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Welcome to our special Macworld Expo wrap-up issue! As we were desperately trying to finish writing and editing Monday’s regular issue, we realized that we could just take out the post-keynote articles and publish them separately, giving you all the information in more digestible chunks and letting us stop working before midnight. So read on for Adam’s overview of the show and musings about what IDG must do to keep Macworld going in the future, Glenn’s irritation at Apple for comparing the traffic at Apple Stores to attendance at Macworld, and a whole bunch of our traditional superlatives: products, people, and happenings at the show that stood out from the crowd.

Glenn Fleishman No comments

Apple’s Canard of 100 Macworlds a Week

Just as hard drives are described in units of “Libraries of Congress” – as in, “You can store 1,000 LOCs on this baby!” – so, too, has Apple taken to one-upping the Macworld Conference & Expo by enumerating the visitors to its retail stores in units of Macworld shows. Apple VP Phil Schiller said during this year’s keynote that 100 Macworld Expos’ worth of customers pass through Apple’s retail store doors each week.

That’s a red herring of epic proportions. Excluding the conference part of Macworld, in which hundreds of people pay hundreds to thousands of dollars for education, the trade show floor offers 500 exhibitors with at least 5,000 staffers providing non-stop hands-on demonstrations and answering questions.

Each Apple Store, by contrast, presents one company, maybe a few hundred select products, a score of employees trained to answer questions identically, and a carefully controlled experience that’s primarily about Apple’s need to deliver high-dollar-per-square-foot retail sales. That’s great for Apple, but it doesn’t open the eyes of Mac, iPhone, and iPod users to more than a limited set of items that Apple allows in its stores. And Apple is careful to keep out any product, such as a troubleshooting book, that might imply you could have problems using your Apple hardware.

I’ve seen thousands of models of cameras, printers, scanners, and other peripherals at Macworld; an Apple Store stocks only dozens. I was able to spend 15 minutes with a Drobo representative nailing down details I didn’t entirely understand about the product, and I was able to pull a working drive out of a Drobo and watch it recover. I can’t do that at an Apple Store.

The Apple Store metaphor is perfectly revealing about Apple’s attitude. Apple customers are Apple’s – not IDG’s, not third-party developers’, and not anyone else’s. Apple’s store, Apple’s events, Apple’s customers. Nothing more, nothing less, but I’d like to think I’m more than just a customer.

Glenn Fleishman No comments

Undercover Adds Wi-Fi Location to Laptop Recovery

Orbicule, makers of the computer-recovery package Undercover, will capture Wi-Fi information to offer a rough location for help in retrieving a stolen computer. Version 3 will be released on 20-Jan-09, and was demonstrated at Macworld Expo. It’s a free upgrade for current users; new copies cost $49 (individual), $59 (up to five in a family), or $39 (student).

Orbicule is working with Skyhook Wireless, a firm that captures Wi-Fi signal information and triangulates locations based on an enormous and constantly updated database. (See “Loki Here,” 2007-06-18, for details on how Skyhook collects data and produces results.)

Undercover operates in the background, and is triggered by a user entering a special code on Orbicule’s Web site. The next time the background Undercover app on the missing Mac checks in with Orbicule’s servers, it switches into recovery mode where it captures images via an iSight camera (if available) and logs network data, transferring this information to Orbicule. Orbicule then works with your local law enforcement to provide recovery data.

Orbicule becomes the second computer-recovery software firm to work with Skyhook Wireless; GadgetTrak’s MacTrak ($59.95, one-time fee) added this capability two months ago (see “Laptop Recovery Software Uses Wi-Fi and Flickr,” 2008-11-13).

TidBITS Staff No comments

Fun Stuff at Macworld 2009

It’s impossible to convey just how much fun can be had at Macworld Expo, but darn it, we’re going to try, with these brief snapshots of clever events, cool demos, and neat people.

