Mossberg Retires Weekly Column, Talks Ambient Computing

Veteran tech journalist Walt Mossberg has been writing a weekly personal technology column since 1991, first at The Wall Street Journal, and then at The Verge (for which he serves as executive editor) and Recode (where he is co-founder and editor-at-large). As he retires his weekly column, Mossberg takes one more look at how consumer tech has evolved over the last three decades, “and what we can expect next.” Specifically, he addresses “The Disappearing Computer” as we enter a new world of ambient computing, in which personal computers start to fade into the background. Continue reading Mossberg Retires Weekly Column, Talks Ambient Computing

Mossberg Questions the Direction of Streaming TV Services

Streaming TV is now mainstream, with even cable and satellite subscribers paying for services such as Netflix or Amazon Prime. Television networks also make their fare available for streaming via apps or smart TVs. But the typical streaming service model — whereby the subscriber doesn’t pay for a fat bundle of disparate channels and a DVR — is changing. Dish Network’s Sling TV and AT&T’s DirecTV Now, nominally streaming services, offer bundles of TV networks delivered in a linear fashion, just like cable or satellite. Journalist/author Walt Mossberg is concerned by the change.  Continue reading Mossberg Questions the Direction of Streaming TV Services

Vox Media to Launch Circuit Breaker Gadget Site on Facebook

Vox Media, parent company of politics site Vox, sports sites SB Nation, and technology site The Verge, is about to launch Circuit Breaker, a blog about gadgets. Circuit Breaker will publish news and gossip about technology products and primarily live as a Facebook page, not a separate website, says The Verge’s editor Nilay Patel. The idea of a blog devoted to gadgets is a throwback to sites like Engadget and Gizmodo that, in the early 2000s, focused on smartphones and then broadened to become culture sites. Continue reading Vox Media to Launch Circuit Breaker Gadget Site on Facebook

Mossberg on iTunes Match: Store Your Songs without Slow Uploads

  • Walt Mossberg favorably reviews Apple’s iTunes Match service. For $25/year, you can create a music locker in the Cloud that allows you to play your music collection on up to 10 devices.
  • In contrast to similar locker services from Google and Amazon, you do not have to upload your entire collection — iTunes Match scans your iTunes library and matches it with its 20 million song library.
  • The service only works for digital music currently, and not for movies, TV shows or audiobooks.
  • Your locker can include up to 25,000 songs. It’s worth noting that, “Match is an optional addition to an existing free service called iTunes in the Cloud, which covers only songs you bought from Apple’s iTunes store.”
  • “In all, I like iTunes Match, and can recommend it to digital music lovers who want all their tunes on all their devices,” writes Mossberg. “It’s another nice feature of iCloud, priced reasonably.”

Walt Mossberg Looks Back on Covering 20 Years of CE Innovation

  • Wall Street Journal tech columnist Walt Mossberg looks back on two decades of consumer electronics and the impact of tech innovation on our personal and professional lives.
  • The first line of his first “Personal Technology” column in 1991: “Personal computers are just too hard to use, and it’s not your fault.”
  • Mossberg takes a trip down memory lane recalling the era of his early reports: “Mobile phones were huge bricks. Digital cameras for consumers cost a fortune and took monochrome pictures. Digital music players and video recorders, e-readers and tablets were nowhere to be found.”
  • From Motorola’s MicroTac Lite pocket-size phone ($1,500-$2,500) in 1992 to Apple’s popular iPad today, Mossberg offers an interesting snapshot of personal technology spanning two game-changing decades.
  • Featured in the article: AOL, Apple’s QuickTake digital camera, Windows 95, Netscape, Palm Pilot, Sony Vaio, iMac, DVR, Google and more. There’s also an interesting Tech Timeline graphic included.

Should Google and Microsoft Fear the Potential of Siri?

  • Tech analyst Tim Bajarin says both Google and Microsoft have been downplaying the significance of Apple’s Siri because they know it could seriously impact their core search businesses, especially as it gains access to even more online databases.
  • “You shouldn’t be communicating with the phone; you should be communicating with somebody on the other side of the phone,” Google mobile chief Andy Rubin told Walt Mossberg at the recent AsiaD conference.
  • Microsoft’s Andy Lees suggested that Siri “isn’t super useful” and added that the voice interactivity of Windows Phone 7 when connected to Bing harnesses “the full power of the Internet, rather than a certain subset.”
  • Bajarin counters that, “Apple has just introduced voice as a major user interface and that its use of voice coupled with AI on a consumer product like the iPhone is going to change the way consumers think about man-machine interfaces in the future.”
  • Siri is not just a voice UI, but a gatekeeper to natural language searching of online databases that may eventually make Apple the third major search company worldwide.

