Noah Kravitz: PhoneDog’s legendary Mr Mobile moves on

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This is Noah Kravitz.

Chances are, if you work in the consumer side of mobile and you’ve got half an eye on the American marketplace, you’ll have come across Noah. As one of the most influential voices in the consumer mobile space, Noah is Editor-in-Chief of the almighty PhoneDog.com.People actually stop the guy in the street with exclamations like, “Hey, are you that PhoneDog dude?” and, “Hey it’s the Phone Dog!”

Millions of people — and I do mean, millions, watch Noah’s phone unboxing videos. That’s not counting his multiple appearances on FOX, CNBC and so on. PhoneDog.com itself is one of the biggest of its kind and it runs an industrial strength server infrastructure to keep the site live.

I’ve known Noah a long time and rate him as very good friend. So it was with some interest and no small amount of excitement that I learnt he was moving on. As of today, he’s resigned his title and he’s off for pastures new.

I caught up with him online and put these questions to him to find out more.

Right then, let’s begin…

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1. People best know you as ‘the Phone Dog’ — tell us how you got there in the first place?

My work life has taken me back and forth between commercial tech jobs and working in educational technology, but I’d always kept up with some freelance journalism on the side, mainly covering computers and consumer tech. When I left my last teaching job back in 2006 I was also shopping for a new cell phone contract. I was doing research on phones online – on HowardForums, in fact – and came across an ad looking for phone reviewers. Since I had experience writing about laptops and gadgets and also didn’t know what I was up to next, I answered the ad. Next thing I knew, I’d published a review on PhoneDog.com. The gig was fun, the people were great, and the site and organization were already up and running and handled themselves very professionally. So one review became another became another became a blog became trade shows and videos, and well, it all just grew organically from there. Back then cell phones were just starting to really explode onto the scene in terms of functionality and mainstream popularity, so it was a great time to get into the industry.

2. As PhoneDog.com’s Editor-in-Chief, what did your average day look like?

Most days were spent in my office and split between testing phones, working on articles/videos, and communicating with everyone from colleagues to PR people to our audience. PhoneDog’s team is spread out all over the US (and, now, Canada!) so there was a lot of Emailing, IMing, and phone/Skype conversations. I also saw the FedEx and UPS delivery people a lot, what with all of the devices and accessories being shipped to and from the office.

Trade shows and press events and conferences got me out of the office a fair amount. When I first started it was basically CES and the two CTIA shows in the US – that’s where everything was launched, save for a few small press events here and there. Then Apple came along with iPhone and introduced the idea of launching products at your own events and on your own schedule. Now, this past Summer? It felt like there was an event every week either in San Francisco or New York. The San Francisco ones I’d go to, the NYC ones we’d send one of our East Coast editors, but then some of the companies started simulcasting the East Coast launches to the West Coast as well. I did a lot of running around this year without really leaving the Bay Area that much!

3. What’s happening now — you’re moving on?

Yes. There are still plenty of decisions to be made – it’s not like I left PhoneDog to start “FoneCat” or jump to a competitor. [laughs] I loved working with PhoneDog and would still be there if I wanted to keep reviewing mobile devices as my full-time work. But I need some change. As cool a job as it is to work with the latest and greatest phones and tablets and all, it was just time for a change.

4. How did you arrive at the decision to leave?

Like I said, I just needed a shift from reviewing phones every day. The decision was obviously a difficult one to make and a bittersweet one at that, and while it took quite some time to reach, once we got there things moved pretty quickly. That’s for the best, I think – this industry moves fast, so why drag your feet on a big decision, right?

5. What’s next for you? Will you be available for consultancy?

I’m always open to conversations and I have a little time on my hands now, so yes, I’m open to big bucks consulting jobs [laughs].  As for what’s next, you caught me on the day that my final post went live on PhoneDog, so I’m still tying up a few loose ends. Then I’m going to take a day – one single day! [laughs] – and go to the beach. The water has always had a huge, mystical power for me – as it does for many people, obviously – and there’s this one beach in San Francisco that has sentimental meaning to me. So I’m going to go there and still still for as long as I can, which will probably be about 15 minutes. [laughs]

But work wise? I love conversations, talking to and with and listening to people, and I obviously have a history working with technology and am still fascinated with it. So I can’t imagine I’ll stray too far from working with tech – mobile or consumer tech or what have you. And I’m a big ham, I love performing, so writing and making videos and all will likely play some kind of factor in my work. I have some meetings set up, some conversations with interesting people that I’m really looking forward to having. There’s a lot going on out here in the Bay and Silicon Valley area, and right now I’m just really curious to hear about some of it.