Most Pervasive Tchotchke — The giveaways seemed pretty sparse at Macworld Expo this year, but one freebie stood head and shoulders above the rest, literally. Peachpit Press was giving away free bunny ears to promote the Visual QuickStart Guide bunny logo. Wearers could win iPhones and iTunes gift certificates. Although it was a clever idea, even Peachpit’s staff were amazed at how popular the fuzzy pink ears turned out to be. They gave away over 700 pairs of ears in the first few hours of the show, and ran out of a subsequent 300 pairs the next day. You could see bunny ears not only on the show floor, but in restaurants surrounding Moscone. Interestingly, Peachpit
chose not to put their name on the ears, thus forcing everyone who wanted a pair to ask where they’d come from. [JLC]

Best Audience ParticipationDriveSavers, the folks who can disassemble crashed drives and often extract their vital data, had a nifty demonstration where they drafted a passer-by to act as a “disk doctor.” I was walking by and the DriveSavers booth staffer had equipped what appeared to be a regular attendee as a clean room technician, and used the Socratic method to elicit responses as he helped the “doctor” disassemble a sealed drive mechanism. A microphone and speakers allowed observers to hear what dust spinning on a drive does to the read/write heads as the specks bang into them. Remember, we love what the DriveSavers folks do, but they’ll be the first to
encourage you to back up instead, since their services aren’t cheap. [GF]

Best CHOCK LOCK — The 100-foot-tall Craig Hockenberry, who strides the floor of Macworld Expo like a colossus, is a very funny man, as well as one of the principals of Iconfactory, most recently known for the desktop and iPhone/iPod touch versions of Twitterrific and Frenzic. Hockenberry, seen here crushing Bare Bones founder Rich Siegel (himself 99 feet tall) into the show floor, has spread a hilarious meme via Twitter about the CHOCK LOCK, a morphable description of practically any behavior. [GF]

Largest Digital Project — Artist Bert Monroy described his latest project to me at the Peachpit Press party: It’s a 25-foot-long photo-realistic mural he’s creating in Photoshop that’s so large and complicated he expects to spend another two and a half years working on the project – and has already stretched the limits of Adobe’s Creative Suite products to the breaking point. Monroy’s source file is over 11.5 GB flattened, and his next steps will quadruple the current file size. [GF]

TidBITS Staff No comments

Top Mac Software at Macworld Expo 2009

For us, it’s often hard to sit through a product demo, given how difficult it is to see the entire Macworld Expo show floor. But that’s a shame, since many companies give great demos, and it’s a good opportunity to learn what’s cool about a piece software in a way that you might not figure out on your own. Plus, it’s a great way to rest your feet from a long day on hard floors. Despite our need to keep moving through the show, these applications still managed to grab our attention.

Most Talked-About Software — In the “What’s cool at the show?” category, more people told me I had to check out Cultured Code’s Things than any other product. Things isn’t the first Getting Things Done-inspired task organizer to hit the market, but its execution is polished and intuitive, and doesn’t try to do too much or to be too slavish to the Getting Things Done model. Since different people seek different ways to organize their lives, it’s helpful that this category of software offers a variety of programs and approaches. Things, yet another entrant in the category, is next on my list. Things 1.0 costs $49.95, is a 4.2 MB download, and also syncs with a
$9.99 iPhone/iPod touch companion. [JLC]

Best Return from Being Knee-capped by Apple — When Apple introduced iMovie ’08 in August 2007, the revamped video editor didn’t support third-party plug-ins, a burgeoning market that had grown up around previous versions of iMovie. Developers such as GeeThree found their products suddenly outdated. The just-announced iMovie ’09 also does not support plug-ins, but GeeThree has now brought its expertise in creating video effects to Final Cut Express and Final Cut Pro. SlickFX Final Cut brings lots of its Slick iMovie plug-ins to the more advanced video editors. More impressive is the $75 SlickFX
, which makes creating Ken Burns-style movements over still photos dramatically easier than building them by hand using Final Cut’s tools. [JLC]

Brainiest Software — As I watched the enthusiastic demo at the booth for TheBrain Technologies I sensed I was either seeing a fabulous product or a reality distortion field. The demo was for PersonalBrain, a “visual information manager” that enables users to create “brains” that contain “thoughts” linked in parent/child relationships in linear (or entirely non-linear) ways. These thoughts can also include URLs and linked-in files. And, they can enter the third dimension with tagging. If you have trouble organizing ideas, projects, or to-dos because too many items need to exist in too many categories, PersonalBrain may be just the product for you. Three versions range in price from free to $249.95, depending on the feature set.

