podcasts

Will Stofega – manager of the IDC Mobile Device Technology and Trends research program

15 January 2020

William Stofega manages IDC’s Mobile Device Technology and Trends research program, which analyzes a number of different topics related to mobile devices and technologies including, among others, GPS capabilities, mobile device operating systems, mobile browsers, device form factors and user interface issues.

Before assuming his current role, Mr. Stofega managed IDC’s Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) Services Program analyzing the market demand for IP communications services in both the consumer and enterprise markets.

We discuss the impact of wireless charging on mobile phones, how 5G factors into this equation and whether fast charging eliminates the need for long-range charging.

This conversation was recorded on Dec 18, 2019

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

Will Stofega (Program Director, Mobile Device Technology and Trends, IDC): Thanks, Yuval. It’s my pleasure.

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

Will: I work as an analyst for IDC. We provide market intelligence, forecasting, consulting services around a variety of key technologies from both the mass market and also enterprise or business.

Yuval: And I know you focus quite a lot on mobile phones and mobile technologies.

Will: That’s correct. So, I’ve been following the mobile market probably since 2000, back in the old days of TDM and StarTec handsets. So, I’ve been doing this quite a while. It’s a very interesting market, very fast-paced. And although some people say it’s saturated, I think there are lots ahead of us.

Yuval: Absolutely. And I think one of the things that have always been mentioned in the context of phones is battery life and charging technology, battery anxiety and so on. And as you know, my company makes long-range wireless charging technology that can also be used for phones, but maybe there’s not a problem anymore. I mean so now that battery technology is better and charging speeds are faster and faster, is there still a problem that needs to be addressed with regards to how to charge your phone?

Will: Yes, absolutely. Let me put it this way. We do a lot of survey work sometimes for public consumption, sometimes for private consulting projects and I can tell you that every year when we do the sort of big mass survey, the number one issue when people are talking about using smartphones is battery life and in some cases, we just have to sort of put that question aside because it’s always the number one issue when it comes to features and capabilities on mobile phones.

Yuval: And manufacturers have introduced a couple of years ago these Qi charging pads and they are charging pads that both allowed you to not have to plug it in. You could integrate those into a surface if it was integrated into a coffee shop surface. You didn’t care if you had an iPhone or an Android. There was no connector to worry about what’s been the pickup in the adoption of those and how well have they solved the problem?

Will: Well, they solved some problems. One of the issues is a lot of people still want to rely on their wired connection. There has been a lot of advances in the product and making it easy to use, but there’s a couple of issues. One, especially on the inductive side, you have to sort of use the charging pad and the line your device within a certain number of parameters. Otherwise, it doesn’t work or doesn’t work as efficiently. In some cases, people don’t really want to buy, in yet another device. They, no one wants to sort of fool around with that. What people want to do is charge and get out of the wherever environment they’re in, whether it be a coffee shop or at home with a fully charged device. So it’s sort of almost if you think about plugging in an electric vehicle, everyone likes electric vehicles, but that’s probably the least likable part of using an electric vehicle is plugging something in, waiting for the charge.

Yuval: One thing that has happened in charging today, and I’m not sure it’s a law of nature that couldn’t be changed, is that the human the user is part of the charging cycle. Meaning you are responsible for determining when your battery is low, you’re responsible for taking the phone to a charging station or connecting the cable and so on. And one of the analogies that we sometimes use is one of email. It used to be maybe at the time of the original StarTec phone as you mentioned that you had to dial into your internet service provider and download your emails and you had to actively participate in that process. And today emails just magically arrive in your phone. Do you think the charging world is ready for that charge that energy would just magically arrive in your phone without you having to be part of the charging cycle?

Will: Yeah. I think that really, that’s a great sort of framework to think about some of the problems and there’s always a case where you’re… Or someone is at an airport and they come running and then they… Wherever they have bought a ticket, right? And then their phone dies, but they’ve been sitting at a lounge for maybe an hour or so, plenty of time to get some power back into the phone, but they don’t do it because A: maybe all the plugs are being used or they don’t think about it or whatever. I think that way of sort of automation, making things easy is really, really important and takes out the human factor almost. It’s something that some of us don’t think about. Sometimes we’re just too tired or we’re very busy. So anything that automates that type of process that allows you to sort of get the power that you need, I think is a great idea.

