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Macworld Expo 2010 Reboots

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If, last week, you heard a faint Macintosh startup chime from the direction of San Francisco, it was the sound of Macworld Expo rebooting after the crash caused by the disappearance of Apple from the exhibitor list. The good news is that although the show was notably smaller than previous incarnations, in terms of floor space and exhibitor count, the reboot was successful. Macworld seems essentially unaffected - indeed, even improved in places - without Apple's presence (for my take on this event last year, see "Thoughts on the Past and Future of Macworld Expo," 12 January 2009).

Let's acknowledge up front that the tenor of the show was different without a Steve Jobs keynote to introduce new Apple products, and the show floor also felt different without the massive Apple booth. But the assumption on the part of many people was that those two undeniable facts would detract from the show, whereas I'd say that the reverse was, in fact, true.

The problem is that, as I've said many times, there's a significant separation between Apple and the ecosystem that has grown up around the company. Apple's withdrawal from the show was entirely rational from Apple's perspective - the Apple retail stores really do provide far more exposure (and sales) than a booth at Macworld could.

And although Apple could have announced both Aperture 3 and the iPad in a Macworld Expo keynote, it undoubtedly relieves some pressure on the company to have products ready for the exact date of the show. One could even argue that having the iPad intro two weeks before Macworld Expo was actually better, since it gave show planners, software developers, and case makers time to come up with strong stories about their iPad plans.

Although it has been impossible for most show-goers to avoid the Apple booth in previous years - people were drawn to it like moths to the flame, despite the ease of seeing Apple products in stores - the lack of the big Apple booth on the floor this year meant that attendees focused instead on all the other exhibitors. That in turn meant that exhibitors were nearly universally happy with their traffic. (I say "nearly" only because I couldn't talk with all exhibitors, but the many that I did ask were in complete agreement about the success of the show, and most said that they were already planning to return in 2011.)

For instance, the guys at audio software maker Rogue Amoeba were handing out CDs of demo software, and had gone through between 2,500 and 3,000 CDs toward the end of the second day. Regardless of the overall attendance, there is a limit on how many individuals can walk by any given booth, so they were extremely happy to have distributed so many CDs in only two days. And frankly, the smaller show floor made it easier to see everything, though it certainly would have been better if some long-standing exhibitors like Adobe, Canon, and FileMaker had been present.

Speaking of overall attendance, one long-time exhibitor I spoke with estimated the attendance at between 20,000 and 25,000, down slightly from last year, but clearly enough to provide exhibitors with a large enough audience. IDG World Expo is saying only "more than 20,000" until the attendance figures have been audited.

The exhibitor count was also down to 250 from over 400 last year, not surprisingly, with many vendors - particularly large- and medium-sized ones - choosing to sit the show out. They were replaced largely by many iPhone app developers jammed into a tightly packed central location, sharing space at small cocktail tables. Unfortunately, none of the iPhone app developers I spoke with had been able to see (due to normal lags in App Store reporting) a sales spike that might have pushed an app into the best-selling lists, which is often a self-fulfilling prophecy for continued sales.

Nonetheless, several developers pointed out that while they normally are forced to compete for press attention with tens of thousands of developers and 140,000 apps, exhibiting at Macworld reduced the competitive landscape to roughly 100 developers. Plus, one iPhone app developer from Hawaii noted that the opportunity to interact with customers was tremendously welcome, given the way the App Store separates customers from developers and seems to engender negative comments without context.

Covering the show as press was in some ways easier than in the past; along with the smaller show floor, a media reception the day before the show opened was a nice way to get together with other media people, and IDG World Expo wasn't nearly as tight with media badges as had been the case when Apple wanted to restrict access to the keynote. IDG even went so far as to open the floor to press early on the first day, but unfortunately failed to publicize it well, leading to much consternation on the part of exhibitors seeing empty aisles and normal attendees being held at the door.

It's important to realize that Macworld Expo is far more than just the show floor. I don't have any hard data about number of attendees at the conference sessions, but in general, those sitting in on them had positive things to say. Beyond normal professional training, they can be tremendously useful for people in the Apple Consultants Network, who must take certification tests in various subjects. I was told by one ACN member that a couple of days of sessions at Macworld Expo can be cheaper and better than Apple's own training for test preparation.