I downloaded the 26 MB free demo version shortly after Macworld Expo and while it’s too soon to say if I love it, it is soon enough to say that its free-wheeling non-linearity more than makes up for its somewhat clunky, Windows-inspired interface. I’ve been mapping projects and to-dos, and using the tagging for items like “Ask Adam,” “Maybe/Later,” and “Monday.” Apparently, I can also apply PersonalBrain to Apple Mail – I’ve yet to find out how, exactly – and an enterprise version of the software performs all these tasks and more for entire companies. The brain boggles. [TJE]

Most Dynamic Photography Software — One of the hottest trends in digital pictures is “high dynamic range” photography, in which you combine multiple different exposures of the same scene into a single image. The end result can more accurately reflect the colors and lighting you saw at the time with your eyes, and HDR photos can be startlingly beautiful works. While many tools can create HDR photographs, including the venerable Adobe Photoshop, most require the original photos be taken using a tripod for image alignment and to produce the best results. Hydra 2.0, by Creaceed, is a combined Aperture plug-in and stand-alone program that combines HDR with impressive
automatic-alignment and warping features to help you create HDR photographs from handheld shots. Since I rarely bring a full tripod on trips, Hydra increases the opportunities I have to produce a great-looking HDR photo. [RM]

TidBITS Staff No comments

Top Mac Gear at Macworld Expo 2009

Evaluation software works well in this age of the Internet, but we haven’t yet figured out a way to download a free trial of a laptop case or webcam. It’s probably for the best – having a trial laptop case expire (and disintegrate) after 30 days could be troublesome. So until we have Star Trek-style replicators, Macworld Expo will remain an excellent place to examine all sorts of peripherals and accessories, even some that aren’t yet available for sale.

Greenest Black Cases — I’m always somewhat peeved when companies – including Apple, with their current San Francisco billboards crowing about the MacBook line – tout the environmental goodness of buying some new bit of gear. Sure, it might be better than a less-green competitor, but more environmental yet would be to avoid buying something that requires new raw materials. Reduce, reuse, recycle.

That’s why I so appreciated the tough rubber laptop and iPhone cases from Tread – not only do they consume little in the way of raw materials, but their manufacture also actually removes waste material from the environment (in this case, inner tubes from South America, where they’re still used for tires). Granted, the cases have a chunky, almost sticky feel from the hefty rubber, but they look well-padded and durable, as though they would shrug off the occasional rain with aplomb. [ACE]

Best Rethinking of the Webcam — Most Macs and Apple displays now have an iSight video camera built in, so whenever I see a separate webcam for the Mac, I always wonder what the point is. IPEVO, a company I hadn’t previously run into, was showing the $39.99 PoV USB Camera, a pen-shaped webcam that’s designed to show more than just your face in front of the Mac. Indeed, IPEVO’s Caroline Andreolle puckishly claimed that the impetus for the PoV was the company’s CEO wanting to see his 90-pound bulldog on video while travelling, but his 90-pound wife couldn’t keep the dog from slobbering on the laptop.

[Update: It turns out the USB camera I was shown at Macworld was a prototype of an upcoming Mac-compatible release, and the current version is only Windows-compatible. Sorry for the confusion! -Adam]

The company was also showing the Kaleido R7, a prototype of a wireless digital picture frame with great industrial design and connections to the Mac, to Flickr, and to RSS feeds. Keep an eye out for it in a few months. [ACE]

Standalone Laptop Battery Charging Returns — Once upon a time, companies made standalone chargers for Apple laptop batteries. Instead of swapping between batteries to charge them in the laptop, you could plug your spare into one of these devices and replenish the battery’s power separately. For some reason (perhaps because each laptop has its own shape) those chargers disappeared, leaving travelers and other people who frequently use multiple batteries without an easy way to charge their batteries simultaneously. Fastmac’s $79.95 U-Charge brings back that capability in an ingenious way. Although Apple’s batteries have changed shape over the years, they all share
the same connector, so the U-Charge is a cable that plugs into just the pins on the battery. The charger also features a row of LED lights to indicate a battery’s current power level. [JLC]