If there’s a way to keep combining my interests in tech, publishing and interactive media and education, in some way, I’d love to figure out how to further that while also putting food on the table, so to speak.

6. You’ve witnessed an extraordinary time in the mobile industry — take us through the major milestones as you see them?

Yeah, wow, I just did a video on my five all-time favorite phones, which sort of touched on that.  When I started, I’d been covering the mobile computing space for a site called PowerBookCentral, which obviously focused on Apple products. I felt like mobile phones were poised to take off with the same level of acceleration, in terms of capabilities and consumer interest, as laptops were going through. Well, I don’t know if I really sensed that, but that’s what happened! [laughs]

Think about it, back five or so years ago you couldn’t yet edit video on a laptop. Now you can shoot, edit, and upload video direct from your smartphone, complete with titles and music and all. It’s crazy. When I started with PhoneDog, in 2006, the RAZR was king. Now flip phones are the things the carriers try to get you to take off of their hands in Buy One, Get Two Free! deals.

The transformation from phone/text machine to full on mobile computer as obviously been huge. Before that it was the rise of the cameraphone, the Nokia N-Series and some of the Sony Ericsson K- and W- phones. And the BlackBerrys bringing robust messaging to your pocket. And then of course the iPhone being a game changer, ushering in the era of touchscreens and consumer-friendly Web browsing, not to mention vertical integration from the device maker themselves. And iPhone begat Android, and so the war now is really between the platform makers, and between them and the carriers, as much as between the device makers and carriers themselves.

Also, the pendulum has really swung from voice to data, from minutes to megabytes. Talk is cheap, as the saying goes, and between Web and Email and apps and VoIP and video chat, I think we’re really starting to see data become the golden goose and voice minutes become a commodity, almost to the level of being a throw-in. Clearly in many parts of the world, and for many users in America, voice still rules. But you’re starting to see data caps and tiered data plans and such, and I think that’s a trend that will stick, data becoming more precious than voice for many mobile users.

7. How important was the iPhone for the US mobile industry? Was it as influential an announcement as Android?

Oh, moreso. iPhone paved the way for so many changes, from the prevalence of all-touch phones to an emphasis on user-friendliness to a change in the way device makers and consumers relate to their carriers. Carriers still rule in the US, for better or worse, but Apple showed – at least in one specific case – that a popular device can change the rules of the game.

This isn’t to say that iPhone is the best phone in the US, or that other companies weren’t hard at work on their mobile strategies before iPhone hit, but I don’t think Android could have had the impact it’s had without iPhone. Apple took a growing interest in smartphones and made it cool. Geeks always liked certain phones, but iPhone was the first one that normal people had to have. They lined up, all over the country, and did it again the next year, for iPhone. That’s nuts.

In some ways, I think the popularity of iPhone, and the backlash it created amongst Apple haters, created the perfect space in which Android became more popular than it may have otherwise. Android’s a great platform, but everyone loves a rivalry.

8. Looking to the future, what is the most exciting trend you think we’ll see develop over the next 2-3 years?

Hopefully a slight contraction in the number of teams in the NBA, which will restore the baseline level of talent to a higher level.

Oh, you mean in mobile? I honestly don’t know. I think you’ll see a continuation of faster processors, greater battery life, and faster/fatter pipes, all of which will enable … something. The issue with mobile is that the devices can only be so big and so complex, right? So right now we’re seeing the tablet form factor as an attempt to stretch the boundaries of what consumers will accept as a “mobile device,” that makes phone calls in addition to all of the other stuff. I’m very interested to see, once the iPad halo effect wears off, what consumer adoption will look like on all of these tablets.

You’ll see more video applications – mobile TV and video calling and all of that stuff. And you’ll see more and more cloud services, the mobile devices becoming akin to pocketable thin client computers – for power users they already are, really, with online services for syncing business documents and streaming media and photos and everything else. I think you’ll also see more vertical integration, more companies attempting with RIM’s long done for enterprise and now Apple for consumers, which is to control the hardware, software, services and content all in-house. Samsung’s doing it with the Galaxy line of phones and tablets and now the Media Hub offerings, RIM is trying to do it with consumer content, Palm would do it if they could.