But it's really the business networking arena where Macworld shines. Consultants and end users alike want to talk with experts from the companies whose products they use and recommend (video software maker Telestream staffed their booth only with a tech support guy and a quality assurance engineer, and both principals of the two-man company BusyMac were fielding calendaring questions nearly non-stop.) And while TidBITS staffers may be somewhat unusual, nearly everything we did at the show in some way cemented business connections and furthered our overall publishing goals; it's just easier and faster to do some sorts of business in person.

Plus, there's the serendipity factor of meeting people. Along with our many colleagues in the Mac industry who we see regularly at the show, we ran into a guy we knew from monitor maker SuperMac who had left the Mac world 17 years before to work as a policeman. And I spent time talking not just with executives at companies like MacSpeech and The Omni Group, but also with the marketing manager of the Indian company Global Delight about the latest beta of Voila, a screenshot utility about which I'd provided some constructive criticism in previous versions. It's very much a two-way communication street at the show.

The highlight of my week came the day before the show actually opened, when I paused to look at some gorgeous photographs spread out on a table in the speaker lounge. Before I knew it, Bill Atkinson (creator of QuickDraw, MacPaint, and HyperCard, and an accomplished nature photographer) appeared out of nowhere to explain how the photographs came from his new iPhone app, PhotoCard, which enables users to send an email (for free) or paper (for a small printing and mailing fee) photo postcard, using either a personal photo or one of 150 of Bill's nature photos. And when I say "explain," I mean it in spades. Without prompting, Bill explained in detail how he'd built the back end, tweaked the Indigo printing process for the ultimate quality, and created a system that could serve as a marketplace for other fine art photographers.

Needless to say, Bill had seen the iPad at its introduction, and he felt it was an extremely positive move for the future of computing, showing that much of the complexity of maintaining and using a computer can be eliminated by rethinking user interfaces. He said, interestingly, that Apple had been working on the iPad well before the iPhone's release, but that the necessary technology just wasn't available, so Steve Jobs decided that Apple would instead focus on the iPhone as the first member of a family of iPhone OS devices. And, reportedly, Steve told Bill that the hardest engineering task in iPad development was getting the price down to the $499 level; technology development may be hard, but doing it within tight price constraints requires more than technical wizardry.

After Bill finished his whirlwind technical discussion of everything related to PhotoCard and the iPad, we went on to talk about his goals with HyperCard, how I'd started TidBITS in HyperCard format back in 1990, and why he left Apple for General Magic in part to create a device that would facilitate the passing of short notes called "telecards." It was fascinating to think about how his work was too early - the cellular infrastructure wasn't in place - but how it presaged SMS text messaging and Twitter, and may have even informed some of Apple's iPad design.

Somehow that segued into a conversation about features that he had pulled out of MacPaint and his efforts to create a "learning processor," and from there into educational philosophies about how we learn. Nearly two hours after we started, I had to pull myself away to meet Tonya at a media reception, but the time spent talking with Bill was an utterly unexpected bonus. Obviously, that's not something that can be replicated for everyone, but that sort of serendipitous meeting happens all the time at Macworld Expo.

And, luckily, it appears that Macworld Expo 2010 was easily successful enough to enable IDG World Expo to schedule Macworld Expo 2011 for January 25th through 29th next year. That will include another Saturday for the show floor, and I hope IDG does some local advertising to encourage San Francisco residents to attend; the show floor was definitely less full on Saturday, but the fact that it was open hadn't been promoted strongly other than via social media.

 

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Comments about Macworld Expo 2010 Reboots

David Blatner  2010-02-15 14:15
This is a wonderful round-up, and I agree with your assessment. I loved the whole energy of the show and was so pleased to see so many small developers. On the other hands, I was sad that Peachpit and OReilly and many other mid-sized companies were MIA. I'm certainly looking forward to 2011, when I hope many of these companies will "come back."
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-02-21 13:58
I suspect that many of the publishers weren't present because their booths, with the stacks of books to sell, have to be pretty expensive to staff and maintain, and without assurance that enough people would be coming and buying, it was a hard sell. I did see Apress and Wiley, but neither were selling books.
Dennis B. Swaney  2010-02-15 16:05
I was very disappointed: only about 3/4 of the North Hall was used vs. 100% of BOTH the North and South Halls; most major vendors gone (Adobe, PeachPit, O'Reilly, etc.); previously you could actually BUY hardware and software at the show but this year all I heard was "Sorry, you have to go online". Huh? If I still have to go online then there is no reason to go to MacWorld Expo.

