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Series: Macworld Tokyo
The biggest Macworld Expos aren't in San Francisco....
Article 1 of 3 in series
Like last year, this year's Macworld Expo/Tokyo (a.k.a. MacTokyo) was smaller than those I remember from the more distant past. The booths were set up only in the center of one of the double halls of Makuhari Messe, and this time it ran for only three daysShow full article
Like last year, this year's Macworld Expo/Tokyo (a.k.a. MacTokyo) was smaller than those I remember from the more distant past. The booths were set up only in the center of one of the double halls of Makuhari Messe, and this time it ran for only three days. However, unlike last year, the show floor was packed. No empty aisles and few idle demonstrators this time, although I still wonder at exhibitors who think they can sell their products without having any Macs in their booths.
The MacTokyo clientele has changed too. It used to be that you could easily spot the people who were going to get out of the train a few stops earlier, at Disneyland, but the group of young, fashionably dressed women I'd pegged as Mousers turned out to be mousers instead.
Escaping the Crowds -- Although I timed my arrival for after the opening to avoid the crowds, I found I was locked into the nostalgic slow-march from the station to the Messe itself, stuck behind the usual guy who lights up and puffs furiously as soon as he leaves the station to make up for the smoking time he'll lose in the Messe. There are now more of us who know to break away at the first overpass, but it's still a preferable route, especially since it passes the piece of "artwork" that summarized Makuhari Messe for me when I worked there some years ago - the Steaming Heap of Rubble. But it wasn't steaming this time.
I arrived just after Steve Jobs' speech had started, but sorry, I can't report on it. From the stairs at the entrance, his head could be seen in stereo on the twin screens over the low wall, but there was no way I could squeeze closer through the crowds around the screens. Nor I couldn't hear anything over the noise from the rest of the hall. Most exhibitors with sound systems had jacked them up full in a vain attempt to grab attention, and someone, somewhere must have been using subsonics.
Never mind - there was plenty else to see and MacWEEK.com covered the reportedly disappointing keynote.
A Candy Colored Expo -- Many of the big companies were there to promote Japanized versions of their products, and I did sit through some of the demonstrations later, when the thought of even an uncomfortable chair was welcome. But somehow all the new exciting bells and whistles failed to thrill, even those in fields I used to be involved in, such as DTP and graphics. The big demos were well attended, but afterwards most people drifted off towards the small booths where it was shuffling-room only and where the gewgaws and panoplies grabbed my attention. I found I was concentrating more on visual goodies than actual functionality. Does that mean I'm a frivolous person? If so, I wasn't alone at MacTokyo.
The PR woman who later extolled the virtues of the iMac from the stage claimed that there are now over 130 iMac peripherals available in Japan. It looks like you can now buy a full set of matching or complementary peripherals to go with your candy-colored iMac, including matching baby-iMac speakers from Cozo; matching hubs, connectors, mice, and joysticks from a host of companies; nearly matching floppy disk drives (it's difficult to make a metal case look like plastic, but Y-E Data have almost managed it); matching-only-if-you're-color-blind CD-ROM cases; fluorescent perspex mousepads; defiantly non-matching replacement side panels to snap onto the round mouse; and more. The Shimamura Music Sound Pavilion even had chairs designed on the iMac theme, but only in blue, yellow, or near-white and they weren't very comfortable, despite the distraction of their fascinating demos. And there were tiny cardboard iMac construction kits for 100 yen ($1).
In some cases (pun deliberate), the color was right but somehow the implementation was wrong. The colors are certainly accurate on the new Microline printers, but the semi-exposed innards looked sordid rather than mysterious as the iMac innards do. The more intense shades of the Alps MD-5000i Limited Edition seem a better idea in comparison. And was Wacom caught unprepared? Their Limited Edition ArtPad came only in Bondi Blue.
