Impressions of MacTokyo 1999
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.