Yuval: But just picking on the email analogy, if you have a computer that’s connected via Ethernet cable to the internet, then downloading those large attachments will probably be faster than over a wifi wireless connection. Yet people don’t mind too much because the attachment just arrives at their phone. One thing that I think is happening in wireless charging is that wireless charging is always going to be a little bit slower than wired charging. Is the focus on charging speed exaggerated these days?

Will: I think people want the power when they need it and I… Certainly, people would like things to come very quickly or the device would be charged in the second or so, but that’s not possible. So I think the ability we have that device being constantly charged constant access to power at the very least in the example of sitting in the airport lounge and running to the gate, the fact that you have power that you can actually show your ticket, get on the plane and then do whatever you need to do if you want to charge more. But I think the ability to have a constant presence in terms of some sort of charge is very helpful. And I don’t think once people start to experience it are going to have a big problem with taking a bit longer, as you said. I mean you have to get accustomed to what the way things work and frankly none of the experiences are that great where you actually have to do something or you have to plug in and find a cord, your charging cord and do all these other things. It just makes it a rather tiresome experience. It’s something you need to do, but sometimes you just don’t have the time and there isn’t just the available moment to do it.

Yuval: I think there are three sorts of scenarios where people think about charging. One is at home, the other is outside the home meaning at an airport, at a coffee shop, at an office and so on. And the third one is in transit in their car or in a subway what-have-you. Based on your research or just your opinion. Where do you see the biggest pain that wireless charging would solve? In any of these three scenarios? Would it be bigger at the office? Would we’d be bigger in transit or something else?

Will: Well, I think transit is always a very important one, but I think at home and say if you’re shopping and there’s some availability in terms of true wireless charging, I think that would be important because you’re going around doing lots of different things and frankly in a lot of retail environments it may not be a place to plug in and charge. But also, around the work environment. I mean in my office at least, I have so many things that I have to plug in that it’s often. It’d be great if I would be able to charge my phone, my PC or laptop as I go to different meetings just to have that capability, so it isn’t taking time out of my day with trying to download or recharge a PC and take time out of my productivity. I mean, I think that’s the sort of thing that whether you’re doing something at home, at the office or in transit, you want to be productive and you want to make the best use of your time.

Will: So having a dead device is not helping you be productive. And so, therefore, I think the capability to be able to charge is very important. And once again, we get back to this sort of scenario you touched on at the very beginning, which was, “People tend to forget and people may not have the capability.” But let’s face it, these wireless devices or these battery-powered devices are critical for us to be able to move around today, right? So, we want to be able to communicate, we want to be able to find a certain location or a place in a store. We want to be able to find or contact our boss in the event of an emergency. And if you don’t have the charging device, you’re out of luck.

Yuval: You bring up retail. And I think that brings up an interesting point about who benefits from wireless charging. I think one of the things is we see retail stores trying to do is one day they want to track your location inside the retail store, so they know what you’re focused on. They want to encourage you to do, to scan the items with your phone or handheld scanner. So, to make it quicker checkout. So actually, the ability to charge your phone is an enabler for these kinds of applications and not just… So, it’s not just a benefit to the consumer. I think it’s also a benefit to the business to be able to deliver wireless charging. Would you agree?

Will: Yeah, I think it certainly is a… It’s sort of like not going into an airport, not having wifi or something like that. It’s the same… It’s… I think it’s on the same level. It is a very convenient thing to have and it’s certainly something that… Let’s face it will bring more traffic into a particular retail location. It is something that I think more and more retailers obviously like to have as a way of attracting people. Maybe even in a store that sells clothing someone could be trying on something while someone could be maybe who knows doing some work or checking their, their shopping list. So, these types of things are I think very, very interesting. And I think there’s also the possibility of adding other types of services on that benefit. Both customers and retailers, whether it’s a restaurant or something.