The brochure for the UniMouse had a picture of five mice in the regulation fruity colors, arranged in an imitation of the Yum poster that was pasted up all over the hall, but in fact there were mice in six colors on display. No, the sixth color wasn't Bondi Blue, but yellow. The man demonstrating them said that since there are six colors in the Apple logo, they made the mice in six colors too. Will these lemon-colored mice become collectors' items?
Escaping the Candy Colors -- After a while, I began to feel queasy at the sight of all that candy-colored equipment - or maybe it was physical queasiness from all the free candy-colored candy I was pacmanning, on top of the constant noise and the heat. So it was a welcome relief to discover someone else has considered shrouding the naked iMac. In honor of an upcoming Gamera movie sequel, the man behind the counter at The Shade Shop had made a rubbery monster to fit over an iMac - a sludge-colored scaly carapace with tail extending from the back and face protruding from the front, above the screen. Despite the piercing green eyes and an orthodontist's dream collection of teeth, he looked rather friendly and his two heavily clawed front paws were held palm-forward on either side of the screen as convenient resting places for the round mouse when it's not in use. The screen below the face was showing three views of a wire-frame model of a different version of this mutant creature, but I was so distracted by the frivolous aspects of the show I didn't realise until later that The Shade Shop was there to sell this 3D graphics software - not monsters. See their real products at:
Aquazone was previewing Pinna, which puts three varieties of brightly colored birds on your screen, but they shot themselves in the collective foot by also producing a special edition of their virtual fish tank for the three days of the Expo, called iMacinfish. This generates cute little iMacs (along with short-tailed iMac mice and strange sessile blobs) in your choice of the six iMac colors, swimming around on your screen and occasionally turning to flash a quick cursive "Hello" at you. I'm told they also reproduce and die, but I didn't catch any of them at it. The bank of six iMacs running matching versions of iMacinfish drew all the attention away from the parrots, "Gouldian Finches," and "Red Factor Canaries" that were fluttering, roosting, nesting, and preening on the other side of the booth. Or maybe the plain white background behind the birds was just too unconvincing?
It's reassuring to see that there are still innumerable small companies who consider it worthwhile to turn out Mac products for relatively small markets. Many were at the Expo: a point-of-sale sales-management system; connection software for NTT's DoCoMo portable phone, several calendar and data packages that print a huge variety of maps, timetables, and schedule pages for pocket organizers; customizable postcard and sticker print packages; fancy printer papers (even recycled paper); and of course, excesses of fonts and clip art. There was even a package of medical clip-art: The Nishiyama Collection Vol. 1, Infectious Diseases, which ought to bear the subtitle: Disgusting Skin Conditions. I didn't dare ask what they plan for Volume 2.
The technician at Amulet drew a crowd as he did upgrades of PowerBook 2400s and G3 PowerBooks while the owners waited. My feet later told me I must have stood there for hours in fascination, watching him dismember a PowerBook 2400 within minutes, then snap in new memory, hard disk, G3 upgrade, and the English keyboard that the PowerBook 2400 ought to have had from the start. Mind you, 17,800 yen ($150) seems excessive for a keyboard panel that merely lacks the Kana screen-printing and the unnecessary conversion keys on either side of the too-short space bar. Plus-Yu were selling them slightly cheaper, and in some of the candy-colors too.
Two questions. Does the PowerBook 2400 really run so hot that it needs a fan-cooled cooling plate to rest upon? Even if it's a very attractive cooling plate that I don't doubt will soon appear in candy colors? And why has no one has produced a combination printer / scanner / fax / copier for the Mac market in Japan?
Little Energy Left in Games? I was surprised to see little interest in heavy-duty games. There were demos of Tomb Raider and a couple other packages running, and a few people did stop and play with them for a while, but then they moved on. I thought that the impressive rendering enabled by the speed of the G3 would have been more seductive, both to game writers and to game players, but maybe there's truth in those reports I've seen on TV that Japanese gamers are moving away from domestic game machines and towards the arcades. I didn't watch for long, but it seemed that Osaka Ennichi was more popular. It's not new, but maybe it's more nostalgic for Japanese gamers - it emulates five games of skill that are (or used to be) common at temple festivals, such as goldfish-skimming and frog racing.
