategic technology executive with more than 25 years in the high-tech space with many well-known companies such as Compaq, Dell, Alienware, Synaptics, Segway, Sling Media, and Neato Robotics. He has led and managed numerous highly popular consumer technology brands in the PC, gaming, consumer electronics, and “smart home” space. Mark and I cover wireless power predictions for 2019 and beyond.

This episode was recorded in December 2018

Yuval Boger (CMO, Wi-Charge, @TheChargeGuy):: Hello Mark, and thanks for joining me today.

Mark Vena (Moor Insights and Strategy): Hey, glad to be here.

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

Mark: My name is Mark Vena, and I am the Senior Analyst who covers the consumer automation, home automation, smart home, console gaming, and security space for Moor Insights and Strategy, which is one of the leading analyst technology firms in the country. I always get a chance to talk and work with people on some very cool and exciting stuff. And certainly the topic we’re gonna talk about today is obviously very cool, and I think it’s gonna be a very interesting thing to discuss for next year.

Yuval: Absolutely. So as we head towards the end of the year, and towards CES in 2019, we were thinking about what do we at Wi-Charge think we’re gonna see in the next couple years, and I was hoping to get your feedback on some of that.

Mark: Sure.

Yuval: The first thing we’re seeing is that we believe wireless charging will become … Or long-range wireless charging will become as prevalent as wifi. Meaning that people will start expecting to be able to charge their phones at coffee shops and public spaces, just like today they look for the wifi sign on the door. What do you think?

Mark: I think it’s gonna become … You’re gonna start to see, finally, the movement into really ubiquitous, true wireless charging. You and I discussed this, Yuval, at Pepcom a few weeks ago, but the fact of the matter is there’s a lot of, I think, misinformation. Consumers especially are confused about what wireless charging really means. The technology that you’re focused on, and you’re trying to bring to market is really genuine wireless charging. It’s not inductive charging, which I think most consumers are familiar with. The new iPhones have been out for a bit, and of course, Samsung has been on the market with, quote-unquote, inductive charging on their phones for some time.

Mark: I really think that gonna be a big thing for next year because it’s gonna really open up incredible usage models that really couldn’t exist before because you’ll always have access to continuous power in various places. Not just coffee shops, but a variety of different things. I’m very excited that what may happen next year as we’re finally gonna see some really aggressive movement into that area.

Yuval: Just a quick follow-up on that. How do you think people will … Who will pay for that? Is that the coffee shop will just pay for this equipment because it attracts more customers? Do you think it will be some kind of subscription service? I pay a few bucks a month, and then I can charge anywhere. Maybe advertising supported. Do you have a preference for how this would be?

Mark: I think it’s interesting. I think you’ll see probably a very similar approach that you have with wifi today. If you go into places like Starbucks for example, they don’t obviously charge you for free wifi, and the inductive charging they have at their various tables, they don’t charge for that as well. But I could see that in def venues where if you want to have access to that capability if your phone has the technology for that, I think people would gladly pay for that honestly. So I think it will depend on the venue, and the entity that will be behind paying for it, but there’ll be a mixture of non-advertising, advertising and free versus non-free models. I think we’ll see a mixture of several of those things.

Yuval: Yeah, maybe an opportunity for loyalty programs. Just like … I think if I stay at a Hilton these days if I’m a Hilton member I get free wifi and otherwise they want to charge me for it. So maybe we’ll see something like that.

Mark: Yes. I agree I agree.

Yuval: The second thing we see, or we believe, is that device sizes will shrink. I’m not talking about phones. Phones are large and a certain size because of the display and the user interface. But if you look at a window sensor for an alarm or anything that’s battery-operated, we see that the battery is taking a lot of the space today. And if there was no battery or a much smaller battery, we believe the device could shrink. Do you see it the same way?

Mark: I do, I do. I think there’s a couple of opportunities here. I think not only … I think that precious real estate within an IOT device, cameras, there’s all different types of devices that fit into that description, but it especially sensors because door sensors and things like that are especially small. A half an inch of real estate in a small form factor solution is a big deal. In addition to that, batteries are not cheap. I think you’ll see an opportunity for some cost to come out of different products like that as well. There’s other environmental, of course, benefits I think that come from that in terms of freeing a small device from a battery. I certainly think that you’ll start to see that happen.

Mark: Of course, the implication for that, of course, is that once you pull a battery out of a product and it opens up real estate, it opens up opportunities to shrink a product a bit. It has an opportunity to add more functionality that you might not otherwise have that opportunity to do if you had to plan for a battery in a product. I think it opens up a number of interesting ID, industrial design, and functionality opportunities with products.

Yuval: So to that extent, we think that it may be that long-range wireless charging opens up a new category of products. One is because you don’t have the battery, and two because you can have mobile products that are not wired, that are not connected to a power outlet, but that could draw much more power than they could draw from a battery today. In our calculations even a hundred times more, and still supported by wireless charging.