The only bright spot for me was when Adam was talking to the Navigon GPS vendors and they said that their $70 iPhone app can now learn your desired routes. That is something their standalone devices can't do.

However, overall I consider this show a waste of my time and money. It'll probably be like it was at Boston when IDG moved MW East from NYC. 1, maybe 2 shows and it was dead.
Glenn Fleishman  2010-02-15 15:49
Did you miss Moscone West, across the street?
Dennis B. Swaney  2010-02-15 16:04
The official map just showed Moscone North; only mention of Moscone West was for "Conference Registration".

BTW, that was another letdown - no list of WHAT each vendor was showing; unlike in the previous years. Just a folded brochure "Expo Map and Guide" instead of a booklet.
Glenn Fleishman  2010-02-15 16:12
I'm sorry - I thought Moscone West had booths, too, from what I was told.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-02-21 14:01
Most of the conference sessions were in Moscone West this year, but nothing else. Last year was when the show used South and West for the show halls, which was awkward because of getting between them.
Ron Seybold  2010-02-15 17:22
Yes, the map and guide were a bit on the less-useful side. We should have known this when we discovered that one-third of the space was turned over to a map of San Francisco.

But the iPhone app for the conference was killer. Saved me so much time I didn't care about the guide. And ATT 3G was ample, despite reports to the contrary before we arrived.
Ron Seybold  2010-02-15 17:31
The reason to be at Macworld is because of the show specials. The very generous vendors even offered show prices after you got home, using a code you would only know about if you were at the Expo.

You had to go online because of the economics of exhibiting. Bringing stock takes space and complex processes to enable at-show sales. We didn't see a vast store of paper books like O'Reilly brings. Imagine what that costs in shipping. You want vendors on the floor? Don't make them do stores. Plus, selling in California triggers sales tax, while your online purchase usually drops that requirement.

Nobody was doing it smarter than The Omni Group, though. I bought two products and got a clever thumb drive stocked with all of their software, plus two laminated cards with licenses to enable what I'd bought. Steep discounts, too. Pretty brilliant, since they could always rewrite the unused thumbs for future shows instead of trashing disks and boxes.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-02-21 14:00
It has been years since Macworld occupied all of North and South Halls - IDG does a good job of pulling the curtains in on the sides to make it seem that way. There have in past years also been big pavilion areas that used up a lot of space without actually having many vendors in them.

And as for selling, everything I've heard from exhibitors is that that's a nightmare, particularly if you're not a California business, since (and I may not have this quite right) if you sell at Macworld, you have to pay sales tax on all CA sales for the rest of the year (since you have established CA as a place of business). So I'm not at all surprised sales are dropping away more and more.
Tonya not the TidBits Tonya  2010-02-15 15:31
As pretty-regular attendee since 1988 (longer than some of the folks staffing the booths have been alive!) I, too, was struck with the sheer energy and enthusiasm this year--it was exciting to see so many new companies braving the "bad" economy with creative Mac ideas and solutions. Differences this year: Much-reduced swag (attendees carrying around product sheets in their grasp--no ubiquitous paper carry bags); fewer scantily-dressed female exhibitors as eye candy; less product actually available to buy on the show floor; more attendees labeled as "media" (geesh, does that include every blogger and podcaster?); faster check-in to get the badge holders; and better (if not cheaper!) food choices at Moscone itself. I'll be at 2011 for certain!
Ron Seybold  2010-02-15 17:24
"labeled as 'media' (geesh, does that include every blogger and podcaster?"

