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ATPM 15.02
February 2009






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by Christopher Turner, With Lee Bennett and Eric Blair

Macworld Expo 2009

Our road to the 2009 Macworld Conference & Expo started something like this:

Friends in different parts of the country watch live-blogs of the 2008 Macworld Expo Keynote address by Steve Jobs, while instant messaging one another about the various announcements therein. At some point afterward, someone (alright, it was me) said something to the effect of, “Hey, we should all get together at Macworld Expo next year.” All of the friends thought this was a terrific idea.

The thing about attending Macworld Expo is this: it’s not cheap. Even if you can get in to the Expo for free, there’s still a plane ticket to purchase (unless you like to spend a few days driving across country), accommodations (unless you like to sleep on benches and sidewalks), and food (unless you like to, well, not eat). One reason this trip came to fruition is that the accommodation problem resolved itself fairly quickly: my wife and I own a time-share condo in Hawaii, which we can transfer to other locations around the world. Once we secured a week in San Francisco for January 2009, the rest began to fall in to place.

Originally there were to be six of us on the trip, but over the course of the rest of 2008, with changes to the economy and the health of family members, this was whittled down to three: myself, Lee Bennett, and Eric Blair.

Eric and I had both been to Macworld Expos before. I had been to the summer Expo in New York twice, in 2001 and 2002, and to San Francisco in January of 2002. It was at the New York shows that Eric and I were able to meet in person for the first time. In case you were unaware, the ATPM staff works totally in cyberspace. We have no central office, and staff members are located across the globe. I’m in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, Lee is in Orlando, and Eric resides in the D.C. area. You can understand, then, that an opportunity to get together, especially for something like Macworld Expo, is something we were excited about.

For Lee, this would be his first Macworld Expo, and, he noted at one point, possibly his last and only. Who knows how the Expo will change in the coming years, now that Apple will no longer be exhibiting. We’ll discuss that in a bit.

Each and every Macworld Conference & Expo begins with the Keynote Address, which has traditionally been handled by Apple’s CEO, most notably Steve Jobs. Many of us, Lee included, were disappointed that Jobs elected to not deliver this year’s keynote, but we looked forward to the shiny new toys Phil Schiller would pull out of his hat for us. (Incidentally, IDG limited us to only two press passes with keynote access, so Eric had to follow along online from the press room. Of course, had Eric not been in the press room, none of us would have witnessed Mac Rumors getting hacked, nor heard the plaintive wail, “Steve Jobs is dead?” from a pre-teen writer covering the show.)


I thought Phil did a great job with the keynote, so much so that at one point I twittered how I wasn’t really missing Steve. Phil had obviously rehearsed; I wouldn’t expect anything less from anyone taking Jobs’ place. But he was very personable, and self-deprecating where appropriate. In other words, he was as much Phil as he could be in that particular situation.

No, the keynote was not particularly earth-shattering. Too many people have come to expect Apple to unveil The Next Great Thing at each and every media event. This was my fourth keynote, and I’m hard-pressed to recall if there was such an earth-shattering revelation, on par with the iPhone, at any of them. Most of the time, the keynote is filled with announcements that make sense, and this one, with the revealing of iLife 09, iWork 09, and the new unibody 17-inch MacBook Pro, was just such a keynote. The highlight of the keynote for me, however, was Tony Bennett! Apple may be pulling out of Macworld Expo, but at least they closed their last keynote address in style.


On Wednesday of the Expo, IDG held a Town Hall wherein IDG Vice President Paul Kent discussed and fielded questions about the future of Macworld Expo, sans Apple’s presence. From IDG’s perspective, the show will go on, and we certainly hope they use this opportunity to their advantage.

One impression we took away was that too many folks have forgotten the “Conference” part of the event’s official name. There are many worthwhile classes and seminars for attendees to take in, and IDG would do well to look to improving and promoting this aspect of the event more. A caveat, however: they should take care to not let the conference tracks get stale. I went to three Expos in a row—July 2001, January 2002, and July 2002—and I heard the same material, a couple of times verbatim, in some of the conference classes I took across all three events. If IDG can rotate speakers and keep the material as fresh as possible, we don’t see why the Conference part of the event couldn’t help keep the event going strong.