Mark: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Well, I think it’s really interesting to me. I talked a little bit about using these models. And one of the things my firm does, Moor Insights and Strategies, that we do spend a tremendous amount of time looking at different usage models. There’s a lot of firms on the market that do great things around market sizing, and how big markets are, and forecasts, and things like that. Our firm really tends to focus on, very strongly, the possibilities of changes in different usage models because of new technology that comes to the market.

Mark: One great example would be cameras. Smart cameras are obviously a very, very popular category right now. You know, the wireless capability is terrific, but the fact of the matter is that if you want to put a wireless camera outside of your home, whether it’s on a roof, or whether you want to put it in the driveway, or in some other location that you might be able to get wifi access, it’s actually more difficult to get power to a product today than it is to get wifi access to it. I think that you’re gonna see an explosion in very interesting usage models changes where different products now can be used outside of a location where you would not normally be able to get battery power to, or it would be very difficult to do that with a cable.

Yuval: And related to that, one other trend we believe would come is that wireless charging will inspire a new wave of do-it-yourself installation. Today for instance, if I want to install whole-house audio and I want to put a speaker in the ceiling of every room, then to drill the whole is something that I can do, but then if I have to wire it and pull electricity to it, then I have to get an electrician. And maybe it’s a hundred bucks an hour, and then I start thinking is it really worth it. With wireless charging, perhaps more of these things, whether it’s home security, or home audio, or something like that could be more do-it-yourself fashion.

Mark: Oh, absolutely. Think of things like smart locks, for example. While smart locks are … There’s a number of good ones on the market, they are really interesting. A lot of the smart locks on the market require some type of battery, and it requires some type of battery that has to be charged over and over again. I think that not is it very inconvenient, typically the battery fails when you least want it to fail. So I think that there’ll be a whole host of devices within the home that depended on some type of battery, that once it gets freed up from not having that burden, it will open up a variety of different opportunities to make those types of smart products even more useful.

Yuval: Absolutely. Now, the Holy Grail some say, of wireless charging, is phone charging. Imagine if you didn’t have to put your phone on the tablet, on a charging pad, or connect it to a cable. Today, every phone has wifi, and newer phones have induction charging. Do we believe that long-range wireless charging will become an option in pretty much every mobile phone and tablet in the future? Do you agree, and how soon do you see that happening?

Mark: I think you’ll start to see it start to emerge probably in the back half of next year with some of the more innovative phone manufacturers out there. The challenge is of course, that Apple and Samsung command a very, very large part of the market out there, and I always tend to think that Samsung always tends to be more on the leading edge. It’s probably gonna be more interested in technology like this because it can truly differentiate in the market. Let’s face it, Apple was very much late to the market with these inductive charging.

Mark: The thing that’s interesting to me about the approach that you folks are taking, is that even with inductive charging and cellphones … I’ll give you a great example. I’ve got a new 10, iPhone X Max, that I bought on launch day when Apple came out with them. I like to use that phone with an inductive charger. In fact, I’m not even using an Apple charger, I’m using Samsung. Samsung has a very inexpensive inductive charger that stands on its side so when the phone is laying down on the pad, it’s charging. It works about 80% of the time, but if you don’t get it directly the right way, on the pad itself, you don’t get that continuous length. There might be an LED on the charging pad that’s telling me it’s charging, but the advantage to your approach is that from a linking standpoint if the product is equipped to accept lighting, infrared as a charging source, your continuity of charging will be much more high-confidence. Would you agree with that?

Yuval: I would, yeah. I think that today you get all these feedback mechanisms. Is it charging, is it not charging, but it’s one more thing that I wouldn’t want to think about. I just want my phone to get charged. Today, we’ve gotten used to having to manage our battery, but … I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’ve got so much stuff that I need to manage aside from the battery that if that could be taken away, that would be a wonderful thing.

Mark: Right. I don’t mean to poo-poo inductive charging. I think it certainly a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t really deliver on the potential that I think a lot of folks are looking for with not just mobile devices, but some of the other categories of devices that we’ve talked about. As you said, people really want their smart home devices, and smartphones, and other devices like that to work almost like in a dial tone … I like using an analogy, the dial tone scenario. When you pick up the phone, 99.9999% of the time, you’re gonna hear a dial tone on the other side. I think that’s absolutely analogous to the charging scenario that you pointed out because you really don’t want to think about it. Did I place the phone on the right angle so it’s getting a continuous charge? Well, that’s really not something you really want to worry about. I think that your approach greatly eliminates that scenario.

Yuval: And related to that, do I really need to have the phone touch something. Think about it this way, my notebook PC like anyone else’s has wifi, but imagine that if I wanted wireless internet I would actually need to touch my wireless router. That doesn’t make sense, right?

Mark: Right.

Yuval: Yet we extend the same thing to phone charging.

