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Macworld Expo in Boston: Past, Present, and Future

It’s been the better part of a decade since Boston hosted Macworld Expo, and those of us who haven’t been back since the early East Coast expos in Boston were interested to see the massive changes to the city: a huge freeway had been torn down and stuffed underground in tunnels, the area around the World Trade Center looks far less like an industrial wasteland (and more like a city), and the huge new Boston Convention & Exhibition Center is so new that the carpet squeaked in places.

Past — Macworld Expo on the East Coast – whether in Boston or New York City – has been characterized by heat and humidity, a loud and dynamic show floor, and a large and broad representation of all that is Macintosh.

The recent Macworld Expo in Boston failed to deliver on any of those items, but as Expo Conference Chair Paul Kent described it, comparing this year’s Expo to those in the past would be comparing apples to oranges. This year’s Boston weather hardly went into the 70s (I didn’t even wear all the dresses I’d brought, since every day called for pants and sometimes an umbrella), the show floor stayed sufficiently calm that I didn’t lose my voice talking over the din, and some notable elements of past shows were missing, though some new elements were introduced.

Present — Mac users are good at beta testing, and for this show we got to test drive the brand new Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, which feels approximately the size of Vermont and is officially the seventh largest conference facility in the United States. With a predicted 9,000 to 10,000 attendees and approximately 80 vendors, the entire show could have fit in just a few of its hallways (by September, IDG World Expo will have audited and – presumably be willing to share – the attendee count). Despite its compact size, the show floor was usually humming with activity, but when I strayed to the farther reaches of the facility (such as the press room or the User Group lounge), I felt like an insect, dwarfed by the lonely immensity of the place.

I missed the presence and buzz typically generated by the larger companies at the show. As expected, Apple was a no-show, but everyone noticed and commented on the lack of booths from stalwarts like Adobe, Aladdin, Dantz Development, and Microsoft. (Equally noticeable was the atypical presence of Quark, which hasn’t appeared at a Macworld Expo in years.) Nonetheless, the exhibitors I missed most were the small developers in Developer Central who showcase the latest in interesting and oddball (but often useful) ideas percolating at the cutting edge of what Macs can do.

To fill the time I would have otherwise spent walking the floor, I sampled the numerous presentations (such as those that were open to all on the Geeks and Gadgets stage), along with the conference sessions for those who paid extra. Some attendees were disappointed with the small size of the show floor, but for those who took this Expo for what it was and not what it used to be, it was a genuinely enjoyable chance to hobnob with other Mac users, pick up new tips and tricks, and check out a smattering of interesting Mac products. Vendors I spoke with were universally positive about the show, citing a more select pool of especially interested customers and the opportunity to spend more time with individual users.

Future — Of course, the big question on everyone’s mind is whether there will be a Macworld Expo next July. The answer certainly seems to be yes; the likely date and venue were printed on the back of attendee name tags: 18-Jul-05 through 21-Jul-05 at the Boston Convention and Exposition Center. During a panel session with several Expo organizers in the User Group Lounge, I asked Warwick Davies, group vice president for IDG World Expo, if those dates were solid and he gave me a three-part answer. First, he pointed out that they are already signing exhibitors up for next year. Second, he observed (and the folks in the User Group Lounge seemed to agree) that attendees were having a good time. Third, he noted that Macworld Expo is a business and that they have to analyze the financial situation before they can be sure about what’s going to happen next year.

Overall, I’d count this Macworld Expo a success, at least on its own terms, and if that means that these mid-year shows are significantly different from both previous shows and Macworld Expo in San Francisco in January, so be it. Count me in for next year.

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