tv Communicators with Walt Mossberg Part 1 CSPAN June 12, 2017 8:00am-8:33am EDT
of actual editing. >> host: bob weil who runs the living right division of norton. liveright is 100 years old. these are some of the books coming out this fall. >> guest: thank you, peter. >> you're watching booktv on c-span2 with top nonfiction books and authors every weekend. booktv, television for serious readers. >> next, "the communicators" with journalist walt mossberg. then a discussion on the economic impact of opioid addiction. after that, a forum on the future of political parties. ♪ ♪ >> c-span, where history unfolds daily. in 1979, c-span was created as a public service by america's cable television companies and is brought to you today by your cable or satellite provider.
>> host: walt moss berg, why are you retiring? >> guest: it's just time. it's time to reinvent myself and go on and try some other things. peter, i've, i've reinvented myself at a number of points through my career. we could talk about that, if you want. and, you know, i've been doing the tech commentary and the tech reviews and columns for about 26 years. i will this year have been doing it 26 years, and it just, it just seems to me i have some other things i want to do and try x that's why i'm retiring. >> host: will they involve tech? >> guest: i will never not be interested in tech, and it's certainly possible i'll pop up to occasionally and have something to say in print or on
a podcast or on a video or something. the folks at fox media where i work now are threatening to try to call me out of retirement from time to time, and i'll probably do it. but i want to do some things that maybe aren't about tech without giving up interest in tech but, you know, explore some other things. >> host: 26 years ago how'd you get into this position? >> guest: oh. well, i was already -- i'd already been a reporter at "the wall street journal" for 20 years. but the last ten of those years i had been a computer hobbyist with only of the old -- with some of the old, primitive computers that were around at that time learning how to program, learning how to sodder inside of them because you had to do that kind of tough in those days. and, you know, i had no computer science background.
i just kind of got hooked on it. and i realized that although computers had been around for a little while by then, they were still not many in the hands of average people. not none, but not many. and that, to master them, to be able to actually get any usefulness out of them took way too much time and effort. and you had to kind of become a techie. and i decided there was a column in championing average people who never wanted to be tech the the -- techies. and in challenging the companies, the industry to serve those people. and so i proposed that column to the "wall street journal," and they bought it. and so that's why i made the transition. >> host: and, in fact, your first column in 1991 was about personal computers and how hard they were to use.
>> guest: yeah. >> host: has that changed over the years? >> guest: yeah. it's gotten better. for two reasons, one is the industry has gotten the memo, and it wasn't just me, it was a whole bunch of other people who then began to write similar kinds of columns. market forces and other things. they've worked to make it easier. and then i think the consumers have gotten a little more sophisticated. the real personal computer that people use most today, as you know, is not what we think of as a pc or a mac, it's your phone. and that, we've all seen this in our lives, you can hand it to a child x it's not very hard for the child to figure out the phone whereas if you is asked the child to type in the commands of dos, they couldn't do that. so in that sense, the thing has, the gap has narrowed tremendously. however, we have new
technologies coming along all the time. i believe we're going to see in the next 5-10 years a big burst of new stuff, virtual reality, augmented reality, artificial intelligence. and i think, you know, all kinds of new ways of driving cars. we have a little taste of it, but we're going to see a lot more of it. all kinds of things going on in your home. and i think there's a gap that will continue to always have to be closed between the engineers and what they think is easy and real people and what really is easy for them. so i would, i'd just encourage people in my business to keep twhraig stuff, to -- writing that stuff, to keep being skeptical and keep educating the consumers and pushing the industry. >> host: well, we'll talk about some of the future, what you
think of the future in a little while, but we asked several people around the company here at c-span and some other reporters if they had questions for you since we knew you were coming -- >> guest: oh, i forgot that you do that. yeah, that's great. that makes me happy. >> host: let's start with one from our director, brett -- >> guest: okay. >> host: and this kind of talks about today. is there a single tech invention that's changed our lives up to this point? >> guest: you mean is he skeptical that any of them have changed -- >> host: , no he's asking you what your view is on that. >> guest: oh. well, i guess i would have to say the personal computer as we knew it, whether you're talking about, you know, a windows type computer or a mac. those -- the personal computer which, by the way, is only really hit the mass market in 1977 compared to the automobile and the airplane and the oil
industry and the railroad and all these other fundamental things in our lives. this is very young. it's -- i recently wrote a column where i pointed out it's, you know, the personal computer is younger than disneyland, it's younger than starbucks. that has changed the world. it has changed the world. it has changed every aspect of business, every aspect of personal life, every aspect of education, religion, just everything you could think of. but i think it has moreoverred and kind -- morphed and kind of spread, and i think the smartphone you have in your pocket is, in fact, the personal computer, as i said a few minutes ago. it is much more powerful than those first personal computers. and so taken in different forms, i could also answer the question
and say the iphone has been a huge thing that changed everybody's life. i could say the internet is a huge thing that changed everybody's life, and i would be right on both those points. but neither the iphone or the internet, the web could have existed without the personal computer. because the iphone is derived from the mac operating system. it operates differently, as we all know it, it has a different user interface, but the ios operating system derives from the mac be operating system which derives from a system called uninix. and android also derives in some ways from unyx. is so these things were all spun off. and the web, while it wasn't -- the web is one of the few parts of the story that weren't invented in the united states.
