Books written by Ray Sullivan

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Charging for Coffee

Until fairly recently WiFi in UK hotels was a novelty.  Some of the larger budget hotel groups offered WiFi for a fee, targeting the business community who could expense the facility but I suspect I wasn't alone in shunning the deal.

Then some hotels and B&Bs started to offer free WiFi as a Unique Selling Point and their target audience was also the same kind of person who would use Trip Advisor to select a hotel.  As the free WiFi experience drove customers to certain hotels, others followed, making the selling point less unique, more commodity.  Like pillows and towels.

In the UK we're not fully there yet - there's still a disappointing number of  hotels and B&Bs that don't have WiFi at all, let alone for free, but this is likely to be the last year I'll be grumbling about that.

Employers are starting to wake up to the free WiFi idea as well.  They can lock their employees out of Facebook and webmail from the company intranet - quite rightly too - but that won't stop the determined few from trying, and that leads to exposing the intranet to outside risks.  Provide free WiFi, especially in dedicated areas, then you remove the temptation to abuse the work network and help to contain web surfing to times when the employee is legitimately away from their desk.  And critically, it is the employees' hardware that is being risked if the sites being visited are dubious.

Coffee shops were early adopters of free WiFi - what better reason to sit with an over-priced latte than to surf the net on your tablet.  They could be in the forefront of the next step.  Better start saving up for a frappachino.

You see, all the devices we carry around with us, our smartphones and mini tablet computers are great but they all need charging frequently.  Great while based at home, most of us just plug them in at night and use them throughout the day.  However, take your smartphone somewhere with a flaky signal and watch the battery drain as it hunts for the elusive one or two bars.  And when we're travelling on business or on holiday then I'm sure I'm not the only one who unpacks his bags to find the occasional power adaptor missing.

Wireless battery charging is getting close to becoming a standard feature in many appliances.  The technology is pretty new - it only seems like a couple of years since I read about university experiments in charging  remotely; now it seems we have at least three competing systems vying for supremacy.  The principle is that you place your device needing a boost near a remote charging point and the battery gets topped up while you read the paper or sit staring onto space with a coffee in your hand.  Which is  why the likes of Starbucks are trialling fitting remote charging points into some of its tables.

This is a big deal and one too big to waste time on developing competing systems.  Hopefully the big manufacturers will agree on a standard and start producing the next generation of smart phones, tablets, laptops, cameras etc with remotely chargeable batteries.  I'm sure each of the remote charging system designers will insist that their design is better than the competition but usually, in the long run, these things are like coffee - we all have our favourite blend, but in essence coffee is coffee.  To have our preference is an indulgence that is relatively easy to satisfy in most big cities, but is limited in towns and villages, but if your favourite isn't available then I'm sure you'll have no issue in using any caffeine laden drink to satisfy your needs.

A lack of a standard will only lead to market fragmentation and increase costs while slowing adoption.  Let's hope the main players can get together and agree on a standard.

Perhaps over a coffee.


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