Say if you were able to add the capability to transmit someone’s, not necessarily personal identity but preferences. If I go for instance if I go to a restaurant and I consistently get a certain type of menu item, be great to have that all setup. And once I am seated at the table, put my device down, it starts to charge and tells the waitress or waiter what I want and what I’d like to drink. So there are lots of… I think the capability of having the sort of wireless charging services is very, very interesting and I think attractive and conducive to both business and customer.

Yuval: Now let’s talk for a little bit about who would pay for it. You could think about long-range wireless charging, automatic charging of a phone. Is it like a cellular service where you’re willing to pay X dollars a month to get that? Or is it more like a fingerprint sensor, which it’s really cool that I have it on my phone but I wouldn’t necessarily explicitly pay another 30 bucks when I buy the phone just to get a fingerprint sensor?

Will: Right, right. I think it’s kind of a little of both, but I for one and some of my colleagues have often talked about that some sort of service that helps us recharge our phone. Especially say we were just sort of mentioning the upcoming CES show. Well, you’re on the run there all the time looking at different exhibitors, going to different meetings, doing a variety of different things. And I can tell you at the end of the day, trying to find a place to charge your phone is difficult. And so I know my employer would be interested in making sure that my phone is charged for obviously a fee and but at the same time it’s easier for them to get in touch with me and also for my clients to get in touch with me. So for a nominal fee, I think it would be a very interesting service to have.

Yuval: And we did some research on it a few months ago and it was very interesting. People seem that they would be willing to pay a monthly service to get charging and their desire or their willingness to do so was particularly high for millennials. The younger you were, the more you were able to, or you were… I don’t know about able, but the more you are willing to pay for this service because I guess the phone becomes an extension of your body as supposed to nice to have accessory.

Will: Oh absolutely. I mean then again, I mean it only takes a couple of times when you realize how important this device is. Say I was a business trip. And I was looking for a particular location and my phone died, and I was walking. And so, having the capability to sort of pop into a store or a place that had a wireless charging just so I would be able to charge the phone and find the business that I needed to go to and contact them would have been fantastic. So, you can see how that could really play in and become almost vital. When you are on the road and you’re doing business, but also who knows, maybe you’re on a vacation with your family, you need the capabilities of the device. So, lots of good things there.

Yuval: Now mobile… As we come closer to the end of our conversation today, mobile communication is not just about phones, I guess it’s also about IoT devices and sensors and so on. 5G technology promises to do a lot of that. When you think about 5G and all these sorts of other devices, does it introduce a new class of communication devices and does it make batteries and wireless power even more important than before?

Will: Yeah, I mean you think about things like robots. You think about things like drones, you think about different types of sensors that are maybe important, maybe in a garage situation. All these things and they require power and let’s face it, doing things with wire from a building perspective or constructors perspective just adds cost. These types of devices, as you mentioned the 5G devices are going to be certainly about smartphones, but there’s going to be a whole new sort of different types of devices that do new and different things. There’ll be hybrid devices, there’ll be all kinds of other things. And having the ability to charge that device without the running cable will be fantastic. And I would also argue that’s really going to be a key for us to really move into this world of sensors, artificial intelligence, all these other things, and not necessarily have to worry about breaking open things and laying fiber or even conduits for electricity.

Yuval: So, my last question and maybe two questions into one. So one is, is there something that I didn’t ask and should have asked you and you’d like to talk about? And the second part is how can people get in touch with you or learn more about the work that you’re doing?

Will: Sure. So, the second question first, my email addresses wstofega@idc.com but more importantly, you can always call me. My office number is (508) 988-7845. And in terms of other questions, I think in general the notion of wireless charging we’ve been waiting for it for quite some time. I think it’s going to be a big enabler. I think that as we become more and more reliant on electric and devices and also vehicles that this type of technology will be very, very important moving forward. And I think that hopefully we also get some relief in terms of the more advanced battery technology. But the fact is that if you have wireless. True wireless that you may be able to wait a bit longer for some very new exotic chemistry in terms of battery technology.

Yuval: That’s great. Well, thank you so much for joining me today, and I hope you have a great 2020.

Will: Okay. You do as well. Thank you very much for having me.

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