the web was invented in europe. but it was invented on a, it was invented on a computer called a next computer, n-e-x-t, which was a failed computer company that never really gained traction. which was created and run by steve jobs. after he was thrown out of apple. he made these very expensive, very powerful computers called next computers. they were black cubes. they sold for about ten grand apiece. and that's really why it didn't succeed, they were way overpriced. but in switzerland at the, at in this laboratory there, a british engineer, researcher, scientist had one of these, and that's what he built the web on, the very first web site, the very first idea for the web. so all of this comes, all of this comes from the late '70s,
early '80s personal computers. >> host: walt mossberg, jeremy was in here taking your picture a minute ago from our media relations department. kind of casually asked before you sat down, would the world be different if steve jobs was still alive? >> guest: if steve jobs were alive and healthy, yeah. i mean, i think he's one of those guys -- look, there are loads of -- let me back up. there are loads of really smart people in many businesses and certainly in tech. loads of smart people. i think steve jobs is one of those rare people that comes along who gets in the history books because he was truly, to use an overused word but perfectly appropriate for him; he was a visionary, and he
became by the, by the early 2000s a very good business executive which he wasn't at the beginning. he was always a vision nation, but he wasn't a very -- visionary, but he wasn't a very good business executive. he had learned how to be a good business executive. he was a tremendous marketer. so he had the goods to market, he had the products that were sound, but he knew how to market them. and, obviously, you can be a great marketer and have crappy products, and that's no good. he had it all. he really had it all. he had a sense of design, he could understand the engineers. so pretty much every month steve jobs lived as a healthy guy, the world changed in some way either at apple, primarily at apple, but also people forget he ran pixar.
he owned it and ran it. he wasn't the -- he didn't create the movie, but he ran the company. he approved the movies. i once asked him how he ran apple and pixar at the same time, and he said, well, i do pixar on fridays. this is when pixar was the most successful studio in hollywood, having giant hit after giant hit after giant hit and winning oscars for all these things. people forget that he revolutionized retail. i mean, apple is the most successful retailer of any kind in america it was like he was
toward the end which was very feeble and ill. it's amazing how much he did in the years he was ill, but toward the very end when he was very ill he just had, at some point it was really only about six weeks before he died, but he gave up being ceo of apple, and he just had to fight for his life. so if he was alive and well, yes. >> host: how well did you get to know him? do you know bill gates, jeff bezos? >> guest: i know all those guys. and jobs and gates -- a lot of people know that i spent time with jobs and had a bunch of private conversations with him over the years. i don't think a lot of people know that i had just about as much time with bill gates. and i don't say that to flatter myself. i mean, he just was very generous with me. he would see me in his office,
in his home. he took me to dinner once at some suburban shopping strip indian restaurant. i mean, he was the richest man in the world, he pulled up on the back side of a strip shopping center, we went in a door and went boo an indian restaurant and spent three hours. and he, like steve jobs, he appeared at these conferences that i produced with my partner, kara swish, many times including -- famously -- they did one together on stage. so i spent a lot of time learning, arguing -- because i think that's one way you learn, is to argue, particularly if you're a journalist -- with both of those people. i've known jeff bezos since he started, since even a little before he started amazon.
and i see him -- i've spent less time with him over the years than with those two. i mean, this is not, it sounds sort of ridiculously egotistical, but when you are the chief technology columnist for "the wall street journal" for all those years and then you build up your own brand, even after you leave "the wall street journal," these kinds of people will see you. it's not because they like you, because they think you're great, because they think you're smart, it's because that's the way the world works. so it was lucky for me. and if you want to go on and talk about mark zuckerberg or, you know, larry ellison or, you know, any of these big tech figures, yes, i know most of them. >> host: well, one of our ceos, susan swain, has this question for you which is what does it feel like to be an influencer? >> guest: well, susan's an influencer, so she knows.