There were a few more 500 yen ($4) games and distractions on sale, including a Talking Dragon which appears to be a localized variation of Talking Moose, but speaking Osaka-ben - the Osaka dialect that Tokyoites find so funny. They didn't have a demo running, and I managed to overcome the impulse to buy it, just to see what it's like.
Escaping the Crowds Again -- I left an hour or so before the show closed for the day, planning to drop in on the Macintosh Museum I'd seen advertised in the neighboring Convention Center, but there was a long line of people who had clearly had the same idea. However, that meant I could speed walk to the station before the crush hour started and I had enough room on the train to read on the way back to Tokyo. That's definitely worth remembering for next year.
Article 2 of 3 in series
The Tokyo version of Macworld Expo always comes off brighter, perkier, and quite different from the Macworld shows held in Boston and San Francisco. Booths are generally larger, have more staff, and the "booth babe" is a staple of nearly every venueShow full article
The Tokyo version of Macworld Expo always comes off brighter, perkier, and quite different from the Macworld shows held in Boston and San Francisco. Booths are generally larger, have more staff, and the "booth babe" is a staple of nearly every venue. If one thing stands out, it's the diversity of products. In addition to items seen at the U.S. shows, Macworld Tokyo features an entire hemisphere's worth of products, ideas, and technologies. Our mission was to ferret out products that aren't generally available in the U.S. or aren't widely known by the Mac community in the States.
Digital Cameras -- Our first quest sent us on the rounds of the digital camera vendors. The roll-out of Apple's new QuickTake 200 camera begs comparison to some new products offered by Japanese companies. We tried to limit ourselves to notable cameras in the $250 to $1,500 range.
Fujifilm was demonstrating its new Fujix DS-300 camera. Although one of the more expensive offerings (educated guesses put it around $1,400), it packs a lot of capability into a package the size of a normal SLR 35 mm camera. In addition to RS-232 and NTSC interfaces, this camera boasts a PC Card slot and a SCSI interface. But the big surprise is a whopping 1280 by 1000 high-resolution mode. You can save 8 photos at this resolution in JPEG or TIFF format, 30 in "fine" resolution, 62 in the normal 640 by 480 mode, and 121 photos in "basic" mode, with reduced resolution. This camera takes normal 35 mm lenses, and the CCD will emulate film speeds from ISO 100 to ISO 400.
At the other end of the price spectrum was Panasonic's Cool Shot (KXL-600A-N). This pistol-grip camera is about the size of a 3" by 5" index card, less than an inch thick, and fits comfortably in your palm. It avoids the battery-sucking color LCD viewfinders of its competitors, opting for the simple point-and-shoot viewfinder lens found one-button film cameras. The Cool Shot accepts standard Type 2 PC Cards and stores either 24 640 by 480 images or 96 320 by 240 images on a 2 MB card. The major attraction of this camera is its small size and the one-hand operation allowed by its unique form factor. It has an optional external LCD viewer, a docking station for use with a desktop computer, and software for Macs and PCs. Prices range from $400 to $800.
New lines of cameras from Ricoh and Sharp also caught our attention. Sharp's new camera was a PC Card with a built-in digital camera. Designed to work with the Zaurus color PDA, the card could be popped from a portable power supply into a laptop where the images could be accessed immediately. Ricoh's DC-2 camera series has the unique ability to capture not only still images, but full-motion video and/or audio soundtracks and annotations. The basic stills-only model (DC-2E) starts around $650, with the 2L and 2V models including video and audio capabilities for about $800 and $950 respectively.