Lytro Video Update: Light Field Technology Demonstrated at AsiaD

  • Yesterday, ETCentric reported that San Francisco-based start-up Lytro was getting ready to launch a new digital camera that could potentially be “the biggest technological jump since we started talking megapixels over 20 years ago…” (as suggested by All Things D).
  • In a public demo at AsiaD this week with Walt Mossberg, Lytro showed its innovative light field technology and camera that allows you to capture all the light rays of a scene and alter the focus AFTER the picture is taken.
  • The camera, which starts at $399 for the 8GB model, also offers the ability to view a scene in 3D. The Wall Street Journal post includes a compelling 17-minute video of the demo.
  • ETCentric staffer Phil Lelyveld submitted a related article that provides product and technical details of the consumer market light field camera.
  • “The camera itself is a square prism in shape, around 4.4-inches long and around 1.6-inches square,” reports Digital Photography Review. “Around two thirds of its length is bare anodized aluminum, which houses a 35-280mm equivalent, constant F2 lens. The rest of its length is coated in a soft, light gray rubber, in which you’ll find the camera’s three physical controls — the power switch, a shutter button and a slider that you stroke to zoom the lens in and out. All other interaction with the camera is conducted via the small, 128×128 pixel square touch screen that covers the rear face of the device.”

Will Sony Tablet S Set itself Apart from iPad Wannabes?

  • Walt Mossberg suggests that one reason Apple’s iPad dominates the market is that most other tablet offerings come across as imitations that do not ultimately provide the same superior experience.
  • Sony aspires to change that perception with the release of its 9.4-inch Sony Tablet S, which Mossberg describes as a “handsome tablet with an unusual, asymmetrical design and some software tweaks and content services it hopes can set it apart from the pack.”
  • Sony’s new device, launched over the weekend, uses Google’s Android OS and costs the same as the Wi-Fi-only iPads ($500 for the 16GB version and $600 for the 32GB model).
  • The Tablet S has no cellular data option and tested weaker than the iPad in terms of battery life, but has a design like no other competitor: “One of the long sides of its rectangular, plastic body has a thick, rounded edge that makes the device look like a folded-back magazine.”
  • Mossberg sees this as a positive, even suggesting the device feels lighter than the iPad (it isn’t), based on how the weight rests on your palm. “While this design makes the Tablet S much thicker than many competitors, it has several advantages. When you hold the device one-handed in portrait, or vertical, mode, it feels much more comfortable and balanced than any other tablet I’ve tested. When you lay it on a flat surface in landscape, or horizontal, mode, the rounded edge creates a natural angle for typing, without a case or stand.”
  • Additionally setting it apart is an SD memory card slot (useful for transferring media), a customizable row of frequently used app icons, a Favorites feature (ideal for recently accessed media and Web bookmarks), and a universal remote control app with built-in infrared transmitter. “Sony also is bundling services for buying music, TV shows and movies, e-books and games to create a content ecosystem like Apple’s,” writes Mossberg.
  • We’ll see if these new features and unique design will be enough to attract consumers. If not, another tablet is on its way: “Sony is planning a second, even more radical tablet for later this fall, called the Tablet P. It’s a much smaller and lighter device that has no visible screen until you unfold it to reveal twin 5.5-inch displays that can either be used as one large screen or can have separate content in each.”

Media Set-Top Boxes: Make Web Viewing More Like TV and Less Like PC

  • In his Wall Street Journal “All Things D” Personal Technology column this week, Walt Mossberg reviews three set-top boxes: the $100 Roku 2 XS, the $99 second-generation Apple TV and the $199 Boxee Box from D-Link.
  • “The intent of the three products I tested is to do what a computer can, but in a simpler, cheaper and more TV-like manner,” he writes, “with easy setup, clear onscreen menus and small, simple remotes.”
  • Mossberg endorses the Apple TV for those who use iTunes or who own an iPad or iPhone. Apple’s AirPlay allows you to wirelessly stream content to your TV. For others, he likes the simplicity and price point of Roku, which also has a game function. Mossberg suggests Boxee is a bit too complicated and rough around the edges, but might be a good choice for techies.
  • Bottom line: “To watch Internet video easily on a TV, either Roku or Apple TV is the best choice for average consumers.”

Review: Apple Lion Operating System by Walt Mossberg

  • Walt Mossberg offers his take on the new Lion OS, what he coins as Apple’s “most radical new Macintosh operating system version in years.”
  • The $30 operating system, released this week, allows installation on as many Macs as an individual owns.
  • Mossberg describes the OS as “a giant step in the merger of the personal computer and post-PC devices like tablets and smartphones,” while retaining traditional computer features.
  • The thorough review provides details related to upgrading, migrating, new features and more.
  • Although he questions the changes made to scrolling (which work the opposite of previous versions by pushing the page up), Mossberg provides a positive bottom line: “The past two major computer operating system releases, Windows 7 and Snow Leopard, were incremental. Lion is very different. It’s a big leap, and gives the Mac a much more modern look and feel for a world of tablets and smartphones. If you are willing to adjust, it’s the best computer operating system out there.”

