Tech Journalist Q&A: Jack Schofield, Computer Addict and Gadget Fanatic

March 14, 2011

Q.  Tell us a bit about yourself:

I’m a computer addict who blogs, tweets, and sometimes plays thinking-man’s video games. I also like taking pictures, which at least that gets me out of the house. Before microcomputers came along, I edited photographic magazines and books. I started writing for the Guardian in 1983 and joined the staff to launch the Computer Guardian section in 1985.

Q. Tell us a little bit about the titles you write for and their interest in mobile technology:

I blog at http://www.zdnet.co.uk/jack, I answer readers’ queries for the Guardian’s Ask Jack column, and I like to write for PC Pro magazine and BBC Webwise, among others. None of these specialises in mobile technology, and neither do I. In fact, I’ve tried not to get too involved with the mobile phone market, though portable PCs, PDAs, tablets, slates and other mobile devices are among my major interests.

Q. What’s hot in mobiles and telecoms this year?

The whole area is hot hot hot. The battle between the Apple, Google and RIM operating systems and their move into tablets is this year’s biggest story. HP coming in with WebOS and the Nokia-Microsoft tie-up are also interesting. App stores are the big software story. A lot of other things from cloud computing to operator billing and roaming are also mobile related.

Q. How many events do you attend each year?

I often go to CES and BETT, then to whichever small London shows seem to have something of interest. I haven’t been to CeBIT since the late 1980s, and I’ve never been to MWC — that was always somebody else’s job at the Guardian. Shows are useful for the number of people you can meet and because there’s no substitute for getting your hands on things, but usually I’d prefer to stay home, if possible. When I was young and single and hadn’t been anywhere, I had the opposite tendency. However, it’s about 35 years since I did my first Las Vegas trip, and the novelty wore off a long time ago.

Q. Which one are you most looking forward to?

CES is the greatest trade show on earth, I think, but it’s incredibly overcrowded and hectic. Even though I don’t drink and don’t gamble, I rather like Las Vegas, though not quite as much as Disneyland.

Q. What types of stories or companies are likely to attract your attention this year?

I’m looking forward to an avalanche of Android 3.0 tablets, and maybe some progress in Windows Phone 7. New devices feed into sales of devices (or not) and then into market share numbers and app support. It’s basically the same story multiple times with the names and numbers changed, so anybody who can add a novel twist could get some attention.

Q. How many interviews do you do per week?

There’s no fixed number, but not many. It depends who asks me to write what.

Q. What’s the best way to pitch a story to you? Email? Phone? Twitter? By mail?

Email is always the best approach because it can include background detail. Good email and Twitter relationships tend to lead to good phone relationships. Phone calls tend to be intrusive unless something is urgent or important, in which case a phone call may be urgent and important. “Did you get my press release?” is never either.

Q. Who is worth listening to (about mobiles and telecoms)?

I don’t have any favourites. I’ll always listen to the major vendors, including ARM, and analysts from the major research companies (Canalys, Forrester, Gartner, IDC, Ovum etc — that’s in alphabetical order). I expect people to know their stuff, technically.

Q. What’s your favourite blog?

I don’t have a favourite blog, but if I had to pick one, it would be BGR (Boy Genius Report). I use Techmeme backed up by Google News as a way of keeping up with whatever is going on.

Q. What is your favourite piece of technology?

I haven’t really liked anything very much since the IBM ThinkPad 240X was made in Scotland, unless I can count my old Quad 77 hi-fi and Harbeth speakers. I like my Edirol R-09HR digital recorder, Sony NW A-818 music player, Audio-Technica ATH-ANC7B QuietPoint headphones, Nikon D90 camera and so on, but a lot of new products are either toys or tat. Real quality endures.

Q. What do you think is the most important development in mobiles and telecoms to date?

Full web access on any type of mobile device is the most important thing since SMS, I think, and by “full” I mean “with enough pixels to show a page” and (pending HTML5) the option to run Flash. The standardisation of Wi-Fi to provide interoperable wireless has been a big factor in making that useful and affordable, and I await LTE with interest.

Q. What is the best piece of advice for companies pitching stories?

Tell me stuff as early as possible. I will never break an NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement) even if you don’t have my physical signature. Often, there are US announcements made after 6pm in the UK, and it’s annoying to be “told” about those the following afternoon: either I’ve already written it up or I’m probably not interested. Obviously, anything that’s wholly or partly exclusive is good for me, whether it’s an interview or a loan for review or whatever.

Q. What was the best press trip you’ve ever been on? Worst? Why?

I once spent two weeks touring Japan visiting different camera manufacturers, in about 1975, when I was editor of Photo Technique. The trip was actually arranged for camera dealers, but selected press got to tag along. Dealers, unlike journalists, expect to eat well, do lots of sight-seeing, and get a good night’s rest. It was brilliant. The worst was quick trip to New York for the launch of a Data General PC in 1983. The whole thing was basically there and back for a dull 90-minute press conference in the World Trade Centre. We went on Concorde, but on the way back there was a loud bang, two engines shut down, and the sea rushed up to meet us at a ridiculous rate. It took hours to limp back to New York. It was no fun at all for the few of us who were still sober and awake.

Q. What’s your favourite restaurant?

If you’re buying, I’ll have the Kobe steak at Mon cher ton ton on the 52nd floor of the Sumitomo Building in Tokyo (see trips, above). My regular (cheap) haunt is the Joy King Lau, just off Leicester Square. I’ve been going there for decades.

Q. Are you a social media lover? Which ones are you on? FB? LinkedIn? Twitter?

Yes, I’m a regular Twitter user, having ignored it for its first two years, and I’ve recently joined LinkedIn. I’m also on Facebook, like everybody else, but I use it mainly to keep in touch with my widely-scattered friends and family (my Chinese wife is from Malaysia, and I did my MA in Canada). At the end of the 1980s, before the Web arrived, I was a regular Cix user, and I also used Prestel, CompuServe and AOL.

Q. Tell us something no one knows about you. Do you have any unusual or unexpected hobbies/interests? Do you have a claim to fame?

In the late 1970s, when I lived opposite the Edgware Road tube station, I was the London correspondent for a French skateboard magazine, and used to travel to work on a skateboard.


One comment

  1. Vive le skateboard Jack! Great interview – Adrian

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