An Interview with Tim Stevens, Editor in Chief of Engadget about Toys, iPhone 5, and Mike Arrington/AOL

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By:  Hillel Fuld

I am frustrated and let me tell you why. I have noticed a strong trend in the world of tech blogging in which some leading names spend most of their time fighting over who broke what story. Many of these leading technology journalists, who in many cases, I  have a lot of professional respect for, do not engage their audience on Twitter, are inaccessible to anyone with less than 100k followers, and then participate in petty and childish competition with other bloggers.

Mike Arrington: The Only Person to Ever Block me on Twitter without ever Having Said a Word to Him

Over the last few weeks with the whole AOL Arrington story, some of the gloves came off and punches were thrown. Every time I read one of the many pieces written about this fallout, I felt like yelling at some of these people “You are just a blogger. Yes, you have millions of readers, but without them, you are nothing. Put things in perspective, go back to your desk, and keep writing”.

Unfortunately, this is very widespread in the world of tech journalism and there are an elite few who do not partake in this nonsense. Tim Stevens is right there on the top of that list. The man is the Editor in Chief of Engadget, which is probably the Web’s leading site on gadgets and tech reviews! Yet, somehow, he is always responsive on Twitter, always laid back and smiling (at least that’s how it seems from his tweets) and has a lot of smart things to say about a lot of topics. I have not once seen him let his success go to his head, and for this reason, I am a huge fan.

Tim Stevens: Editor in Chief on Engadget

The following are ten questions I asked Tim, along with his answers. As you will see from his responses, Tim has everything he does in perspective and is clearly enjoying life:

1: Who is Tim Stevens? Please give us some background on how you became the Editor in Chief of such a popular site like Engadget. 

Tim Stevens is a born Vermonter and not particularly comfortable talking about himself in the third person. I got my start freelance writing in 1996, when I was a college freshman. I did some videogame reviews and really built up my career there to bigger and bigger gigs, but it was always part-time work — a fun release from my full-time gig of software engineering and (later) software architecture. I got an opportunity to start blogging for a site called Switched and managed to jump to Engadget in 2008. Over the next few years I worked hard to become the automotive editor there and, when the opportunity to step up further presented itself, I went for it. The rest is history.

2: Let’s just get this out there. You guys are owned by AOL, so you must have thoughts on the whole AOL Arrington story. What can you tell me about this story and your take on it?

I’ll start by saying I have no more information than what’s been reported, and frankly I’ve been ignoring most of that even, so I’m probably less-informed than most. In other words, I have no idea what’s going on, but I do know that Mike has been questioned in the past for actively trading in the companies he writes about. We at Engadget have a strict policy against that sort of behavior, as I personally believe all journalists should. If indeed that’s what caused the fallout here you can probably tell where my sympathies lie, but there are always two sides to every story. I don’t know what either side looks like in this case, so I refuse to judge. I’ll stay here on the sidelines, thanks.

And regarding AOL, yes the company owns us (as it has since 2005) but it has zero editorial input into the content we publish on Engadget. I am quite confident AOL isn’t trying to diddle with the content on TechCrunch, either. That would be, frankly, stupid.

3: You see an endless amount of gadgets every day, what are five of the most awesome tech toys you ever reviewed or had a hands on with?

Oh man, it’s like choosing my favorite kids — if I had kids. I suppose number one would have to be the Tesla Roadster 2.5 Sport (http://www.engadget.com/2011/04/01/tesla-roadster-2-5-sport-review/). I only had it for a weekend but I took a rather adventurous ride up the Hudson with my wife — who at the end of the weekend wanted to buy one even more than I did, despite the fact that she spent the whole ride freezing in the passenger seat.

After that would, perhaps surprisingly, be the Neato XV-11 (http://www.engadget.com/2010/08/24/neato-xv-11-robotic-vacuum-review/). It’s a robot vacuum that absolutely blew me away with how smart it is. I plopped it down in my kitchen, hit the start button, and recoiled in horror as it sounded like it was going to explode. I then watched in awe as it systematically cleaned the floor of every single room in my (single-story) house. It made my Roomba look positively remedial.