HP Enters the Tablet Fray This Week with the TouchPad

  • Hewlett-Packard will start selling its new TouchPad on Friday, entering the tablet market currently dominated by the iPad 2.
  • The new tablet, starting at $500, features a 10-inch screen with “a slick, distinctive software interface.”
  • Walt Mossberg likes TouchPad’s UI but downgrades it for poor battery life, a small number of apps, and an operating system that is buggy and requires regular rebooting.
  • The TouchPad will initially be available in two versions (16 or 32 gigabytes of storage) and will only offer Wi-Fi connectivity.
  • Mossberg: “At least for now, I can’t recommend the TouchPad over the iPad 2.”

Best of D9: All Things Digital Conference

Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher of The Wall Street Journal hosted the D9 (D: All Things Digital) conference May 31 to June 2 in Rancho Palos Verdes, California. The annual event featured compelling interviews and demonstrations from an array of top media and technology executives representing companies such as HP, Twitter, AT&T, Nokia, Netflix, Disney, Adobe and many more.

The D conference was established in 2003 by columnists Mossberg and Swisher as an annual showcase for technology innovators and big names from the worlds of business, entertainment and occasionally politics. This year the title was “D9” (indicating its ninth year). The conference is known for hosting influential heavy-hitters and its somewhat exclusive nature. Typically, attendance is limited to about 500 guests.

ETCentric readers were quick to forward relevant news items and announcements that emerged during this year’s show. The following is a collection of links to articles and videos submitted by our readers, accompanied by their comments:

 

D9 Video: Eric Schmidt Highlights

  • Google, Apple, Amazon and Facebook are successfully exploiting global platform strategies.
  • Challenge working with entertainment companies since taking content from scarcity to ubiquity.
  • Also need to deal with disintermediation and piracy. On privacy, Google will remain a place where you can do anonymous searches. And committed to insuring you have control over information they have on you.
  • We’re seeing the consumerization of IT that will lead to the death of IT as we know it.
  • There are not sufficient resources to develop for more than the two largest players: Google and Apple.
  • Search is moving from link-based answers to algorithmically-based answers using artificial intelligence.
  • Concerned about a balkanization of the Internet, which will lead to an Internet per country.
  • If you’re concerned about security, use the Chrome browser and use a Mac.

 

Google Shows Off Its Groupon Killer, Launching Tomorrow

  • Video of Eric Schmidt’s demo of Google Wallet and Google Offers.
  • Google is not charging a processing fee but is taking a share of the offer.
  • Credit card companies are willing to upgrade the POS terminals to get benefits of higher security.
  • Lookout Groupon, LivingSocial, etc.!!!

 

Groupon CEO Andrew Mason on Google, Clones and Hubris – But Not on an IPO

  • CEO sees Groupon evolving in three phases so far: One – the Daily Deal, Two – Personalized Deals, and Three – a technology company where they become more integral to a person’s daily life (i.e. wherever they are and whatever they want to do, they can get a deal right now based on the inventory of available deals).
  • Could you use Groupon to sell media?

 

D9 Video: Microsoft’s Steven Sinofsky on Windows 8

  • 95 percent of how the world gets on the Internet is through Windows.
  • Windows 8 will be a “modern” rethink to enable PCs and tablets to satisfy “things they say are solved in an iPad” and still bring all the benefits of Windows.
  • Video demo of Windows 8 showing touch-based UI (can still use mouse too), live tiles.
  • Targeting 2012.

 

D9 Video: Fanhattan Demo

  • Free video discovery app Fanhattan launched at D9 this week.
  • The iPad app serves as a directory and discovery engine, sourcing reviews and ratings from Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes, while organizing related content from the likes of YouTube, IMDb and Amazon.
  • Also shows pre-release version running on an Internet TV which is capable of creating a branded movie page in this case for Pirates of the Caribbean.
  • It connects to iTunes, Netflix, Hulu and the ABC Player to view TV and movies.
  • CNET review: “This free iPad app sounds simple–it finds stuff about movies and TV shows you want to watch–but the depth of the content, utility of what the site does, and clarity of the interface just puts this app on a different level than anything else I’ve seen.”

 

D9 Video: Hewlett-Packard CEO Leo Apotheker

  • WebOS will be available to other companies and enterprises for their own use.
  • Goal is to create an end-to-end ecosystem that figures out on a single device in the Cloud whether you’re doing enterprise or private work.
  • HP can create a large ecosystem of printers, PCs and tablets amounting to 100 million devices a year itself. They hope to interest others as well.