The centerpiece, however, remains the Expo. This may require an overhaul to keep the event relevant and meaningful, in light of Apple’s absence. (Apple isn’t the only big name no longer exhibiting. Notably, Adobe, Epson, and Belkin chose not to participate in this year’s Expo.)

Apple contends that it no longer needs to be at the Expo because of its now vast retail presence. Supposedly more folks visit Apple’s retail stores each week than attend the once-a-year Macworld Expo. That may be fine and dandy for Apple, but as Paul Kent noted at the aforementioned Town Hall, around 90 percent of the products you’d find at Macworld Expo aren’t even available in Apple’s retail stores. Not only that, but of the ones which are available at an Apple Store, you certainly don’t have the same sort of access to trying said product out, or talking with someone from the company which manufactures it, up to and including the product’s chief developer. Macworld Expo gives users an unprecedented access to companies’ personnel and products.


Apple’s space at the 2009 Macworld Expo.

It’s also very expensive to exhibit at Macworld Expo. Apple’s booth alone must cost them into the tens of millions of dollars. One can imagine that even the tiniest booth size is of no small consequence for the small developers and vendors. For Apple, the money it doesn’t have to spend on the Expo is money that could be spent toward product development. Personnel required to man the booth, many of whom are flown in from other Apple offices around the country, would no longer have to take time away from the work they’re doing for the company, meaning there is no lost productivity for the week of the Expo. This, in turn, contributes to Apple’s bottom line.

Can Macworld Conference & Expo survive without Apple? We believe yes.

For as important as the show floor full of products is, we believe the connection of people, face-to-face instead of via flat-panel computer screens, is just as important, and could be one of the main reasons the Expo continues to thrive, if IDG embraces and builds upon this phenomenon.

It was a lot of fun walking the North and South Halls of the Moscone Center, taking in what each developer or vendor had to offer, but it was just as much fun meeting folks in person whom you had only spoken with via text online. Twitter has lowered the barrier of accessibility to many people, and over the past two years of my using Twitter, I’ve engaged in conversations with people I never would have thought possible to talk to.

Microsoft’s Nadyne Mielke is utterly charming and is exactly the sort of person Microsoft needs working in its Macintosh Business Unit: friendly, professional, passionate about the company’s products, and just as passionate about being a Mac user. Jeff Gamet, Managing Editor of The Mac Observer, was, not surprisingly, just as funny in person as on Twitter, and he was kind enough to invite us to the Cirque du Mac party. Jeff also turned us on to checking out the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus, which is not to be missed if you ever get the chance to see it.

Lee has been in close contact with Colby Palmer, the man behind iTweet, for some time, and it was great spending some time with him talking about Twitter, the Expo, being a developer, and life in general over some In-N-Out. Likewise, I’ve held many a conversation via instant message with fellow sci-fi fan Gedeon Maheux of the Iconfactory, so it was fun meeting him in the person, as well as his fellow factory workers. Eric was able to reconnect with former coworkers as they manned the booths of their new companies, including Ken Aspelagh of Ecamm Network and the man behind last month’s desktop pictures.

This face time cannot be underestimated in the appeal, and the future, of Macworld Expo. In fact, looking back, this was just as much of a reason for our attendance as seeing what new products were available. IDG would do well to consider this in its future marketing efforts for the Expo.

We heard talk that this year’s Expo wasn’t as energetic as those past. There may have been a kernel of truth there, considering the news of Apple’s departure hanging like a cloud over Moscone. Yet you could’ve fooled us as we strolled the aisles of the North and South Halls. There were plenty of vendors and developers on hand, with plenty of people stopping by each booth, and plenty of money changing hands as attendees took advantage of Expo sales. The air was still electric, there was an exciting undertone to the whole thing.

Macworld Conference & Expo can survive in an Apple-less era. It all depends on how IDG manages the image and cost of the Expo moving forward, and we look forward to attending another Expo in the near future.

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