After that, the Sega Dreamcast will always be a fantastic console, so let’s say that’s number three, but a close number four is my Xbox 360. I use it more for Netflix streaming and the like than gaming, but it’s definitely the foundation of my home entertainment center.

Number five… I guess my original Motorola Droid. It wasn’t my first smartphone (that was an HTC Touch running Windows Mobile), but it was the first smartphone that I couldn’t do without. After having it for almost two years I sadly left it in a NYC cab and never saw it again. An ignoble end to a phone that was, honestly, getting a little long in the tooth. 

4: What mobile phone do you use and why?

Right now I have a Droid Charge. Ultimately I’d planned on waiting for the Bionic but, after losing my Droid (see above) I needed a replacement. I loved the display on the Charge when I reviewed it and, while it’s big, the design fits my hand nicely. I do wish it had a dual-core processor, but I still like it quite a lot. 

5: How will the mobile landscape change in the coming years? Please let me know how iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Ovi, and BlackBerry fit into the future mobile ecosystem.

This could be a very big question, but in general these mobile operating systems are getting more and more desktop-like with every iteration. And, interesting, the big desktop OSes (Windows and OS X in particular) seem to be moving to the mobile side. So, the two are set to meet in the middle, particularly for iOS and Windows Phone, and so we’ll see some great convergence on the tablet side — which hopefully will start to deliver the best of both worlds. (Most tablets today lean far too much toward the phone side than the desktop side. Windows 8 should start to fix that.)

In terms of the specific platforms themselves, iOS isn’t liable to change much in the immediate future, and frankly Ice Cream Sandwich is a big question mark, but even if it isn’t great it won’t slow down Android’s growth. Windows Phone is poised for huge gains, mostly by drinking the milkshake of Nokia / Symbian and RIM / BlackBerry. As for RIM, it needs to make some big changes and soon or it’s going to be left with only the enterprise crowd singing its praises. That’s basically what happened with Windows Mobile, and that didn’t end well for Microsoft. 

6: What are five tech trends you think we will see more of in the coming decade?

Tablets for sure, in all shapes and sizes (and colors).

We’ll also see more CPU-less tablets and brain-free laptops that are powered by smarter smartphones, which will either physically connect (ala the Lapdock on the Bionic and Atrix) or that simply send a wireless video feed. This, I think, will result in some very cool and (hopefully) very inexpensive devices with lusciously slender form factors. 

Laptops aren’t going anywhere, but they’re going to keep getting thinner and slinkier. The Air paved the trail here and the Wintel crew is finally catching up with Ultrabooks. I can’t wait to see what the competition is like here in two years. 

Smartphone integration in cars is already big and is going to be huge in the next few years. I personally hope we get to the point where you no longer have a car stereo, you just have a dock for your phone and simple voice controls for everything.

Finally, we’re going to be seeing an awful, awful lot of electric cars over the next decade. Some of them might even be good. 

7: Let’s talk a little bit about the Web. You are all over Twitter. You engage, you share, and you respond. How do you view social media’s role in the success of Engadget and your personal brand? Is it a passing phase or is social media worthy of all the hype?

While social media has of course become a valuable thing for advertising and branding, I just look at it as me talking to friends. I wouldn’t post anything on Twitter or Google Plus that I wouldn’t tell my friends, and I try to treat my followers as my friends. So, if they ask a question, I do my damndest to reply — but my friends understand I work and travel a lot and can’t always respond, so hopefully my followers will too.

Is social media worth the hype? Absolutely. It’s drastically changed how the internet works in just a few years and leaves me wondering what’s next. 

8: What are five tips you would give someone starting a blog/web business? How can they ensure that they stand out among the crowded blogosphere? 

I actually get this question almost daily over e-mail. Usually I only give one suggestion, and that is: if you want to be a pro blogger the best thing is to write like hell. Write every day. If you don’t have passion for it you’ll never want to sit down at the keyboard every day, and if you don’t write every day you won’t get better. Even if you’re good, you’ll have to get better. I suppose the same could be said of starting a business — if you don’t love it or aren’t fully dedicated to it, you probably won’t be successful. 

