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For the love of gadgets

Think you are a gadget geek? Well, meet the guru.

Wanna be a gadget geek? The kind who looks forward to consumer electronics product launches the way other people eagerly await their first child’s birth? Well, search no more: you can cavort with your own at Gizmodo. The review site is awash in the latest gear, and updated daily with news, insights, and predominantly, smart-aleck comments. Editor Joel Johnson chatted with us about electronics, gadget trends, and some of the weirdest devices ever to hit the market.

How did you get interested in technology and gadgets?

Toys. Well, toys and TRS-80s. My grandfather was an inventor and radio technician, among other things, so I grew up in an environment full of soldering smoke and floppy disks. The soldering techniques didn’t stick–I’m still awful at it–but the love of tinkering and technology did, it seems.

How did you get involved with Gizmodo?

I told [site publisher Nick] Denton that he should hire me. He told me to buzz off. Then when he got in a bind, I came in to pinch hit for a while; after we doubled the previous editor’s numbers, I think maybe he thought I was a good fit. Mostly, though, it was just dumb luck.

Why was Gizmodo launched initially?

Presumably to get free products from manufacturers and to fund [technology journalist and former Gizmodo editorial director] Peter Rojas’s fancy sweater addiction. Since I wasn’t involved in the launch, though, that might not be 100-percent accurate.

What kind of interest have you seen for the site? Is there a particular demographic, or do you find you have readership from many different groups?

First adopters are definitely our primary readership, but we really do range all over the place, demographics-wise. That’s one of the things I’m most proud of–we break as many or more news stories than any of the big tech organizations, but we’re still enjoyable and easy to read. Usually, that is. Sometimes I give in to the Dork Side and start writing like it’s a technical manual.

How do you choose what gadgets to feature?

We roll a D20. Gadgets that get a natural 20 get a full review.

What are some of the stranger gadgets that stick in your mind?

Vibrating [adult toys], any number of bizarre pet surveillance toys, $30,000 speaker and A/V cables, pots that use plants as speakers. The weird ones are often the best ones.

Were there any gadgets that you thought would do well and ended up tanking?

I’m surprised by the utter lack of penetration of feature-rich MP3 products like the Rio Karma. It’s totally hot and is just getting trounced by Apple’s iPod–which I love, too, but it doesn’t compare, feature-wise. You learn quickly that features and quality just get you in the door in the consumer electronics world. After that you have to launch a two-front battle with advertising and user experience to really make a splash.

Conversely, were there any you thought wouldn’t fly and ended up being popular?

I was down on the iPod Mini, I’ll admit. I was wrong. Other than that, no. I’m pretty much infallible.

In terms of trends, are you seeing gadget development go in any particular direction? More digital music players, etc.?

Music players have pretty much given up. Sony’s new Walkman is a total failure, or will be once people don’t buy it, and all the other players are sort of hibernating, waiting to see where the portable video market is going. Short answer: nowhere special.

That’s not saying they’re going to quit making good players; they just aren’t trying to dominate anymore. One of the biggest trends right now though, and I hope it pans out, is the addition of higher-quality cameras to camera phones. Two- and 3-megapixel units with optical zoom are available today in Japan and Korea. Once you get that size, the market for smaller digital cameras pretty much fizzles out. Unfortunately, in the United States, we’re talking at least another couple of years for everything to really hit.

What kind of gadgets do you own, and what’s your favorite?

Hmm, I have tons of stuff. It’s really hard to enumerate everything. Once of my favorites right now is a tiny, portable headphone amplifier called the SuperDual. It uses an AC adapter when you’re at home, but also can be powered by a 9-volt battery. And it’s tiny — about the size of two matchboxes on top of each other. Sadly, the company just stopped making amplifiers, so mine was one of the last available.

What kind of gadgets would you like to see developed in the future?

Jetpacks are clearly the missing link. Since that’s not terribly likely, though, I’m really gunning for an iPod-esque eBook, which is to say one supported by a reasonable, easy-to-use online store that placates both content producers and consumers alike.

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