Never underestimate the power of the Reality Distortion Field. Its cold tendrils begin slithering across the land from their amorphous center in Cupertino weeks before Macworld. It hugs the lowlands, flowing past the hills of California, keeping to crevasses and shadows as it slips under the doors and through the cracked windows of the Mac faithful. Always reaching, touching, and waiting. Then, on the morning of the "Jobsnote" it flashes to life with a bright energy that captures even the coldest hearts of the media, now centered in San Francisco. Judgment wanes, inhibitions collapse, and Macworld begins.
Perhaps I'm taking a little literary license, but as someone who attends sometimes dozens of technology conferences in a year I can definitely report that Macworld is unique. It's a strange combination of enterprise IT conference, serious end user conference, and enthusiast gathering. Some people attend to catch up with old friends, others to learn new skills for their personal platform of choice, some for serious business, and many just to check out the latest gizmos.
Still others attend to report on the happenings and gather content for future articles, never expecting they'd walk home with a distinctly disapproved-of iPhone sitting in their pocket. Thus is the power of the RDF.
Although I've been writing here at TidBITS for a few months and consider myself a Mac enthusiast, I'm a relative newcomer to the Apple scene and far from a zealot. I've always wanted to attend Macworld and see it for myself, and now that a fraction of my income derives from writing about Apple it finally seemed justified. A few months ago I asked Adam if I could reference TidBITS to apply for a freelance press pass, and instead he offered me a staff position.
It seems the RDF plans ahead.
The heart of Macworld is obviously Steve Jobs's opening keynote on Tuesday morning. Whatever your beliefs about Apple and Jobs, his keynotes far exceed the usual drivel from most CEO-driven talks. As a professional presenter I studied his talks before I even bought my first Mac, attempting to pick up some extra stage skills. The morning of the keynote I woke up excited, a rarity even when I'm the one presenting. After meeting up with Glenn and a few other Mac notables in the press area, we headed in. I was immediately amused as the conference Wi-Fi, AT&T service, and Twitter all collapsed under the load of keynote-inspired traffic.
Although I didn't find the announcements all that exciting, Jobs's presence and skill were everything I hoped to see. He works the crowd as well as any stage artist. Rushing from the stage to the media room to write up the announcements, it's clear that the RDF is so powerful after the keynote that even jaded media find themselves being a tad less critical than under normal circumstances. Other CEOs should learn from Jobs; those first few articles often frame the rest of the coverage. Apple combines entertainment with marketing and product announcements not to show off, but to influence those first critical press pieces.
Joining with the other staff members to simultaneously write up our coverage in a SubEthaEdit article was the highlight of my week. As an independent consultant and writer it's not often I get to experience such real-time teamwork anymore. We divided up coverage of each major product announcement, and those without a specific assignment edited in real time. We don't liveblog the keynote here at TidBITS; rather, we try to publish thoughtful, analytical articles within two hours of the close of the keynote.
I spent the rest of the week in a blur wandering the Expo floor, trying to keep up with Adam and Tonya (no easy feat), and attending various breakfasts, lunches, and evening events. The Expo floor is an interesting beast in and of itself. One second I found myself grilling a major enterprise software vendor on their upcoming Mac support, the next I'm laying out my credit card for a deal on a pair of earphones. Most technology events are divided into "user" and "enterprise," but Macworld is one of the few meeting grounds where casual enthusiasts and serious enterprise users share the floor.
The former analyst in me noticed a few interesting trends. The most compelling is how Macs are slowly infecting the enterprise. Apple's products appeal to us as consumers; and it's only natural to want to use the same tools at work and at home. The traditional enterprise response is to block non-standard systems (and phones), but it's clear this is a battle they can't win as more and more knowledge workers demand to use their own tools. We call this trend "the consumerization of IT," and Apple is clearly benefiting from the early waves of technology workers bringing Macs to work - even against corporate policy. The vendors that support the corporate environment see opportunities, and we saw some surprising faces with new and upcoming products to support enterprise Mac users.
It was also interesting to see the growing interest in security among Mac users. When I first starting talking about security issues for Macs a few years ago, I was mostly met with blank faces or accusations that I was a Microsoft spy out to destroy Apple. These days the response is far more measured. People are interested in understanding what the issues are and if they are safe. Everyone seems to have a sense that as the popularity of Macs rises the security risk will grow, but no one seems to know exactly what that means. There was no shortage of security vendors on the Expo floor, but some offered little more than snake oil, while others understood they will be challenged since the current risk to the average Mac user is still pretty low. Needless to say, I won't have any shortage of security material to cover here at TidBITS.
Overall I quite enjoyed my week at Macworld. It was my first chance to meet many in the Mac community face to face (including Adam, Tonya, and Glenn), and it gave me a sense of the Mac world and major trends in a way that's difficult to achieve without physical interaction. I also learned two valuable lessons. First, whenever possible leave the laptop in the hotel room, so as not to end up lugging it around all day, something that's seldom a concern at security conferences. And second, leave unnecessary credit cards at home in case Apple ships something you really shouldn't buy without first waiting for the RDF to dissipate. Not that I don't love my new location-aware iPhone.