Second is to find a niche. If you’re just starting out, this is hugely important. A lot of people ask me how to make their tech or gaming blog more successful, and I tell them to pick some corner and cover the heck out of it. Cover it more closely than anybody else. If you can’t do that, then you need to focus further, or find a new niche. Do it well and you have a chance of getting noticed. I think the same goes for a business — but that’s old hat. Find a need and fill it better than anybody else. 

Third I would say is be humble and accepting of feedback. You won’t get better if you don’t listen to your critics. 

Fourth is, conversely, to have confidence in yourself. You’ll never get anywhere if you don’t at least know that you’re damn good at what you’re doing. If you’re not confident, scale things back until you are, and then work harder to gain the confidence you need to step up again.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly in the long-run, is to focus on your readers and think only about making them happy. If everything you do is with the goal of putting smiles on their faces every day you’ll be in good shape.

9: What are five websites you read regularly?

Engadget, to be perfectly honest. If I’m offline for a few hours it is the best way for me to get caught up.

Joystiq. I don’t get to game nearly as much as I formerly did, but I hit up Joystiq regularly to keep reasonably up to date. 

MSNBC news. I have absolutely no idea why but this is the site I go to for regular news. I think at one point 10 years ago it had the least busy web design and so I started going there. I still go there, even though it’s certainly pretty busy now. I guess old habits die hard, and I think it’s time for this habit to change.

Reddit. Lots of insanity but also some amazingly civil discussions going on here. Much respect for the karma system.

Autoblog. I really don’t mean to keep it in the family, but I’ve written a good bit for Autoblog in the past and so I tend to frequent there to get my car news. I’m a gearhead and wanna-be racer, after all.

Those are the ones I hit most often. Other than that I enjoy the depth the team at AllThingsD offers, a few specialist blogs really impress me with their coverage (AndroidCentral, TmoNews, WinRumors, etc.) and, finally, there’s a site called BikeEXIF that just has beautiful pictures of motorcycles all day long. Sometimes it’s nice to just look at pictures of beautiful motorcycles, since I don’t have time to ride mine as much as I’d like.

10: Talk to me about the iPhone 5. What do you think we can expect to see in terms of specs? Do you think it will blow everyone else out of the water?

Now this is a dangerous game this close to release.

I’m in the camp thinking we’ll see two devices. I honestly don’t know if they’ll be numbered or not — it’s time for Apple to just go the iPod route and ditch the numbers, in my humble opinion.

Anyhow, I think we’ll see a “4S” type device with specs similar to the current 4 but in a smaller, simpler, cheaper case. 

The “5” I think will have a slightly larger display, probably with much less bezel. In terms of specs I think we’ll see the expected processor bump, and a 64GB version would not be a surprise. I think it will be thin but not “oh my god I can’t believe it” thin, and I would be surprised if the design were a radical departure from what we see now — maybe something like a big iPod touch, but with a matte aluminum back.

Will it blow everyone away? The iPhone fans will want it, the Android fans probably won’t. I don’t think it’ll really rock the boat in that regard. It will, however, be a massive success.

I also think we’re but a few weeks away from finding out!

As you can see, Tim is a smart dude, but I hope you were also able to get a feel for just how nice of a person he is. A lot of bloggers have what to learn from this guy. Thanks Tim, appreciate your time and like I tell you pretty much daily on Twitter, keep up the good work. I am a huge fan and have been for a long time.


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hilzfuld

Hillel is Co Founder and Chief Marketing Officer at ZCast, a company taking on the pain of modern audio broadcasting. Hillel also blogs for many influential sites including TechCrunch, Mashable, The Next Web, Business Insider, The Huffington Post, Venturebeat, and others. Additionally, Hillel mentors startups across Israel in different accelerators including The Google Launchpad, the Microsoft Ventures accelerator, Techstars, The Junction, and more. Hillel has been named Israel's top marketer, has been featured on CNBC, Forbes, and many others and was recently added by Google to its marketing experts program. You can find and talk to Hillel on Twitter. He is @Hilzfuld.

 

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