Mark: Yeah, and you could even extend this to cars, for example. People have been … Have grown-up with the reality that you had to plug your phone in with some type of USB cable. Now, more and more cars, not all of them, but more and more cars are being equipped with some type of inductive pad within the car. To me, that means the phone has to be laying down on something, which is not the most ideal way you want to have your cell phone in your car. You would like … I don’t want to encourage people to text when they’re using their cell phone, but let’s face it, when you hae your cellphone in your car, it’s not terribly useful if the phone itself … If you’re using it, let’s say, for navigation and it’s laying down on some type of pad in the console of a car. There are all kinds of different usage model scenarios, I think, that benefit with the infrared approach that you’re taking.

Yuval: So how does that impact the mobile worker? Today, the mobile worker … It’s a little bit like a misnomer because I think that, almost like a Roomba robotic vacuum, you have to come back to be charged every cycle, every few hours. Maybe now, if you don’t have to do that, what does that do for the person who works with an augmented reality headset at a warehouse, or the person who checks you in at a car rental facility. How does that impact the workflow?

Mark: Well, I think from a workforce standpoint, especially with enterprise or corporate applications, some of the ones you’re describing … We’ve been previously taking mostly about consumer applications. I think it’s a big deal. When you go to the Hertz rental return car center, and you’re returning your car, and they have some type of device to check the car in. That device has to be charged every three or four hours. There’s a cost associated with that. I’m sure what Hertz does is they cycle charged devices so the person checking the car in is never not without a device. There’s obviously a cost associated with that, and there are cost benefits that really come out of being able to have access to continuous power most of the time. Or at least, mitigate the charging capability down dramatically. So I really think that even from an enterprise, corporate standpoint, there’s lots of goodness that will come out of really genuine IR based wireless charging.

Yuval: The last thing that we’re seeing, or maybe it’s wishful thinking, but at least we’d like to see it happen, is the question of standardization. On one hand, standards are boring, certainly boring to read, but on the other hand to get enough vendors that are signed up to do a particular flavor, or multiple flavors, of wireless charging I think would really push the industry forward, in spite of being boring. What do you think?

Mark: Well, yeah. Standards have obviously … I think you hit the nail on the head. Standards are typically a very boring topic for most consumers, but from a business standpoint, from a deployment standpoint, standards are what helps get a product, or a platform, to be adopted very quickly. I do think standards in this area will be very, very important. Meaning that when you walk into a coffee shop, you don’t want to walk into a coffee shop that only has IR wire charging for a specific type of flavor of IR. You really … The market will obviously benefit if a partner, or a series of partners, get together and have an industry platform. I think from a time-to-market standpoint, since you folks are so aggressively working this from an entry into the market standpoint, and you folks will be in a very strong position to establish that standard.

Mark: Standards are big deals. Ask anybody … If you look at the PC market with Windows. Windows would not have been the game-changer in the PC space had it not been the fact that Windows became very quickly a standard from an operating systems standpoint in the ’80s and ’90s. It’s a very, very big deal.

Yuval: Ask anyone who drives a car. We take it for granted that all the cars use the same kind of fuel and the same kind of fuel nozzle, but imagine if there were Ford gas stations and Honda gas stations, and I would need to pick the right one to refuel.

Mark: Yes. That’s absolutely true. Again, I think people take standards for granted, but there are benefits, there’s scale, there’s peace of mind. In terms of when you’re looking for gas at 10:00 at night, I don’t have to worry about going to a particular gas station. Let’s face it, in a way that’s really happening with electric cars right now because … Not that there isn’t a standard, but the issue with electric cars is that sometimes you can’t find an electric charging station wherever you are, and that creates this anxiety about if I’m driving a long distance, and I have to find a charging bay, or charging station, half way through my journey, I have to plan for that. Standards are a big deal, and I think that will probably be one of the biggest advantages, and biggest consequences, of some of the work that you folks are doing. So no, it’s a big deal and I think they shouldn’t be taken for granted by any means.

Yuval: As we come towards the end of this discussion, and I could go on for hours, but you need to serve other clients. If we just look quickly at what we were talking about, wireless charging will become as prevalent as wifi, devices will shrink, the mobile worker will be truly mobile, wireless charging will become an option in every mobile phone or tablet, it will inspire a new generation of smart home do-it-yourself, and we’ll start to have some standards around it. Is there anything glaring that we missed?

Mark: I think the only piece, and I hinted at this at the beginning of the call, was that I think market education will be a big deal. I think that there’s a lot of consumers that are not techy. They’re under the impression that what they have today with their iPhone 10s, or with their Samsung phones that have that capability, they’ll operate under the impression that they have really great wireless charging. Again, it’s a step in the right direction, but I think that the market place will demand some education to make sure they understand, in fact, what they’re missing. What are the upsides that we’ve been talking about for the last 25 minutes? I really think industry education, and really getting consumers aware of the real tremendous upsides of why this is a desirable capability and you want to have it in a mobile device. For me, that’s a very, very big deal and it can’t be underestimated.

Yuval: Absolutely. So Mark, how can people get in touch with you to learn more about your work?

Mark: They can reach me directly at mark@moorinsightsstrategy.com, or they can simple visit us on our website, which is moorinsightsstrategy.com

Yuval: Excellent. Well, thank you so much for joining me today.

Mark: Hey, thank you very much for your time. Have a great day.

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