Better BookEndzBookEndz laptop docks have been around for a long time, extending a row of plugs into the various USB, Ethernet, and other ports along the laptop’s sides and offering a set of rear-mounted jacks into which you can leave your USB devices, Ethernet cable, and monitor plugged. The idea is that it’s easier to attach and detach the laptop from the BookEndz dock than to handle each cable individually. I tried the model designed for Apple’s previous white and black MacBook line, but it was a small device that required somewhat finicky alignment with the MacBook’s ports. It ended up making the process more work than attaching a few cables, especially
since the BookEndz can’t pass power through to the dock due to Apple’s stubborn reluctance to license the MagSafe technology.

That said, the prototype of the BookEndz dock for the current aluminum MacBook impressed me. It features a platform on which the MacBook sits, and although you must still attach the part that contains the row of plugs manually, alignment is easier, and there’s a lever in back that disconnects it quickly. (It looks a lot like the model for the 15-inch MacBook Pro.) Being a prototype, it had a slightly odd collection of ports in back, including Mini DisplayPort, DVI, and VGA, although I was told VGA might disappear in the finished product for space reasons. It also multiplied the MacBook’s two USB ports to provide five USB ports on different sides of the dock. Hopefully it will appear soon, since I’m trying to use this MacBook as my only
Mac, and fiddling with six cables every time I take it off my desk is tiresome. [ACE]

Project Your Best Image — Is the screen on your iPod or iPhone too small to really enjoy watching video? Or, perhaps, do you aspire to set up a functional drive-in theater for your Matchbox collection? One recent technology trend is the “pico projector,” a handheld device that projects video onto any surface. Typically, presentation projectors are large, heavy, expensive pieces of gear. Microvision was showing off a prototype of its Show WX projector, which measured barely larger than an iPhone but output impressive video from an iPod nano. Using lasers, it auto-focuses the image up to 100 inches wide. Microvision isn’t yet selling the Show WX (which is
itself a code name), but the device is expected to cost between $400 and $500 when it’s released. [JLC]

Custom Manufacturing Comes of Age — The fragmentation of popular culture continues apace, and the latest example I noticed is the customization of durable goods. Sure, we’re used to being able to choose from among numerous colors and styles when it comes to things like iPod cases, but Brenthaven and iFrogz have taken customization to a new level.

Brenthaven’s $129.95 Switch MB messenger bag features a flippable flap for which you can choose front and back designs from a selection on Brenthaven’s Web site. At the show, they had artists creating unique designs that could be ordered and, after a quick pass through an industrial-looking sewing machine, picked up later.

iFrogz couldn’t do on-the-spot customization, but they were showing how customers could choose different colors, finishes, and designs for the five major pieces of their line of horribly named EarPollution headphones. As much as the name bugs me (oh, I know, it’s ironic and hip), the custom headphones looked good – unfortunately, I couldn’t test the sound well on the show floor.

Custom manufacturing isn’t just an indulgence, since it enables companies to avoid guessing what customers might like when determining inventory levels. That’s good business sense, and, if it eliminates large orders for misconceived styles, also a nice way to avoid dumping unnecessary waste into the world. [ACE]

TidBITS Staff No comments

Top iPhone and iPod Gear at Macworld Expo 2009

Macworld may have Mac in its name, but it had the iPhone and iPod in its tap shoes, as Apple’s handheld devices provided much of the energy at the show. Apps and gear for the iPhone and iPod ranged from inventive and extraordinary to mundane, but it was clear that at its best the iPhone has become an extension of your Mac, contextualizing and enhancing the environment around you. The iPhone has also become a recorder, keeping track of where you were and what you did, so that you can keep that data handy, share it with others, or send it back to your Mac later. Of course, the show was also a great place to see the latest accessories that make using an iPhone or iPod just a little bit nicer.

