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Macworld Boston 2005: An Intimate Affair

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Apologies in advance if my title either had you hoping for a hot and steamy tale of nookie behind the trade show floor curtains or caused you to think of an awful made-for-TV movie starring out-of-practice celebrities. No, the joke is merely that whenever someone came up to me at Macworld Expo last week in Boston and said, "I can't believe how small the show is!" I'd always reply, "It's not small, it's just an intimate gathering of a few of our closest friends."

Seriously, Macworld Expo again shrank to new lows in terms of the number of exhibitors and attendees. I'd put the number of exhibitors at under 60 and the rumblings I heard place the attendance figures slightly lower than last year, when 8,000 to 10,000 people were expected. (In contrast, January 2005's Macworld Expo in San Francisco saw nearly 36,000 attendees). As always, IDG World Expo did a good job managing the perceived size, so the aisles on the first day felt crowded and busy, and the session rooms were small enough to seem full, even with fewer people in the seats.

The choice of Boston's Hynes Convention Center was an inspired move, since it's far more appropriate for a show the size of Macworld Expo than last year's site: the cavernous Boston Convention and Exposition Center (BCEC). Navigating the Hynes Convention Center never took more than a few minutes compared to some of the hikes necessary in the BCEC, during which you started wondering if you should have brought provisions. But even more enjoyable was the fact that the Hynes Convention Center is on Boylston Street in the heart of Boston, one block from the shops and restaurants on the trendy Newbury Street and within walking distances of numerous hotels. It's all too common to go to a trade show and see no more of the host city than the streets to and from the airport.

Also successful were the special productions: Andy Ihnatko's keynote was hilarious as always, and it was enhanced by the guys who signed his talk for anyone in the audience who was deaf; even though I don't know American Sign Language, I was at times torn between watching Andy and watching how the guys doing the signing translated his jokes into an uproarious combination of facial expressions and body language. The Mac Brainiac Challenge was once again a hoot, even if my team lost in the end (though I was pleased that my Classics degree came in handy for answering the question of the source of Lorem Ipsum, the dummy text that designers use to test the look of new layouts: it's from Cicero). The Geeks & Gadgets stage on the show floor was popular too, particularly for the iPod sessions, all of which were mobbed.

<http://www.lipsum.com/>

On the downside, the changed hours enjoyed mixed reviews at best; starting at 11 AM on Tuesday and Wednesday worked well for letting people sleep off the previous night's events, but keeping the show floor open until 7 PM was awful. It ran through dinner time for many people, the floor was nearly bereft of attendees, and the people working the booths were even more exhausted than normal. On Wednesday, when I spoke to the Boston Macintosh Users Group after the show ended, I talked straight through until nearly 9 PM.

Despite the small size, most people I talked with weren't unhappy, unless they were expecting a show more along the size of Macworld San Francisco. The cost of exhibiting was on par with Macworld San Francisco, so at least some vendors selling products at booths found the reduced number of attendees problematic, even if the people present were buying at the usual rate. Similarly, attendees were disappointed mostly if they had anticipated spending a lot of time browsing through booths of products they hadn't seen before. With only five or six aisles (there were six, but some weren't full) of booths, it didn't take long to work the floor, and relatively little was new to anyone who has been paying attention to the world of the Macintosh of late. As with other recent shows, a number of the vendors were showing iPod accessories.

Expo Notables -- This will be the first time in ages that we're not doing a superlatives article calling out the most notable products and happenings at the show. Put bluntly, there just wasn't much that warranted mention, and our friends at Mac Publishing pretty much pegged it with their Best of Show awards (see Geoff's "Macworld Boston Best of Show Awards" elsewhere in this issue), although a few other booths and products caught my attention.

Rimage had guys outside the Hynes Convention Center handing out entry forms to win their Rimage 360i (a CD/DVD recording/printing device); the cool bit was that they were wearing 35-pound (16 kg) backpacks containing laptops and LCD screens on arms that projected over their heads advertising the company's products. We may one day see cloth that can display moving images, but it won't be nearly as eye-catching as a guy with a monitor suspended over his head.

