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Impressions of Macworld Tokyo 2001

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.]

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