it's -- what does it feel like? you know, it depends on the day. if your column is good and you feel like you've hit the marks that you wanted to hit and said the things you wanted to say or be your podcast is good or whatever, then it feels good because you feel like you've used whatever influence you have, which is usually overstated, by the way. but you've used whatever influence you had to, you know, give credit where credit due on a product or to tell, warn people off something that's not a good product. or if it's a commentary, to make a point that you think needs making. if it's a bad day and you haven't done such a good job, then you don't feel so great as an influencer, i don't know.
i think the really important thing to do -- and i know that, you know, i certainly am not the only influencer in technology. i know, i'm pretty sure that everyone else whether they're an analyst or a journal wherist or whatever with -- journalist or whatever who has a little influence feels this way, you shul must not let it go to your head. it's not about you. it really isn't about you. so you have to have a goal in mind. and your -- my goal has always been to champion average consumer, smart about whatever it is he does in her personal life, her business. maybe she's a travel agent, maybe she's a teacher, maybe she's an executive at a big company. doesn't matter. knows how to do that.
she wants this smartphone, this watch, this digital camera, this pc, this whatever it is, she wants it to work. and she wants it to, actually help her do her best work. and she doesn't care what chip is in it, and she doesn't care how big the battery is as long as et gets -- it gets her through the day. if i then say it's a really big battery, i'm kind of surprised -- she would be quite correct to say i really don't care. i need the battery to get me through the day. so that's been my person or, you know, that's kind of the way i frame what i've done. >> host: our other ceo, rob kennedy -- just to follow up -- he has two questions. they're represented. what a's a gadget that you thought was a dud that turned out to be a hit. and, vice versa, what was a gadget you were sure would be a hit? >> guest: yeah.
it's really interesting. i thought, i thought the palm pre, which was a phone made by palm, had a good chance to be a hit, and it wasn't. and i think a lot of that is execution by the company. so in other words, i think they had great design, i think hay they had -- you know, it's very hard even at that point it would have been very hard to break into the duopoly that now has been really cemented by apple and google. but i think there was still somewhat of an opportunity at that point. i can't remember the year. it was seven or eight years ago, nine years ago. seven, seven or eight.
and they developed their own fresh operating system, and they developed a pretty clever series of several phones. and then they just didn't execute right. they couldn't raise the money. i distinctly remember their marketing was horrifically bad. and so it failed. and i -- so that's a product i thought, you know, i gave it very strong reviews, just didn't go anywhere. in terms of a product i liked -- i mean, i didn't want -- i didn't like that went there or became popular, it's a little bit like a movie reviewer, you know? a movie reviewer will say this is a bad movie, and yet it will get a big box office. and i think a good movie reviewer will say to himself or herself it's not my job to worry about the box office, it's my job to evaluate this movie and
tell you whether i think you can go see it. people do ignore me, certainly, but it's not your job. so i'm sure -- i can't think of one right now, but i'm sure i said negative things -- well, yeah, i can give you an example. i gave bad reviews to several versions of windows over the years. and they still sold hundreds of millions of copies. now, my solace is that compared to other versions of windows, they didn't do very well. windows vista is a good example. it was generally -- if you ask people, it's generally regarded as a big blunder, but it till sold hundreds of millions of copies, and microsoft made lots of money off it. i wasn't hoping they went bankrupt but, you know, if
people had fold my advice, nobody would have bought it. but they did. >> host: just to follow up on that, another question from susan swain was what kind of gadgets do you use at home? >> guest: ing i have -- well, i mean, i'm the wrong person to ask because i have to use a wide variety of things. so i have both an iphone and an android phone. the android phone a google pixel -- >> host: which you like quite a bit. >> guest: i liked it quite a bit. i like the iphone a little bit better. but, you know, they're pretty close. i have, i do most of my work on a macbook air which is now a little long in the tooth at apple but i think is still probably the best laptop that was ever made. but i also have several windows laptops and a couple of chrome
books that i work on. so i keep familiar with everything. i have an ipad. i'm a big ipad fan. i'm a big proponent of ipads. tablets in general, but really there aren't any good tablets in my opinion. there's no tablet that comes close to the ipad. so i use the ipad for not just watching movies or reading books or something, but actually i get work done on an ipad. so i use that a lot. >> host: walt mossberg, have we hit a law when it comes to battery life of? >> guest: no, but give me a minute, and i'll explain to you why it's different. so battery, battery life partly depends on how efficiently the hardware and software made by samsung or lg or apple or google
or whoever, how efficiently they to their hardware and software. for instance, i think a lot of people don't know that if you have an iphone or if you have an android phone, that phone is turning off various of its functions in nanoseconds. if it notices you haven't used something, some aspect of way the phone works with the hardware or software, it'll turn it off of to save battery life, and then it'll turn it right on again the minute you appear to go use it. you don't even notice it, happens very fast. so that's one of the elements of battery life. but the much bigger element is the chemical and physical properties of a battery. now, everything else in tech and digital products benefits from moore's law which is the thing that says you can put more,
