Steve Greenberg – Author of Gadget Nation and Today Show contributor

27 August 2018

Steve Greenberg is the author of Gadget Nation and also showcases new tech products on NBC’s Today show. Among other topics, Steve and I discuss whether people might be willing to pay a subscription fee to charge their phones.

This episode was recorded on August 2018

Yuval Boger (CMO, Wi-Charge, @TheChargeGuy): Hey, Steve. Thanks for joining me today.

Steve Greenberg (The Gadget Nation): My pleasure. Thanks for having me on.

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

Steve: Well, my name is Steve Greenberg. I’m a product scout. I’m also the author of a book called Gadget Nation, which is all about mom and pop inventors, garage inventors who’ve come up with products and describe how they bring those products to the marketplace. So hopefully they’re fun stories but also learning other, kind of teaching other future inventors how to take it through the process. And I also showcase new products on television. I do a show called NBC’s Today Show with Hoda and Kathie Lee about once a month where I showcase new products. And I also do similar segments for a bunch of local stations around the U.S. in Chicago, Houston, Dallas, Washington, D.C., Minneapolis, again, showcasing new products on television.

Yuval: Wow. So I’m sure the question about phones and phone batteries and phone charging must have come up from time to time.

Steve: Definitely. I mean, batteries are sort of the bane of our existence because can’t live with them and can’t live without them. And when the battery, when it runs out, you’re done. So it’s really all about you got to have that power. It’s all about power.

Yuval: So this podcast focuses on wireless charging and specifically on long-range wireless charging, meaning that power is delivered to the phone without having to connect it to a cable or without having to physically place it on a charging pad. I mean, imagine walking into your home and placing the phone on the kitchen counter or on the coffee table and just have it charged. So the first question, I mean, do you think that’s useful? Do you think someone would want to use that kind of functionality?

Steve: Yeah. I mean, I have it on my phone. The iPhone 10 has that ability as do a bunch of the newer Samsung phones as well. I have a charging pad. I use it sometimes. Other times, to be honest with you, it’s just as easy for me to plug it in, and I don’t mind doing that. So it’s sort of … It’s certainly a convenience, and I’ve read a ton about how there’s going to be all these charging stations all around. My local Starbucks here in New York has a charging station where you just put your phone on top of what looks like a regular dining room tabletop and it starts charging. So it is out there, and they say in the future, hotels will have it in their nightstands, and et cetera, et cetera.

Is it so difficult to plug it in and do it that way? No. I mean, the advantage of being plugged in is that you can actually pick the phone up, talk on it, text, use it, and it’s still being charged the same time. When a phone has to sit on a table top or sit on a circular pad, then you can’t pick it up and play with it and keep it charging the same time. So that’s sort of something that makes it less convenient on some levels. But it’s a neat technology. I mean, I’ve actually seen some gadgets that have come out to kind of play off of that. I think a company called myCharge has something called the unplugged, and it’s basically like a brick that you can either plug into or just rest your phone on top of, and it will send the charge to it.Or you can take the brick and put it on top of a wireless charger. You can charge the brick that way and then put your phone on top of it so you can have it all happening at one time. So it’s sort of like creating a little battery sandwich if you will. And it’s pretty cool. More and more accessories are going to come out that are going to make using wireless charging more and more convenient and interesting.

Yuval: What if the charging didn’t need to be on a pad? You could put it on the sofa or on a carpet or just hold it in your hand and it would sort of charge by itself?

Steve: I’ve seen it. Just the same way you get Wifi, there’s a way of getting a wireless charge, sort of sprayed throughout the room, and no matter where you put the phone, it’s charging. That seems like a game-changer, and I’ve seen it demonstrated, so I know it’s certainly doable. And yeah, I think that’ll be amazing. And then you won’t be married to this pad, and then you’ll never run out of a charge because, just like you’re getting Wifi in your home, you’ll be getting a charge in your home or in a train station or airport or whatnot. And your device will always be charged and we’ll never know about what it’s like to run out of battery. But I don’t think we’re there yet. I know it exists, I know it’s being tried out in certain spots, but I don’t think we’re there yet.

Yuval: I’d like to hope that it’s closer than you think. But time will tell. So if that technology existed, where would you see it primarily used? Is it in the office? I sort of go into a conference room, and the phone just gets charged there. Or is it at home or is it in the car or airport? Is there one particular place that you think stands out more than others?

Steve: I think a lot of it depends on the cost. If it’s affordable, it’ll be in everyone’s home and apartment. If it’s really pricey, then maybe only offices. If it’s as wonderful as it seems like it might be, then you’ll see it in Starbucks and you’ll see it in airports and whatnot. I mean, I think it depends on how well it works. Is it a very, very slow trickle charge that doesn’t make a big difference if you’re running in and out of a Starbucks? Then it doesn’t make sense. If it’s a slow, slow trickle charge that doesn’t cost a lot of money, it might make a lot of sense in your home. So the whole time you’re home your slowly charging it up or in your office. Again, it’s going to come down to what does it cost and how fast and well does it work.

