SAN JOSE, Calif. — The primacy of the desktop computer as the dominant digital device for both consumers and businesses is over, technology columnist Walt Mossberg told attendees at the annual California Realtor Expo last month.
In every industry, "the digital tidal wave is disrupting the way we do business," he said.
Based in Washington, D.C., Mossberg has been a journalist at the Wall Street Journal since 1970 and has written a weekly tech column for the Journal since 1991.
"Right at the moment when we’re in this economic transition, we’re also in a technological transition. We’re well into a post-PC era. The rise of other devices, (such as) iPads … is just stunning. The glue behind it is the Internet," Mossberg said.
In a post-PC era, the Internet is not an "add-on," but will be as pervasive as the electrical grid, he said.
"When you blow-dry your hair, you don’t say to your spouse, ‘I’m going on the electrical grid to dry my hair,’" Mossberg said.
Not only will people interact with Internet-enabled machines, but the machines will talk to each other, he added.
"The more (the Internet) is integrated into (daily) life, the more devices are going to access it. Even your microwave is going to be on the Internet," perhaps connected to a cloud-based database of food products, Mossberg said.
"Another thing we’re not going to be talking about is the word ‘television.’ All video (will be) coming off the Internet," he said.
Already, although the Wall Street Journal is the highest circulation newspaper in the country, he’s convinced most of his readers access his column online "on a whole variety of devices."
The cloud and mobile/local/social
Two trends that every business should keep an eye on are the rise of cloud-based computing, and what Mossberg called "mobile/local/social."
"If you aren’t familiar with location-based services, social media, mobile devices, you should (be)," he said.
Prominent technology companies such as Google and Apple are announcing major cloud initiatives that will allow consumers and businesses alike to access their data on any device with an Internet connection.
At the same time, rapid smartphone adoption means that many consumers now routinely share their current location, which means that local businesses can target consumers with location-based offers and other messages.
"I don’t personally feel the need to say where I am at all times … but there are people who do. And because your business is location-focused … this has implications for you," Mossberg said.
Despite consumers’ increased ability to find information on their own, real estate professionals can still make themselves available as experts, he said.
"You can still rise above the crowd. The problem is you can’t do it the old way — you have to use the new tools. You have to make sure people know there is such a thing as an expert in your area," Mossberg said.
For example, while the relevance of being found on search engines is "really high" for businesses, social media allows consumers to bypass search entirely by, say, asking for the best real estate agent in an area on Twitter, Mossberg said.
"It’s not enough to be there, but also for people to feel good about you being there," he added.
He recommended industry professionals have their own mobile applications. For associations struggling to bring new technology to their members, he said tools should not be created just for the sake of the technology behind them.
"They should be done for the purpose you want them to serve, and they should be designed in a way that makes them accessible," he said.
Designing for popular devices is also important.
Apple has "sold 30 million (iPads) in 17 months, during a recession. So if I were making a tool, I’d think about putting (it) on this device. But I’d also think about (the major) competitor: Android," Mossberg said.
Nevertheless, he emphasized that despite technologies such as email and Skype, there is no substitute for interacting with consumers in person.
"You can’t run (a business) all face to face … but face to face matters," he said.
Social media security
Facebook has recently introduced new features, such as an option to subscribe to public updates from non-friends and businesses, and the ability to create a timeline of your own life. Mossberg cautioned real estate professionals to be judicious about how they use these features.
"I wouldn’t put my whole life on Facebook. I signed up for (Facebook Subscriptions) but I’m very careful about (status updates). Your life is yours and you need to be careful with it," he said.
And the Facebook Timeline "won’t ever forget, so be careful what you put up there," he added.