 

D9 Video: Reed Hastings Highlights

  • On Netflix’s virtuous cycle: the more content they get, the more members they get and they can pay more for content.
  • Consumers want all the new stuff but that’s very expensive.
  • At $8/month, they’re a compliment to the new stuff.
  • The news stuff will remain pay-per-view since has higher margin for content owners.
  • Can grow from 24 million subscribers currently to capture Internet TV and tablet viewers plus a share of the 5 billion active mobile phone users worldwide who like video.
  • Need to stay innovative.
  • Focus on talent density, which is the fewest number of talented people.

 

D9 Video: Twitter CEO Dick Costolo

  • Took three years to send the first billion tweets. Now sends a billion tweets every SIX days!
  • There are over 600,000 developers who have downloaded over 900,000 API tokens.
  • Will look to TweetDeck (recently acquired) as the professional UI.
  • Rolling out a native photo sharing app, relevance sorted search results and web intents which allows you to add a Twitter client into your website. 80 percent of advertisers using promoted tweets renew.
  • Advertisers are experiencing very high engagement rates (VW’s ad: 52%).
  • Focused on success of business, not IPO.

 

DARPA – The Coolest Agency You’ve Never Heard Of: Regina Dugan at D9

  • Regina Dugan’s DARPA t-shirt says “Impossible, Improbable, Inevitable” which describes the progression of their programs.
  • Developed Internet, GPS, stealth, night vision, UAV, MEMS technologies.
  • DARPA’s Mission is the “prevention and creation of strategic surprise.”
  • Encourages programs to have the big success.
  • So that means they can’t fear failure. Fear of failure is the limiting factor.
  • Talks about growth in need for cyber security, new computing architectures, explosive detection system.

 

D9 Tech Demo: Inkling

  • Inkling reinvents the college textbook for the iPad that is both interactive and social.
  • Rather than paying $200 for a book, you can buy it a chapter at a time for far less cost since the content is not re-sold like a physical book.
  • See impressive video demo.

Walt Mossberg Reviews New G-Slate Honeycomb Tablet

The new G-Slate tablet from LG (sold by T-Mobile) was launched last week as the first tablet in the U.S. using Google’s Honeycomb software (Android 3.0 for tablets) to offer 4G speed and 3D video. With an 8.9-inch screen, the G-Slate offers less viewing area than Apple’s iPad 2 and the Motorola Xoom, but more than the Samsung Galaxy Tab and RIM’s BlackBerry PlayBook.

The greatest challenges for the new device may be how to compete with the highly successful iPad — and how to differentiate itself from the other Android-based devices currently on the market. In his WSJ “All Things Digital” column, Walt Mossberg suggests that the G-Slate aims to be different in three major ways: by offering 4G cellular data speeds, enabling 3D video creation and viewing, and featuring an “in-between” screen size as compared to current offerings.

In his review, Mossberg found the performance to be on par with the Honeycomb Xoom, but overall not as good a choice as the iPad 2 (especially in terms of price, size and weight). And regarding the 3D functionality, he writes, “The 3D feature, which requires the use of 1950s-style colored glasses, seems like a parlor trick to me.”

Mossberg reports that the biggest selling point of the G-Slate is the 4G speed, but adds that the current problem with all Honeycomb devices involves a lack of “tablet-optimized third-party apps.” It’s tough to compete with Apple in this regard, considering it already claims 65,000 tablet apps.

Mossberg’s bottom line: “The G-Slate isn’t as good a tablet as the iPad 2. I’d only recommend it for people who want the higher cellular speeds, or who prefer Android.”

Walt Mossberg on the New Apple iPad 2

In this video interview from San Francisco, Wall Street Journal “Personal Technology” columnist Walt Mossberg provides his first impressions of the new thinner and lighter Apple iPad 2, premiered by Steve Jobs at an invitation-only event on March 2.

New features worth noting include front and rear-view cameras, a thinner form factor than the iPhone, faster graphics, and dual core processors. It seems that Apple addressed the shortcomings recently targeted in advertising by its competitors. Mossberg comments that Apple did enough to stay ahead, but suggests they’re not going to claim 90 percent of the market share like they did last year due to the sheer volume of competing tablets this time around.

Mossberg comments on Apple’s focus on content creation, as opposed to content consumption, which the company hopes will change the way some consumers see the device. He also suggests it is a big deal that Apple has been able to maintain its $499 price tag for the new version. (The Wi-Fi versions start at $499 for a 16GB model and $699 for a 64GB configuration, while the 3G iPads are priced from $629 to $829.)