You will need to get over this, I'm afraid. I've been a journalist since 1984 in the computer industry, and many good reporters are retrenching in the Web media as magazines die off. Media passes were screened as they always have been, with a requirement for three article references online, or something in print.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-02-21 14:02
It was much easier to be media at the show, since Apple wasn't restricting passes artificially to reduce keynote attendance. From IDG's perspective, the more media the better!
Ron Seybold  2010-02-15 17:18
Adam, what a wonderful and meaty report about the conference. I attended as media (bitesofapple.com) and had the same feelings and experiences. We go to shows to find the unexpected, really dig up news. And to get a little teary-eyed when "It's a Wonderful Life" gets rewritten by David Pogue as a template for the Apple customer experience since the 80s.

Your own e-mail showdown session was one of the best hours I spent among two very full days at the show.

You also said, "But the time spent talking with Bill was an utterly unexpected bonus. Obviously, that's not something that can be replicated for everyone..." And I can see that someone who's been in the Mac news business for more than 20 years could have a 2-hour talk with Bill, as you engaged each other easily about related subjects. Everybody learns at a show like this, if they take the time to talk to people. Thanks for all that you do for our community.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-02-21 14:03
Hey, glad you liked my Email Client Showdown - I had great panelists and it worked out just as I had hoped it would in terms of giving people a sense of how all these email programs compared.
Came hoping to see Macworld Expo continue. Really enjoyed myself. Bought more software, learned more, visited with more vendors. Sad to see canon, adobe, filemaker miss, and hope they and others will come back next year. I will be there as well
I was very disappointed. I haven't been in many years, but I recall a a time when Adobe was there. even Quark made a rare appearance. This time around it was half companies that sold skins for iphones. I didn't find anything of use on a great level, I'm really sad to say.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-02-21 14:04
There were certainly some iPhone case companies, but many fewer percentagewise than in some past years. I didn't hear anyone even comment on that this year during the show, whereas in previous years there were bets being made on the percentages.
Jim Rea  2010-02-16 10:25
I think Adam hit the nail on the head. The energy on the floor was great, and though there were fewer exhibitors, there was plenty of gems if you were willing to look carefully. In the past I've always skipped the Apple booth anyway -- I know what they're up to! -- it's the small booths where you'll find cool things you've never heard of before (I wonder why that is, seems like even on the web the media can't seem to cover everything). And as Adam mentioned, the serendipitous networking was as good as ever (for me, meeting up with Adam is always a highlight of these shows - if you haven't met them, everyone associated with TidBITs is smart, interesting, and very nice :) )
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-02-21 14:05
And we didn't pay Jim to say that! :-)
Dennis B. Swaney  2010-02-19 19:46
At my User Group meeting last night, we discussed the Expo, or as someone called it "iPodExpo". One of our members spoke with Chris Breen, IIRC. and was told that when he asked vendors at CES why they weren't going to be in SF, they said that they didn't expect very many people to show up at Macworld without Apple. Of course now IDG has numbers to show that people did show up so to entice vendors for 2011. The problem is that a lot of 2010 attendees have already said that they WON'T attend in 2011. Looks like a chicken or egg situation.
Jeff Carlson  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-02-19 20:33
That surprises me, because I didn't think this year's show was overwhelmingly populated with iPod stuff. There was more iPhone offerings, but that's to be expected; unless that's what people are complaining about. If so, I'm sorry: a Mac-only show is never going to happen, because the newness and excitement is sharing space with the iPhone and iPad.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-02-21 14:06
It is a question of whether IDG can deliver attendees again next year, but I have to assume that the majority of people who attend are local (even with many out of town visitors), so if IDG can do more with encouraging locals, I think they'll do fine.
Alan Goldberg  2010-02-22 02:12
Hypercard for the iPad. A marriage made in heaven!
Charles Neumann  2010-02-23 16:07
No bags to carry the information being handed out by the few vendors that kept the Mac World spirit.

I was prepared to make a purchase or two. However, the vendors I traveled to see were absent.

The attending vendors were very informative and attracted large crowds of potential buyers.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-03-02 07:46
Many years, the bags to carry stuff were giveaways from exhibitors, not Macworld Expo itself. I suspect that most exhibitors simply didn't feel bags were a good use of money, now that relatively few hand out pieces of paper.