Pioneering Macs -- Though Apple's new hardware announcements were a big hit, Pioneer was showing a couple of new Macs that would be welcome on my desktop. The Pioneer clones packed serious horsepower in a mini tower package with features that are unavailable in the U.S. right now. The most exciting feature was CHRP (PPCP) compliance, with the MPC-GX2 model running the CHRP version of System 7.6. Powered by a 200 MHz 604e with 32 MB of memory and 512K of L2 cache, the box seemed very responsive. In addition to the usual Macintosh ports, this box sports four PCI slots, one ISA slot, two IDE channels, a 2 GB SCSI hard disk, and the usual set of mouse, serial, and parallel ports found on an Intel PC. Best of all, a DVD-ROM drive tops the tower. The demo was playing a full-screen version of the latest James Bond movie, Goldeneye, while running System 7 applications in the foreground. Most impressive. Retail prices weren't available but prices seemed to start around $3,500.
Read My Mind -- Other notable hardware included revised versions of the AtMark Pippin boxes and the IBVA brainwave hardware, which had the coolest demo of all, with direct brainwave-to-MIDI output allowing the user to "think" new music. The new software has an open plug-in architecture that allows you to hook the brainwave hardware and software to nearly any Mac application through the addition of scripts and so on. The possibilities seem novel and exciting, though the cost in Japan was around $1,000 for the wireless headset, base station, and associated software.
Englishbonics -- On the software front, one of the more useful products was an English language tutor called English Now! from Transparent Language, Inc. This product combines, written, spoken, and visual elements into a system that provides a comprehensive language learning environment. Features include the ability to see English text as each word is highlighted and spoken in a variety of synthesized voices, record your own voice and compare it to sonographs of correctly spoken words, and numerous lessons and games involving translating Japanese text to English and vice versa, spoken text into written words, etc. I was very impressed with the completeness of the package. English Now! costs approximately $100 on CD-ROM for both Mac and Windows.
Overall -- There was more to see than we were able to get to during our two days at the show. Apple's new hardware was nice, but incremental in its innovation. I give a big thumbs up to the Pioneer clones (and Pioneer's side-by-side demo of a 25-inch, flat panel LCD display - a mere two inches thick!) as the cool hardware for the show, followed closely by the IBVA package. Cool software definitely goes to English Now! Though I'm no expert in computer-aided language instruction, it seemed to me that you could succeed in learning English if you worked through its lessons.
Article 3 of 3 in series
Much is made of the Macworld Expos in San Francisco and New York, but Macworld Tokyo 2001 drew roughly twice as many attendees than this year's record-breaking Macworld San Francisco (181,000 vsShow full article
Much is made of the Macworld Expos in San Francisco and New York, but Macworld Tokyo 2001 drew roughly twice as many attendees than this year's record-breaking Macworld San Francisco (181,000 vs. 93,000). This was my first time with a digital camera, so I didn't take the Psion Series 3mx with which I usually take notes. I figured I'd rely on brochures and my own pictures to remind me of all I'd seen. This approach didn't work quite as well as I thought, but it wasn't a total disaster, as you can see from the images in the page linked below (Ringo MUG, Tokyo's English-language Macintosh user group, also posted some pictures, along with other information about the show). I've included URLs to products and companies which particularly caught my eye, but note that some of these pages are in Japanese and lack English-language equivalents.
Irritating Delay -- I arrived just after the published opening time, expecting to go straight into the show. It was only later that I re-read the announcements and realized my error. At previous Expos, the general public has been let into the main hall at the same time the keynote speech starts. This gives everyone a chance to either see the speech on the huge screen set up in the center of the hall or get a start on looking at the booths before the crowds arrive - or, of course, do a bit of both. But this time the doors didn't open until after the keynote at 11:30 AM. I could have tried to sneak into the back of the hall where the speech was being held, but that would have meant I'd still need to register afterwards anyway.