Ocarina Over the Top — The folks working the Smule booth were having a hoot of a time demoing the $0.99 Ocarina, which was easily the most out-of-the-box iPhone app at Macworld Expo. Ocarina lets you, well, play the ocarina on your iPhone. You simply blow into the microphone while touching the appropriate buttons on the screen, and ethereal flute sounds come out.

But wait, that’s not all! Your Ocarina tune can also go up to the Internet cloud and from there other people can listen to (and “heart”) it. And, you can email tunes to people. Conversely, you can view a map of the world within Ocarina, tap that map, see where in the world other people are playing Ocarina, and then tap to listen. [TJE]

Best On-the-Spot Connection — While wandering the show floor, I ran into Alan Oppenheimer of Open Door Networks, who was showing off his latest iPhone application for exchanging virtual business cards. MyCard is one of the better business-card exchange tools I’ve seen. Rather than having to connect over the same wireless network, two people can quickly and easily exchange cards even over AT&T’s cell data network. All you do is download the application (free for now), select your default card, and either “beam” it or email it to another user. When you hit the “Beam myCard”
button you’re given a code you exchange with the other user, who taps the receive button on their end and enters the code. For non-iPhone users you have the option of just emailing them a standard vCard file, which nearly any contact application can import.

As you would expect from a tool made by a company that started in security, the application uses encrypted connections for beaming and lets you select which contact fields you want to share. I was able to download and install the application in less than a minute on the show floor, and Alan and I would have exchanged cards if a few thousand iPhone users hadn’t plugged up the network before I could finish my beam. MyCard is small enough to download, and fast enough to configure, that it takes just a minute in the real world to swap contact information, even if neither person has yet installed it. [RM]

Charge without that Syncing Feeling — This being my first trip with an iPhone, I was struck by how irritated I became with iTunes’s automatic launching and syncing when I plugged the iPhone into my MacBook for some juice at the end of a very long day when all I wanted to do was fall into bed. “Just charge, dammit!” I’d swear, albeit quietly, so as not to disturb Tonya, who had already collapsed from exhaustion.

I’m thus eagerly anticipating the forthcoming Tune Blocker from Matias, a USB cable for charging and syncing an iPod or iPhone that includes a little switch that lets you choose whether your connected device will charge and sync, or just charge. When I questioned Vesna Vojnic of Matias about the package’s “The safest way to charge & sync” claim, she gave me an embarrassed smile and admitted it was “just marketing.”

But I think she demurs too much – I may succumb to inadvisable actions when faced with an automatic sync that’s keeping me from my bed after midnight. Look for it in a few months for $24.95 or $29.95, depending on cable length. [ACE]

Just in Case — If you wanted to find the perfect case or holder for your iPhone or iPod, Macworld Expo offered about 7 million choices, and there were more practical options than ever before. One of my favorite entries here was ProClip’s car mounts. These mounts are particular to your handheld model and car, and support the iPhone (or other device, like a Blackberry or GPS) from the grill vents or the dash.

Another attachment product that I liked was the $14.95 Hangman from Neat Products. It helps you avoid carrying an iPhone in your hands or fumbling for it in a bag. It attaches into the dock connector port on an iPhone or iPod, lets you wrap up any attached headphone cord, and clips onto a belt loop or necklace. Jim Rea of ProVUE Development enthused about the Hangman, telling me that he has two of them with different sets of cables for wearing his iPhone on a lanyard.

For attractive, non-bulky protection and personalization, I liked GelaSkins, which cover the back of an iPhone, iPod, or laptop with an artist-designed image and provide a custom wallpaper for the screen to match (prices vary by device). They also sell the GelaScreen clear protector for the screen. [TJE]

Passive Aggressive iPhone Speakers — The iPhone and second-generation iPod touch offer – I won’t say “boast” – external speakers, but they’re pretty weak. There’s no shame in that, and Apple doesn’t tout them as being appropriate for more than speakerphone calls and listening to YouTube videos. But if you want to increase sound output by up to 10 decibels without YAWW (Yet Another Wall Wart), I saw three devices that qualify.