essentially, processing power into chips. you can almost double it every 18 months or two years, whatever. batteries don't benefit from that. batteries get more efficient for the space they occupy and the density they have. i'm a -- on a much slower basis. they maybe get 3-5% better every year. there is no, to my knowledge, there has been no breakthrough since the lithium ion battery. which is, by the way, subject to catching fire and exploding if it's not handled right. and we saw that with samsung's note 7 this past year. but it's most efficient -- it's the most efficient chemical and physical be combination for the amount of pace it takes up -- space it takes up in terms of how much power it generates and
how slowly it degrades its charge that we have now. it's what's used in teslas. it's what's used in other electric cars. nobody has come up with an all-new battery. and when i -- i did a column on this a while back where i talked to some battery experts, because i'm not one, and they said they didn't see anything on the his or opinion -- horizon for a new chemical compound. there have been different -- batteries in your regular car are lead batteries. there are such, is such a thing as a zinc battery. nickel and metal hydride. you know, i'm not a chemist, i don't understand all that stuff. i just know we got to lithium ion. there are some variations, but we're still playing around in that. and for that to get better,
somebody has to invent a whole new idea for how to do a battery. and the only investment advice i've ever gotten is that if somebody does and it's safe, not blowing up and it's doing orders of magnitude better, i would sell all your other stocks and buy that. >> well, that brings to the point your code of ethics statement that's posted on recode. you athat you don't own a single -- you say that you don't own a single share of stock in any of the companies whose products i cover or any shares of technology-oriented mutual funds, and you don't accept money, free products or anything else of value from the companies whose products i cover. >> guest: i don't. that's why i wrote that. [laughter] >> host: why was it important for us to know that? >> guest: okay. so long before the current, you know, the press is the enemy of
the people, thing from trump and the whole thing that's going on right now, there's been a slow rogues of trust in the -- slow erosion of trust in the press. and even though i don't cover politics, i used to at one time but i don't now, i haven't for a long time, i still think it's important for people to have some transparency about how you operate. and i think we have to adhere to a very strict code of ethics. you know, if you want to get rich on the stocks of whatever companies you happen to be covering, i personally think you shouldn't be a journalist. you should be something elsewhere it's not unethical to do that. to be a journalist covering not just tech, but whatever, you shouldn't have financial entanglements with it, and you shouldn't be accepting favors. so we had the rules, many places have these rules.
many other places, by the way, have no such rules. why not be transparent and tell the readers what our rules were. so when kara swisher, who is another great journalist from, out of "the wall street journal" like me, she and i became business partners x we started a business called all things digital which was inside of the company that owned the "wall street journal," and we started a web site in the year 2007 called all things d.com, we decided that every single writer can and editor would produce an ethics statement, including us, that when we hired people, we made them sell any stock they had in think any of these companies. if they were working someplace where this was allowed, we made them stop taking free trips,
stop taking free products, stop taking discounted products. and right next to the byline we had a link to an ethics statement just like that. and we did it again when we started our own company and had recode. and that ethics statement is you printed it out, it's still there. >> host: walt mossberg is retiring as executive editor and chummist from the verge in june and as -- columnist and as editor at large and columnist for recode. our conversation with walt mossberg will continue next week on "the communicators." ♪ ♪ >> c-span, where history unfolds daily. in 1979, c-span was created as a public service by america's cable television companies and is brought to how you today by
your cable or satellite provider. ♪ ♪ >> today defense secretary james mattis is and joint chiefs chair joseph dunford testify before the house armed services committee on the pentagon's nearly $640 billion budget request. we'll have that live at 7 p.m. eastern here on c-span2. >> in case you missed it on c-span, retired brigadier general gerald callaway on the possible threat of climate change on national security. >> if you go back to older field manuals, there's one from the 1980s that said weather and terrain are the most significant aspects of battlefield combat, whether it's the runways that have to be open so you can land on them, whether it's the open seas or the it's the hill you're going to climb. when they're in change -- and they are in change right now -- the military is concerned about that. so the military has long had an interest in dealing with things
like this and forecasting what might happen. .. >> thank you for leaving. >> maine senator angus king at a hearing on for the foreign intelligence surveillance act. >> i asked both of you the same question why are you not answering these questions? is there an implication by the president of executive privile?