I recently had an opportunity to chat with Walt Mossberg about the ninth annual All Things Digital conference and get his insights on mobile, social media and the next big thing.
Mossberg is the author and creator of the weekly Personal Technology column in The Wall Street Journal, which has appeared every Thursday since 1991.
In addition to Personal Technology, Mossberg also writes the Mossberg’s Mailbox column in the Journal, and edits The Digital Solution column, which is authored by his colleague, Katherine Boehret.
He appears regularly on television and Internet video as a commentator on technology issues. He is a weekly contributor to the Fox Business Network and has been interviewed repeatedly on programs like “Charlie Rose” and “PBS NewsHour,” as well as on National Public Radio.
The following is my Q-and-A with Mossberg.
Q: The initial lineup for the upcoming All Things Digital conference includes Andrew Mason, CEO of Groupon. A Chicago-based real estate firm recently offered a deal through Groupon, which was a first in our industry. Can you talk about Groupon and its effect on consumer shopping?
A: Groupon and its competitors have done two important things: made coupons digital, and therefore easy and instant in a tight economy; and made them social by requiring a minimum number of people to participate and encouraging people to get their friends to participate.
Q: Apple finally addressed concerns over the iPhone collecting and storing location data. Apple, Google, Microsoft and RIM seem to approach privacy differently. How concerned should we be?
A: I believe that, at least for now, Apple isn’t violating the privacy of individual iPhone users. But, overall, the privacy dangers involved in location-based apps and in Web advertising and app advertising in general are considerable.
I believe that either the industry or the government must require all involved companies to not only disclose when information is being collected, but ask the user’s permission.
Q: At the D8 conference, you put Mark Zuckerburg on the “hot seat” and addressed privacy concerns with Facebook and social media. Has Facebook matured in the last year? What do you think the future holds for Facebook?
A: Facebook has improved its privacy controls, but it still is too easy for users’ information to wind up exposed to outside people and entities without their even knowing it. Users must be especially careful when using third-party apps on the Facebook platform, since they can be granted access to lots of information.
Q: There has been a huge explosion in mobile, which has certainly impacted the real estate industry. The iPad has been wildly popular. How have other tablets matched up, in your opinion? For example, the BlackBerry Playbook, the Xoom, Samsung Galaxy, etc.
A: Not yet. In my tests so far, no other tablet has measured up to the iPad 2 in terms of key factors like battery life and the variety and quality of tablet-optimized apps. Also, no other tablet has achieved significant market share. But the competition is just getting started.
Q: Last December you hosted “Dive into Mobile” in San Francisco and there will be an “AsiaD” in Hong Kong this October. These are new conferences, can you talk about these events and some of the new things you’re working on?
A: For nine years, we’ve had great success with the annual D: All Things Digital conference each spring in California. And we have an influential website … that runs year-round. So, now we are expanding.
We have more than doubled the writing staff of the website and are adding new versions of the conference. The Asian edition is especially important, because Asia is a tech hotbed, and we are planning to bring over a number of important U.S. tech figures, plus tech leaders from all over Asia.
Q: Social media, mobile and apps have changed the technology landscape. What do you see as the “next big thing”?
A: We are in the “post-PC” era, where a wide variety of devices will have access to apps and data stored on servers in the “cloud.” Apps for smartphones, tablets, e-readers and other devices, plus Web apps that run inside browsers, could gradually replace traditional programs running on laptops.
And laptops themselves will become redefined. Apple is incorporating iPad-like features into its next computer operating system, and Google is bringing out “Chromebooks” — laptops that run an operating system that’s essentially nothing but a browser that runs apps from the Web.