Instead I experienced several joys, starting with lining up in front of the ticket counters until 10:30 AM, while being constantly harangued by various young megaphoned gentlemen - YMG - who insisted loudly we have exactly 2,500 yen ready, although the woman who took my money wasn't the least bit irritated at my 10,000-yen note. Next, we lined up in an enclosure in front of the reservation desk until 11:00 AM (and were constantly nagged by more YMG to stand closer together in five lines); then we lined up in more enclosures in front of the doors until 11:30 AM (and were nagged by yet more YMG to scrunch into four lines). Luckily, I'd thought to add a book to my bag, even though I usually try to arrive light in preparation for all the paper I expect to pick up during the show.
It might have been a mistake to bring a list of products to check out, because I treated it like a shopping list. I have a theory that a full wallet sends out a signal which befuddles the owner and screams, "Here comes a sucker!" to every loose item of merchandise within range. That may be why I zigzagged towards the T-Zone booth and bought a far more powerful Sonnet G3 upgrade package than I'd intended, because it was one of only five special packages bundled with the video adapter that I correctly thought might be necessary for our Power Macintosh 7100. And that meant, of course, that I was lugging around a bulky package for the rest of the day. Not smart.
Fortunately the U.S. keyboard that my husband wants for his PowerBook G3 is still too expensive for our budget and I couldn't find any of the other things he wanted, so my wallet's signal faded away, and I was free to enjoy the rest of the show.
Confession Time -- I feel a little guilty admitting this, but I find smaller companies exhibiting at Macworld Expo to be far more interesting than the large ones, especially when the smaller companies have created niche markets exploiting areas that Apple has left open. I know big companies contribute the most towards Macworld Tokyo - they pay for the biggest booths and provide reasonably comfortable seating for the Expo-weary. But their flashy, noisy presentations tend to leave me cold.
One of these smaller companies is Id East End, who turned up last year with various keyboards and accessories for PowerBooks, and this year were showing off their Arch 43: it's a keyboard shelf which lets you tuck your keyboard under your monitor (and out of your way) when you're not using it. The Arch 43 isn't like the clunky metal keyboard shelves I've seen before - it's an elegant arch of shaped wood, either blond or dyed a lacquer red, which spans an area large enough to hold a keyboard when it's not in use, and which also sports two indentations on top for the front legs of Apple's Cinema Display monitor and two holders for speakers. It's a sleek piece of furniture that wouldn't be out of place in a living room. [Information on the Arch 43 hadn't been posted to the company's site as of TidBITS's publication time, but there's a picture in Louise's photo collection, above. -Geoff]
I was also intrigued by the Matrox Millennium G400 for Mac, a two-connector video card that enables G4 Cubes to support multiple monitors - a boon since smooth support for multiple displays is one of the biggest productivity advantages of the Macintosh. The second connector can also be used for TV output.
And then there are all the third-party keyboards (including one with dingbats on the keycaps - fun, but probably not very useful). I don't fully understand why Apple Japan provides only JIS keyboards. JIS stands for Japanese Industrial Standards and thus JIS keyboards ought to be ideally suited to this market, but few people seem to enjoy using that horrible layout, judging from the number of companies making alternatives. I have seen some third-party JIS keyboards, but not many. Most alternative keyboards are either U.S. standard, or U.S. standard with combination kana/ASCII keycaps. Eleking was there as usual, selling various kits to convert JIS keyboards into closer approximations of the U.S. keyboard, including a bag of loose keycaps to replace kana-marked ASCII keys with plain ASCII ones.
Unknown Territory -- I'm also fascinated by applications that I would probably never have seen if I hadn't gone to Macworld Tokyo - such as a CCD camera that mounts on top of a microscope to relay the image to a Mac, or CD-R disks small enough to be printed up as information-packed business cards, baseball cards, or wedding commemorations.
For instance, this was the first time I'd seen SoftMac 2000, a Mac emulator for Windows machines, with the demonstrator proudly showing off the smallest "Mac" in the world - a Sony Vaio C1 PictureBook. It's being sold in Japan through Amulet, who had their usual booth with the usual skillful-looking lad doing on-the-spot PowerBook upgrades.