Yuval: A few years ago people would pay for Wifi in restaurants, and people still pay for Wifi in hotels. Over time Wifi becomes sort of a standard that you have to have. But what if there was a service to charge your phone? Do you think people would pay for that? So some monthly fee and then wherever you go, if the infrastructure was prevalent enough, then your phone would get charged sort of vicariously?

Steve: I don’t know. I’m going to put a big maybe on it, because it depends on how many places it would work, how often I as the individual would get to utilize those places. how fast or slow does it charge. And again I want to emphasize that plugging in is not like digging ditches. It’s not that hard. So, I mean, it depends on the cost. If we’re talking pennies a month, sure. If you’re talking $12 a month, I don’t know if it’s worth it if it’s only available in a few random places. I mean, there are so many variables that I don’t think that question is easily answered. If it was super affordable and also the charge was somewhat rapid, not just a slow trickle charge, and it was available in a lot of places, absolutely. I think people would pay for it. But if any of those variables are changed, then I would have to question how popular it would be.

Yuval: When you see people demonstrations of wireless charging, one without the charging pads, as you said that energies sort of almost magically gets to the device, what do you think people are worried about? Or if anything, do they say, “Oh, is it safe, or is it fast or is it … How does it … Or is it a trick?” Have you heard?

Steve: I think the only thing I’ve heard people wonder about, and I don’t know if there’s any science or reason to have a concern, is if there’s any health detriment to humans. We all have a zillion signals passing through our bodies all day long, whether it be WiFi, TV signals, radio signals, a bunch of other signals that just keep pounding our bodies, and to the best of my knowledge, they’re not causing any downside to our longevity. But if passing a charge through a broadcast signal … What would that do to our bodies? If it increased our cancer risk or brain tumor risk or whatnot, then yeah, that would be something that I’m hoping that is going to be checked out before it’s released onto the public. I’d hate for us to be guinea pigs. That’s the only negative I’ve heard about.

Otherwise, for most people it’s a wow. When I saw it done, it was a bit of a trickle charge. So it’s kind of a slow charge, which wouldn’t be bad if it’s for overnight. You’re going to sleep anyway, you might as well have it charging. But again, I don’t know … There are a lot of variables here on knowing how valuable this would be. Assuming the variables keep improving, then yeah, it’s going to get more and more valuable. If the charge is faster, the safety is proven, all of those things keep happening, the cost is lowered, Then yeah, I think it’s going to take off. I don’t see why not.

Yuval: And just to follow up on that, as we get closer to the end of our discussion today, there are a couple of different ways to send energy through the air. One is using radiofrequency waves or if a radio wave or Wifi. The second one is infrared light. It’s almost like your remote control, right? It’s the same type of light that’s in the sun, and some people have tried using ultrasound. Does one of them sound to you better, in terms of that concern that you mentioned, than the other?

Steve: You know what? I would have to be very honest with you, so that’s way above my pay grade. Because certain light is super safe. Obviously we live in light. But then that same light to turn into … can be weaponized and can become dangerous. Radiofrequency, microwaves, all those things can start off at one end of the spectrum as being safe and useful, and as you keep upping them up, they can be weaponized, or certainly, before they become a weapon, they can become dangerous. So I would have no idea. I just hope that the powers that be, and this is a big hope, that our federal government and whatnot is monitoring this so that before anything is released onto the general public, that it is checked, double-checked, and triple checked, that we’re not decreasing our life expectancy because of any of the formats used.

I’m assuming that’s not the case. And again, I’ve watched it being demonstrated at CES. It was very cool. It was fun to watch your phone get a charge out being anywhere in particular, not resting on a base, not plugged in. But again, it was a very slow trickle charge, but it still was something. So I see a lot of promise, a lot of hope for the future. I just would hope all the other questions are answered. And again, the faster the charge, the lower the cost, all those things will increase how popular it becomes, how quickly it becomes popular.

Yuval: Absolutely. So Steve, how could people get in touch with you if they want to learn more about the things you’re doing?

Steve: Absolutely. Well, they can follow me on Twitter. My Twitter handle is @SteveTV. My Facebook handle is Facebook.com/SteveTV. I’m on Instagram @SteveGreenberg. And my website is SteveGreenberg.TV. So I’m pretty easy to track down, and I post a fair amount. And I have a blog. If you click around my webpage, you’ll find it so you can learn more about me. If you’ve got a product you want me to put on TV, if you go to my website, SteveGreenberg.TV and click on “How Do I Get My Product On TV?” I explained it all there. So hopefully folks can access me, and hopefully, we can work together. And watch for me the next time I’m on Hoda and Kathy Lee, which is every month. So they’ll hopefully see me soon.

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

Steve: My pleasure. Thanks for having me on.

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