The SoundClip ($7.95) from Ten One Design is a tiny bit of plastic that snaps onto the dock connector and boosts sound largely by routing it perpendicularly to the iPhone, rather than out the bottom edge.

Griffin Technology’s AirCurve (19.95) is a stylish piece of clear plastic on which the iPhone sits and that increases volume by sending the sound waves through carefully constructed spiral channels.

Lastly, the ungainly AmpLi-Phone ($29.95) looks a bit like an old-time loudspeaker, but also provides a decibel lift.

I was able to test only the AirCurve in a quiet room, and it performed adequately. Just don’t expect it to sound like a real external speaker. If you’re interested in one of these, I notice that Rik Myslewski has compared the three in more detail at The Register. [ACE]

Cutest Speakers — There were oodles of real speakers at Macworld Expo as well, but the ones that caught my eye as I walked by were the Tweakers from Grandmax ($39.95). Powered via a rechargeable battery, they snapped apart to provide left and right speakers; the battery can be recharged via USB. The sound seemed good, considering their size, and I liked the industrial design that gave them a sleek profile in your laptop bag while still concealing not just the speaker innards and battery, but also retractable USB and headphone cables. [ACE]

I Like Mikey — The clever designers and engineers at Blue Microphones who came up with the Snowball microphone and its smaller sibling, the portable Snowflake (which I far prefer to my MacBook’s internal speaker for iChat and Skype audio) have now created a new microphone for the iPod. Dubbed Mikey, the hinged mic snaps onto the dock connector and lets you prop your iPod on a table for recording interviews or lectures. Three settings control its sensitivity, depending on how far away from the source you are.

Mikey isn’t out yet, but I’m looking forward to trying it when it does arrive in a few months. Although it worked with my iPhone in testing, the Blue Microphones folks are working out some kinks in getting the iPhone to recognize it properly; until then they don’t seem to be claiming iPhone compatibility. [ACE]

Sweatiest iPhone App — I spend a fair amount of time riding a bicycle, but I can honestly say it’s not something I’ve ever done in the middle of a conference expo floor. That’s exactly what I saw at the MapMyRide/SMHeart Link booth that featured a “spinner” showing off the latest iPhone fitness application. iSpinning uses a small hardware adapter attached to your iPhone to connect with standard wireless fitness sensors, such as the Polar series, and monitor your heart rate, speed, and other statistics. During a training session it presents you with a dashboard of your workout, including heart rate, calories burned,
speed, distance, and power so you know exactly how out of shape you are.

For those of us who like to bike outside the confines of the gym, we can always use iMapMyRide (or a similar application, like Trailguru) to track our workouts with the GPS in the iPhone for full maps and workout summaries (minus the heart rate monitor). Be aware that the iPhone must be on and running the iMapMyRide app the entire time, so you have only a couple of hours of battery life. The company is working on a handlebar mount with an integrated battery for longer rides. [RM]

Making iPhones Social in the Real World? — I worried that all these iPhone apps would cause people to disappear into their tiny handhelds, emerging only for food and bathroom breaks. For example, the ECOcal iPhone app, which is meant to show a calendar not as a series of like-sized squares but instead as a more flowing sense of time moving through the seasons in nature, had a daytime view that removed me from reality and from socializing with others by drawing me into the display. However, its nighttime view seemed likely to provide useful context to the outside world, with its information about constellations
overhead (in the northern hemisphere).

I saw a great many iPhones being used at the show and for the most part people seemed to know how to use (or refrain from using) the iPhone while being sociable. Google enhanced the iPhone craze and iPhone-related sociability even more with a much-appreciated iPhone charging station. At this station, a dozen or so iPhones could be charged at once, giving power-hungry geeks another excuse to stand around and chat. [TJE]

Adam Engst No comments

Thoughts on the Past and Future of Macworld Expo

At Macworld Expo, the usual query upon meeting an acquaintance is, “So what have you seen that’s cool?” This year, I didn’t receive that question until late on the final day. Instead, the constant inquiry ran along the lines of, “Do you think there will be a Macworld Expo next year, now that Apple is pulling out?” For the record: Yes, I do. However, it’s not guaranteed, since there’s no way to predict what additional abuses could be heaped upon the beleaguered show organizers in the next 12 months. But Paul Kent of IDG World Expo certainly plans to put Macworld Expo on in 2010 in San Francisco. You can even register to attend for free now, and if Paul and his team can make next
year’s show a success, Macworld Expo will continue beyond that date.

