For the past couple of days I was in and out at The Wall Street Journal’s (really Walt Mossberg’s and Kara Swisher’s) sixth annual "D: All Things Digital" Conference in nearby Carlsbad, Calif. Although I was fully registered for the event, I had to attend to Sir Howard Stringer, our global chairman and CEO, who was one of the guest speakers. Because he also took some time to visit our U.S. electronics headquarters in San Diego to meet with our employees, I had to go back and forth to our office here in the middle of the conference.
While you can read all about the conference on the official D web site, I thought I’d take a moment to share some miscellaneous observations on the blog.
The first night’s session featured a conversation with Microsoft’s Chairman Bill Gates and its CEO Steve Ballmer. Bill is obviously moving into his next role in life where he will focus more on his foundation’s philanthropic endeavors. Most of the discussion focused on the thwarted Yahoo acquisition (at least to date) and the challenges associated with the new Vista iteration of the Windows operating system. To me, Bill seemed a bit bored and to some extent disengaged with the discussion. Ballmer, on the other hand, was not only engaged, he was (as is his nature) shouting in defense of his company’s efforts.
The next morning, Walt squared off with Jeff Bezos, chairman and CEO of Amazon. While it was probably worthy of five minutes or so, they spent the majority of time talking about Amazon’s entry into the world of consumer electronics hardware with the Kindle e-book device. Of course, I found this interesting since Sony offers the competitive Reader in the same space. But the conversation on the topic just went way too long, especially when you consider all of the other great initiatives and impact Amazon has had on the retail e-commerce landscape.
With Sir Howard coming up later in the morning, I was worried that this session would then also focus on Sony’s Reader — even though it is one of my favorite products — for yet another half hour. But that was not to be. It turned out to be quite entertaining with jabs and jokes going back and forth.
Howard and Walt spent a lot of time talking about Sony’s rebound in terms of overall sales and profitability, along with the breaking down of vertical "silos" that have inhibited the company in recent years. Beyond the growing health of the business, they also covered the successful outcome for Blu-ray (at least as far as Sony and our many partners were concerned) in the latest format war for high-definition optical disc technology. Howard mentioned that Blu-ray should have a good run even as the development of digital video streaming and download services emerge (including those from Sony).
In an industry first, he also unveiled a prototype of a 0.3 mm OLED television panel — thinner than a business card (check out the pictures) and reiterated the attributes of the technology, including the 1 million to 1 contrast ration, which about 100 times today’s high-definition LCD and plasma TVs. Howard also indicated that Sony is developing a 27-inch OLED-TV for future introduction to accompany the initial 11-inch model.
In one of Walt’s jabs, after Howard complimented Sony’s VAIO team, our chairman did commit to a further review of the trialware applications (Walt calls them "craplets"), which are typically added on top of the Vista version of Windows that comes with new PCs. (On select configure-to-order models, Sony does now offer the option of having them removed in what we call the "Fresh Start" program.)
Moving onto another guest, I was particularly impressed with Rupert Murdoch, chairman and CEO of News Corporation, which now owns The Wall Street Journal among many other traditional (FOX, New York Post) and social (MySpace) media properties around the world. He was very candid in his review of the negative outcome from a shareholders’ perspective of the Microsoft/Yahoo negotiations, about changes to come in the global media landscape (including The Journal), the recessionary U.S. economy, and in his views as a new American citizen about the political scene (favors Barack Obama, but leans way to the right — interesting).
One more speaker I’ll single out is the 24-year-old founder and CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg. Watching him onstage with Walt and and Kara, I had the vision of seeing the next Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, although he came across as more sincere than either one of them. Mark just seemed so pure, so focused and so committed to perfecting the Facebook experience. Plus, he hasn’t caved yet, as I’m sure I would, to at least one incredible financial windfall to sell the business. Go get ‘em Mark!
There were many other famous speakers, ranging from Michael Dell, chairman and CEO of Dell Computer, and Barry Diller, chairman and CEO of IAC, to Jerry Yang, CEO of Yahoo and FCC Chairman Kevin Martin. There were also some great networking opportunities with smart people from other technology and software companies, as well as industry analysts and a flock of journalists. I’m already looking forward to D7 unless, of course, Rupert has some other plans for it.
*Photo from All Things Digital