Gadgeteer Spotlight on John Starkweather of Microsoft

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Today we sit down (virtually) with John Starkweather of Microsoft. John is the International Director of Product Management for the Entertainment and Devices Division. John is responsible for Windows Mobile product and partner marketing in the division’s Mobile Communications Business. John’s team functions as the marketing interface between the product planning and go-to-market teams for the entire Asia Pacific and European regions. I know John as the enthusiastic person behind the ever enjoyable annual Mobius events.

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John in Singapore

How long have you been involved with the Windows Mobile / Mobius group at Microsoft?

I started with Windows Mobile just before the first Pocket PC phones were coming to market. However, I’d been working with Sierra Wireless in late nineties where we built wireless data cards for version 1 Windows CE devices – the old Handheld PC days. So I’ve been involved with Microsoft’s mobile platforms several times over a decade.

Is this your dream job?

That’s a difficult question. As a kid I loved to tinker with gadgets and I was an entrepreneur: I’d had four businesses by the time I entered college. But I never dreamed of working at Microsoft. Growing up close to Silicon Valley, my skewed image of big companies was IBM: suit and tie, chained to a desk, counting beans. This was definitely not me.

Microsoft is nothing like what I imagined big companies to be when I was a kid: it’s entrepreneurial, suits are not allowed and I’m traveling the world – definitely not chained to a desk. And I can’t neglect to mention the gadgets – I’ve got access to everything, and we’re creating the future; it’s definitely one dream job.

If there was one thing that you could change about Windows Mobile right now, what would it be?

The big one for me, and something that is being addressed by our team now, is simplifying the process for people to customize a device and make it truly their own. I’m talking about a spectrum of things from the simple (making your own ringtones and wallpaper) to more the more advanced tasks like adding applications that fit your work/lifestyle. You’ve always been able to customize a Windows Mobile device, but I think making it easier is extremely important. Phones have become intimately personal things – definitely more so than any other product and probably person in our lives. We believe people want the freedom to customize a phone to make it their own.

As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

As a kid we were friends with a family who had a professional drag racing team. We spent a lot of time watching races, and hanging out with other racers. I wanted nothing more than to grow up and go fast – I even dreamed of someday joining General Motors’ sports division where they turned typical cars into lust-worthy machines. To this day the smell of burning rubber mixed with nitrous is intoxicating.

Where do you call home?

It may sound corny, but ‘home’ is with my family – currently we’re living in Singapore. But I’ll always be an American country boy at heart. I spent my teenage years in country town of Hollister, California; sorry to the burst the bubble of kids who overpaid for Hollister clothing, but Hollister is a farming town – the high school mascot is a Hay Baler.

I know you are probably constantly playing with lots of different devices all the time, but which phones do you keep coming back to and use on a daily basis?

The HTC S620, also known as the Excalibur, T-Mobile Dash, etc. For some reason every time I go back to this phone I feel like I’ve gone home. For me, it’s hands down the best QWERTY keyboard design built to date. I just wish HTC would take the same form factor and add 3G, and throw out the Joggr strip in the process; and add a higher-resolution screen, more memory and faster processor. I think HTC tried this with the Cavalier, but they added some bulk and the battery life was nowhere near the 2+ days I get with the S620. As you can tell, it’s tough for somebody who plays with a lot of phones to be content. But bottom line: HTC created a winner here. It also doesn’t hurt that Microsoft uses this device for a lot of future software testing; in fact I’m using a future version of Windows Mobile on the phone now…

What is your primary computer?

My primary machine – a Toshiba M7 Tablet with Windows Vista – is nearing the end of its life cycle. I’m about to order one of the small solid-state drive Sony Vaios (love the idea of getting 9 hours on a single battery) and a HTC Shift.

What is your favorite gadget right now?

This is definitely the hardest question, I own and use a dozen different Windows Mobile phones at any given time – not to mention I’ve recently been using an iPhone and a N82. But the phone I’m carrying on trips this week to Australia, China and Japan is a HTC TyTn II – it’s definitely one of the best touch-screen Windows Mobile phones available today.

What is your all time favorite gadget?

My first radar detector. My need for speed drew a lot of tickets…

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John on his Suzuki Hayabusa (world’s fastest production motorcycle) on the Oregon coast; notice the Garmin GPS unit on handlebars, headphones into helmet

What car do you drive?

Singapore is so small and congested that I don’t drive much anymore – which is tough on a car guy. But I have my first car – a restored 1968 RS/SS Camaro – in storage in the US.

Which gear bag do you use and what is in it right now?

Skooba backpack

Ultimate Ears headphones
Canon Digital Elph camera
San Disk Cruzer Mini 2GB thumb drive
Western Digital 200 GB portable hard drive
San Disk 2-in-1 mini and micro SD adapter
Pre-paid SIM cards for China, US and the UK
Radio Shack worldwide travel plug adapter
Mini-USB cable
Network cable
Oakley Razrwire Sunglasses
Motorola S9 stereo Bluetooth headphones
Phones: HTC TyTn II, HTC S720, T-Mobile Shadow, Motorola Q9H, Samsung i-620
Assortment of drugs: Tylenol, Advil, Sudafed, Claritin, Ambien
Peanut M&Ms

Outside of your day job, what other activities / hobbies do you enjoy?

I’m a huge fan of the outdoors: camping, backpacking, canoeing (just did the Singapore version – Dragon Boats). Nothing is more relaxing than sitting on the shore of a mountain lake, skipping rocks along the surface with my kids and nothing but pine trees and white-capped mountains to keep us company.

Thanks John!

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