Walking the Floor — But while Apple’s decision to pull out of Macworld Expo after this year dominated conversation, it didn’t cast a significant pall over the show floor or the sessions. Attendance was somewhat down from last year (final numbers won’t be available for a few weeks), but that’s almost certainly due to overall economic conditions. Plus, had Apple’s announcements been as compelling as in previous years, it’s possible that more local residents would have been drawn in for a day, as I’m sure happened two years ago with the introduction of the iPhone or last year with the MacBook Air.

Speaking of Apple’s announcements, the uncluttered layout of Apple’s booth confirmed for me the rumblings I’d heard that Apple had planned to make more-significant hardware announcements but was forced to pull them because they weren’t ready for prime time. To put it another way, although Apple doesn’t mind showing a product that won’t ship for a month, Steve Jobs dislikes promising ship dates that he isn’t certain Apple can meet. And with a number of recent releases (MobileMe being the most notable) requiring a several updates to reach Apple’s usual level of quality, I can’t blame him.

Despite the open space in Apple’s booth that seemed designed to hold another row of tables displaying shiny new Mac models, most of the floor space in both the North and South halls of Moscone Center was occupied. The South hall featured more of the larger exhibitors, with the North hall picking up smaller, less well-known companies and a few oddities, like Acura (they were showing a really large, car-shaped iPod case). The aisles were often full, though crowds thinned out significantly toward the end of each day.

Plus, with the exception of the long-standing Netter’s Dinner, whose attendance was reduced by many regulars being unable to attend the show at all, the parties we attended were packed, and there were often three or four competing events each night. Since it’s devilishly difficult to calculate the marketing win from throwing a party, the fact that there were so many says to me that Mac companies are still feeling optimistic about the state of the market.

Future of Macworld — So if it was a generally successful show, despite no major announcements from Apple, is the doom and gloom about Macworld Expo’s future warranted? Forced change is always scary, without a doubt, and Macworld will have to change to survive. Macworld received a pardon from the fate that eliminated many other large trade shows over the past decade, thanks largely to Apple’s resurgence over that time (though it’s safe to say that Apple also needed, or at least benefited from, Macworld’s audience of press, developers, and influencers even in recent years). But now there’s no avoiding reality, and Macworld will have to adjust not just to the loss of Apple as a primary exhibitor, but also to
all the changes that have felled other trade shows. The most notable of these changes is the use of the Internet to replace much of the information exchange that was previously possible only at shows. So where should IDG turn next?

IDG has a number of constituencies – attendees, exhibitors, press, speakers, and, until now, Apple. While all the constituencies are important to the health of the show, only Apple had the power to affect the show ahead of time. But it’s entirely unclear that what’s good for Apple (or at least what Apple wanted) is good for the other constituencies. For instance, sources tell me that Apple dictated certain terms that, for instance, prevented IDG from collecting a set of exhibitors into a Gaming or iPhone section of the show floor, which might have benefited those companies.

Exhibitors pay the steep price for booth space (and all the associated booth and staffing requirements) largely because of the marketing opportunities (press coverage, distributor meetings, pre-sales questions, and support for existing customers) that result from exhibiting – direct sales to attendees seldom do more than defray costs. For Macworld to succeed as a trade show (as opposed to a session-based conference), IDG will need to make sure that exhibiting provides sufficient value for the money.

(This is especially true in light of the recent news from the Consumer Electronics Association that there will be a new Apple section at CES 2010. Macworld Expo will now have to vie for exhibitors lured by the potential of a broader tech audience populated largely by dealers and press; it’s not user-focused.)