Palm Stuff -- My PDA of choice is a Psion, but the most recent Psions don't interface well with the Mac at the moment, so I'm still using the older 3mx and regretting the lack of Japanese on it. I have bought a Japanized Palm clone, but I haven't got the hang of using it, which means that although I do look at Palm products, my interest is mostly academic.
The cute little MicroPower "super mini portable AC/DC adapter" attracted my attention, together with a backup module for Palm devices called MemorySafe. Those products may have pulled me more towards the Palm, a feeling reinforced by gMovie Maker - but why on Earth would I want to run movies on that tiny screen?
There were also attachments to turn the Palm into a gaming machine, such as the Visor GameFace, a joystick/button combination that fits over the existing buttons. I need to forget about those quickly, which is why I didn't pick up brochures.
Smooth Operators -- Demonstrating a product is a strange job - not one I could manage myself, so I feel sympathy for people who find themselves stuck in it. Some just chat with friends and ignore potential customers, while others pounce on passersby - which scares me off. In between the two extremes are the smooth operators who manage to both attract my attention and draw me in.
My first good demonstrator experience was at the SoftPress Freeway booth. I was looking at the displays and the man asked whether I'm interested in putting up a Web site. My answer was intended as a brush-off: yes, but I'm not going to make things more difficult for myself by learning how to do it all in Japanese. Whereupon he said that Freeway 3.0-J can switch to the original English menus, and sat me down to demonstrate that feature. He then went on to show how easy it is for someone with QuarkXPress experience to set up a master page, and then individual pages. I could feel myself being led on, but it was an enjoyable experience. I'd had vague ideas of maybe cobbling together some sort of Web site for my photos, but I assumed I'd just have to learn how to hand-code the HTML. He's got me thinking it'd be a good idea to invest in a dedicated software package. There are lots of packages out there, of course, but the Freeway rep caught me first.
My next experience was a guy demonstrating a basic CD-label printing package, one of five that have recently been introduced by Hisago - a pack of special paper together with a CD-ROM containing templates that the user can customize with different colours, patterns, and images. He was so enthusiastic he nearly tempted me into buying a couple of the packages there and then, even though my elderly HP printer probably couldn't cope with the glossy paper.
Then there are always the weird encounters. As the Expo progressed, I realised I had taken plenty of pictures of booths, products at booths, demonstrators at booths, and backs of customers at booths, so I went looking for something different - preferably cute. Unfortunately, a little girl punching a foil balloon was moving too fast for my non-flash shutter speeds. Then I saw a torpid dog, lounging on a high-chair at a booth - ideal shutter fodder. So there I was, taking several photos of the dog while the booth personnel made noises to persuade him to look alive. I thanked them and moved on, then looked back and saw the big screen behind them, showing what looked like an array of thumbnail images. They had seen I had a camera and that I was clicking the shutter several times - which surely should've suggested I had a large Compact Flash card in the camera and hence a need to catalog those shots. So why didn't they talk about the product, instead of showing off the dog?
Time to Go -- Before leaving, I played with the Titanium PowerBook G4 (which induces minor lust: I like it a great deal, but I don't need it) and had a look at the new Flower Power and Blue Dalmatian iMacs. They boggled me slightly, since I thought part of the iMac's appeal was the seductive way in which you can't quite see the innards through the semi-transparent casing. So what's the idea of making the casing opaque, and with those patterns?
This year's Macworld Tokyo wasn't a major event for the Macintosh industry, but it wasn't a bad Expo either. It was simply proof that there are many serious Mac users in Japan. There seemed to be a wider range of people attending this year - more older people, suits, and young families. In fact, on my way into the show, I wondered whether I'd come on the wrong day because the crowd looked to be made up of so many everyday people. But in many ways, that range of users is precisely what Apple needs, both here and throughout the world.
[Louise Bremner is a freelance technical translator (Japanese-to-English), based in Tokyo.]