<http://www.rimage.com/>

Tonya and I were also impressed by the stylish iPod-holding purses and backpacks from the amiable wife-and-husband team of Joallyn and Dave Cartwright (Delarew Designs). Joallyn put a lot of thought into designing bags that protect the iPod while allowing the user to see and control it through a clear plastic window that faces inward to avoid advertising the iPod's presence; the earbud cable feeds through another opening. Then there was Cableyoyo, with a slim plastic device that you use to wind up your cords; it's elegant, but essentially a fancy twist-tie. Lastly, Quark was once again present, and I couldn't resist chuckling at the sign they had posted with their presentation schedule, which laid out, in great detail, in case you were confused, just to be absolutely clear, that they would be discussing QuarkXPress 6.5 every hour on the half-hour.

<http://www.delapod.com/>
<http://www.cableyoyo.com/>
<http://www.tidbits.com/resources/788/quark- sign.jpg>

The booth that most surprised me, though, was the Apple Specialists Pavilion, co-produced with HP, so it featured lots of current Macs along with HP printers that use a new ink-based printing technology. I've been hearing the Apple Specialist term for years, and I knew that TidBITS sponsor Small Dog Electronics was an Apple Specialist, but I'd never internalized what is special about them. It turns out that the Apple Specialist program collects over 160 independent Macintosh dealers and service centers like San Diego's Crywolf and New York's Tekserve, all of which have survived by earning the undying loyalty of their customers over the years. About 50 Apple Specialists were represented in the largest booth on the show floor, and the technical know-how was amazing. But even more interesting is that the Apple Specialists have banded together to form the Apple Specialists Marketing Co-op (ASMC), which has negotiated (and in some cases helped design) exclusive products like the miniG series of hard drives from Transintl, the iListen MX voice-recognition and headset/microphone bundle, and more. The ASMC also held a one-day "best practices" meeting on 11-Jul-05 that included presentations, round-table discussions, a table-top vendor fair, and a "vendor speed dating" event that must have been hilarious ("You have 3 minutes to introduce yourselves and generate the rough outline of a reseller agreement. Got your business cards ready? Go!").

<http://www.applespecialists.com/>
<http://www.hp.com/hpinfo/newsroom/press/2005/ 050711a.html>
<http://www.transintl.com/store/minig.cfm>
<http://www.macspeech.com/news/pr.html?id=105>

More Like a Soiree -- The fact is, Macworld Boston 2005 simply wasn't a news event. Few new products were introduced at the show, and nothing that happened really qualified as news. The small press room was never full when I happened to stop by, and I saw almost no mainstream press in attendance.

All that said, it was a fine show, even if it has become more of a limited regional event aimed at networking local vendors and attendees. Given the shrinking size, the question of whether it will happen again comes down to whether IDG World Expo earned enough money to make it worthwhile. IDG World Expo has said that it is committed to future shows in Boston at the Hynes Convention Center, though at press time no announcements of dates for next year have been made.

<http://www.macworld.com/news/2005/07/15/idg/ index.php>

Assuming it was profitable enough to continue, or could be further refined to be profitable, I'd encourage IDG World Expo to consider replicating the concept of a small regional show in a variety of cities. With the expectation that such a show wouldn't have tens of thousands of attendees, the big name exhibitors wouldn't feel the need to attend every show (or have their presence missed, as was the case at Macworld Boston), and a lot of people who would be unlikely to travel to either San Francisco or Boston could still take advantage of the training sessions and the opportunity to see and talk with vendors. Such an approach would also acknowledge the reality of Macworld San Francisco as the most important event in the mainstream Macintosh world, rather than pretending that Macworld Boston will ever regain the equal status it held in the glory days of yesteryear.

 

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