For many years, speaking at Macworld was largely a donation of knowledge back to the community, since the only benefit speakers received for their efforts was a reputation boost from appearing in the conference program. But in recent years, IDG has done a good job of making speakers feel appreciated. The comfortable speaker room always has food laid out, keynote access is provided, and in the last few years, IDG has worked with select exhibitors to provide swag bags full of software and accessories that make the effort of preparing a talk downright palatable. I don’t see a need for much new here.

When it comes to press, IDG’s role has historically been to provide media badges, keynote access, and a media room where journalists can work. But what the press really wants from Macworld is news, and Apple won’t be providing that in a keynote, so IDG will need to step into the breach.

And attendees? Individuals attend Macworld for a variety of reasons, ranging from professional development to simple curiosity about the state of the Mac industry, but the main thing to remember is that unless you live near San Francisco, the requisite airfare and hotel expenses add up quickly. So, again, IDG will need to focus on features that provide sufficient value, such as sessions, without making people feel as though they’re paying for every little thing.

There’s actually another constituency that’s seldom recognized: industry executives. Whether it’s a distributor scouting the show for new products to carry, a publisher meeting with potential authors, a Web site seeking advertisers, or just executives getting together to discuss how their companies can do business, there’s a lot that happens behind the scenes at Macworld.

Some suggestions then, and if you have more, IDG has a 2010 Suggestion Box on the Macworld Expo site:

  • IDG could coordinate with exhibitors ahead of time to schedule new product releases for the show – the keynote benefit might not be sufficient for Apple, but no one else can hold their own press events and expect coverage. Imagine a keynote featuring 10 completely new products from around the Mac industry. Exhibitors would submit new products to be considered and agree that nothing could be announced until that keynote. Then IDG would select the best products and a moderator like David Pogue could count down to the top choice, with each winner getting a 10 minute demo slot. Products not selected for the top 10 could still get a booth sign and appear in a list on the Macworld Expo Web site to help journalists zero in on what’s
  • Technically savvy attendees often appreciate finding an equivalently technical person at an exhibitor’s booth. IDG might facilitate that process by giving each exhibitor a few “Genius” badges to be worn by their most knowledgeable staffers.
  • Exhibitors are certainly happy to talk with attendees, but there’s no way currently for companies to indicate other interests, such as meeting potential distributors, integrating their product with others, and so on. I can’t quite envision how this would work, but I’d encourage IDG to think about ways of facilitating the business that already takes place via informal methods at the show. It might be as simple as having business-oriented meetings the Monday before the show floor opens to accompany the user sessions that day.
  • It might be worthwhile to have an executive lounge, much like the speaker room and media room, that would be designed to facilitate the kind of business meetings that are often difficult to hold during the hustle-bustle of the show floor or after hours at parties. One pass could be given to each exhibitor, and companies who weren’t exhibiting could pay extra for a pass.
  • It’s often too difficult, especially for smaller companies, to sell their products at the show. At the same time, there always used to be great deals at the show (that’s less true now), and attendees would often come to the show ready to purchase. If IDG could make transactions easier and encourage exhibitors to offer deals, everyone would win. I could imagine a system that would take data scanned from an attendee’s badge bar code and create a proposed transaction. The attendee would later log into the Macworld Expo Web site, enter credit card information, and approve the transaction. Even better, larger physical objects could be shipped directly to the attendee’s office or home, eliminating the need to schlep stuff around during the

To be clear, TidBITS Publishing has no direct interest in whether Macworld Expo succeeds or fails – it costs us several thousand dollars each year to attend, between airplane tickets, hotel rooms, and food, and we don’t reap any direct payment for our efforts at the show.

However, as a place to gather information for publication, touch base with our far-flung authors and editors, meet with potential sponsors, cement relationships with industry acquaintances with whom we do business, and generally open our minds to new products and ideas, Macworld Expo is utterly worthwhile. Between 5 PM and 10 PM on Tuesday night at the show, I had more business development conversations than in the previous 3 months. And at a meeting the next day, a chance comment was made that may generate twice what we spent on attending the show, with no additional work whatsoever. All this – and there was more – might have happened otherwise, but it certainly wouldn’t have happened so quickly.

Put it this way: Macworld is but a pebble thrown in the Macintosh pond each year, but its ripples spread far and wide.