That leaves Google in an interesting place – them and Microsoft, to a lesser extent. Google’s ostensibly all about creating an open platform and leaving it to others to make something of it, right? But the trend is going towards a controlled consumer experience and, at least in Apple’s case, consumers are flocking to it. So it’ll be interesting to see which approach wins out over time, or if there’s space for both methods provided they’re equally well executed.

9. You must have been to some interesting product launches — which ones stand out in your mind?

Every Apple event is like the living definition of “Preaching to the choir.” Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the Apple folks really know what they’re doing. Every Sprint event I’ve been to in the past two years has been so far over the top in terms of production and budget, it’s just amazing. They had Mario Batali cook dinner for us at the Evo launch. That was ridiculous. I actually missed the Palm Pre launch, the big Palm comeback event, which makes me kind of sad still. And my first CTIA I got to see Ludacris perform at a small, private party that Sprint put on. That was really cool. Until I found out the next day that Foo Fighters played the LG party. I’m a huge Dave Grohl fan. So that was a bummer. [laughs]

10. Now, I’d like some reminiscing please… tell us about your top three experiences as PhoneDog’s Editor-in-Chief?

There was one CTIA, a few years ago in Las Vegas, I just decided we were going to kick that show’s ass. And we did. It was me and my friend Doug, this was before Aaron and Adriana and John joined up and so we’d have Doug come out to the shows to help me with camera work and getting places on time and such. So that show, there were a ton of big launches and we were kind of at a point with PhoneDog where we all really saw an opportunity to get our name out there, and so we just rolled through that show. I was determined to get hands-on video of every new phone up online before anyone else did. I don’t know that I quite did that, but we really covered the hell out of that show. I was editing video on shuttle buses, uploading stuff during press conferences and out on the show floor and all. And then we’d get back to the hotel – at these shows there are always press events at night, so you’re on your feet all day at the show, at events until 10 or 11, and then you go back to the room to work – we’d get back and work until 2 or 3 AM and then go unwind by gambling in the casino. [laughs] That was a great time.

We also did a livestream thing for awhile called PhoneDog TV. Once a week at 5pm or so we’d do a livecast. We only had a few hundred viewers, tops, but they were awesome, rabid fans. Poor John Walton (DroidDog John) moderated the chat room and I don’t know how he kept up. I was there in the office with my computer and I had two webcams hooked up, one on my face and one on the devices we were talking about, and I was running this freeware graphics program and had a mixer hooked up to an iPod for intro/outro music. It was total hi-tech/low-tech and a ton of fun while it lasted.

The other one was probably my first time on TV, on a local San Francisco show called Bay Sunday. The show is on Sundays at like 5 am, so I don’t know how many people watch it, but it was my first TV spot for PhoneDog. I was incredibly nervous, but the host and producer of the show were incredibly kind to me and talked me through it and gave me all kinds of pointers – the fact that they’re both gadget heads helped! That first appearance led to repeat visits to the show, which eventually led to the national TV stuff. That’s a different world, doing financial shows and all, but it’s a kick.

11. Fairy Godmother time — if you could wave your wand and fix one thing in the mobile industry, what would it be?

The planned obsolescence that is two year contract pricing for subsidized devices in the US.

12. Finally, how do we follow you and find out more about what you’re going to be doing next?

You can follow my blog at nk126.com and my twitter account at @noahkravitz and my YouTube channel, youtube.com/kravvykrav. And I have a facebook page too. [laughs] Whatever it is I do next – and next after that – I’ll talk about it in those places. I can’t quite shut up ever, and I have this program that lets me talk in virtually all of those places at once, so I’m sure you’ll hear all about if if you want to.

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Noah, thank you for taking the time. Every success — I’m looking forward to seeing what you get up to next!

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  • http://news.netapex.org NetApex

    It’s like watching an old friend pass away with the fear of “is there something after this” feeling. I expect to keep hearing from you Noah!

  • http://www.mobileindustryreview.com Ewan

    Yeah! We’re expecting greater things from you Mr Kravitz!

  • http://twitter.com/Mister_Mobile Mr Mobile

    Hey – I am Mr Mobile! Only joking, did not know about phonedog in the UK. Looks like he did some great work, but it must get tiresome after a while. Good luck Noah.

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