The State of Macworld Expo

The end of an era? Looks that way to me.

When Apple announced, two years ago, that it would no longer attend Macworld Expo, lots of people said the announcement was Macworld Expo’s death knell. Like some other people, I thought that opinion was a both harsh and premature.

I don’t think that anymore.

On Friday, I did a presentation as a member of the Macworld Expo Conference faculty for the first time in at least eight years. I used to speak at Macworld Expo all the time, having at least one session in San Francisco and Boston (and later, New York) and even Toronto from about 1993 through 2002 or so. Back in the early 2000s, IDG took over the show and the conference management changed. They also went off in a new direction that stressed the creative aspects of working with the Mac. I was always more of a productivity person, so I didn’t fit in.

I still went to the show once in a while, but not very often. I came a few years ago, mostly to meet with one of my publishers. But that was it.

Looking back at it, I realize that I was deep in the Mac world at Apple’s first peak in popularity. The shows — especially in San Francisco — were huge. The very biggest shows took up both exhibit halls of Moscone Conference Center. All the big vendors were there — Apple, Microsoft, Adobe, Macromedia, Claris (later FileMaker), Quark — the list goes on and on. The show floor was buzzing all day long. The noise was deafening and there was a pure adrenaline rush on first entering the exhibit hall. And the products introduced! Even my husband talks about innovations like the Video Toaster (which, ironically, I believe ran on an Amiga). I remember all of Apple’s big hardware and software releases and the software demos that were both educational and entertaining. And how could I forget the Boston show where Mac OS 8 went on sale and my first Mac OS Visual QuickStart Guide sold out?

Afterwards, the parties would start. They were amazing affairs — the Exploratorium is a good example; the party sponsors rented the entire facility, leaving us to wander around and play with the exhibits. There was headliner entertainment, too: one year was Chris Isaac at one party and Jefferson Airplane at another. There were cruises and bungee jumps at Boston Harbor. There were full food, open bar parties at the top of the Fairmont in San Francisco. As one of the B+ list speakers/authors (in those days, anyway), I’d party hop with my peers. I remember one year bouncing from one party to the next with Bob Levitus, who always managed to get into all the parties, whether he had tickets or not.

Things change. Apple took a serious downturn. Things looked bad. Then Steve Jobs came back. The original iMac breathed new life into the company. More products followed. I remember seeing hundreds of buses all over San Francisco skinned with images of five colors of iMacs. But despite Apple’s subsequent successes, Macworld Expo was never quite the same. The show began to shrink.

What I saw on the show floor this year was a shock. The show was tiny — by old standards — occupying about half of one floor at the relatively new Moscone West building. At least 80% of the items on display could be classified as accessories — mostly protective or decorative covers — for the iPad and iPhone. There were very few Macintosh items.

Macworld Expo had become iAccessoryworld Expo.

Although most of the folks I spoke to about their thoughts on this matter seemed to agree with me — some more strongly than others — the members of the Macintosh press that I met there were surprisingly upbeat about it. One of them even commented that Microsoft’s support for the show is a good sign. Support for the show? They didn’t even have a booth! Having a party for a chosen few and being one of the sponsors on another party isn’t the kind of support I’d be upbeat about.

If I had travelled to San Francisco for the sole purpose of seeing the show floor — as I know many people did in the past — I would have been sorely disappointed. Disappointed enough to demand my money back. What I wouldn’t be able to get back was the travel time and expense and the three hours of my life spent trying to understand how so many accessory developers could think there was a market for yet another version of an iPad case. Or skin. Or screen protector.

The real value in Macworld Expo was the conference sessions — now more than ever. The conference management assembled a collection of experts — some old timers like me, some younger and newer to Mac OS (and iOS, of course) — and offered a variety of interesting tracks and sessions for Mac, iPhone, and iPad users.

My session about building your iPad for business was relatively well attended — the room was about half full. I received a handful of follow-up questions and a polite round of applause at the conclusion of my talk. Several of the attendees came up to the front of the room to thank me or offer complements. It was like the old days, but on a much smaller scale.

After all, Friday’s room could have held only about 100 people when, in the past, I did sessions that packed a room that seated more than 300.

And the meeting room area at Macworld Expo used to be busier than a high school hallway between classes each time a session let out. Now only a few dozen people meandered about, shuffling from room to room.

At least these people got something worthwhile for their money.

I know these are harsh words and, as a member of the Mac community with a long Macworld Expo history, it’s hard for me to type them. The conference faculty was treated quite well, with generously filled swag bags, a comfortable place to rest between sessions, and both breakfast and lunch every day. The session rooms were relatively well equipped. It’s hard to share negative opinions about Macworld Expo when IDG staff responsible for the conference part of the show treated me well. But if this blog post precludes me from ever speaking again at a Macworld Expo, so be it. I don’t sugar coat anything and I’m certainly not going to sugar coat this.

While I realize that the old days are long gone, I think that if IDG can’t do better than what I experienced this past week in San Francisco, they should throw in the towel on Macworld Expo and concentrate on better ways to share valuable information with Mac OS and iOS users.

On Keynote Queues

Wondering about the kind of person who would wait in line overnight to see an Apple keynote.

I’m not going to Macworld Expo this year. I used to go regularly and didn’t miss a show for about 10 years. Then I started skipping them. It just didn’t seem worth the time and expense. I went last year but am skipping this year.

I always watch the Apple keynote presentation, though. For a while, it was available as a live Webcast. Since then, it’s been available a day or two afterwards as a streamed QuickTime movie. That’s good enough for me.

Evidently, it isn’t good enough for some people. When I finally tracked down the date and time for this year’s Keynote address on the Macworld Expo Web site, I also stumbled upon some information for attendees wishing to see the presentation live. Here’s part of the instructions:

As a Platinum Pass attendee, you have priority seating to view the Keynote in the main presentation room, based on availability. You may queue up on line any time beginning Monday evening, along 4th Street adjacent to the Moscone Center. We urge you to make every effort to be on line by 7:00am Tuesday morning to ensure your place in the queue, as we cannot guarantee seating late arrivals. Show management staff and security will be present to assist with any questions.

I should probably mention here that the folks who have “platinum passes” spent $1,695 to get them — if they bought them before December 1. If they waited, they paid $1,895.

I don’t know about you, but the thought of waiting on line in San Francisco overnight in January after paying nearly $2K for “priority seating” seems a little extreme. What kind of person would do this?

Now there’s a lot of hoopla over the fact that Steve Jobs is not doing this year’s keynote address. There’s even a bunch of whiners who claim they’re going to give Phil Schiller, who is doing the presentation, the cold (and silent) shoulder with each announcement. (These could be the same people who are willing to wait in line overnight to see a trade show keynote address.) So although I don’t expect a bunch of people to be standing out in the cold tonight on 4th Street (or Howard Street for the people who don’t have “platinum” passes), I do wonder how many people stood on line overnight in the past. Anyone have this info? Use the comments link or form for this post to share it.

Silent Keynote Campaign? Get a Grip.

Some spoiled kids plot to whine in silence.

Here’s a sad example of the mentality of some Mac users. The “Silent Keynote Campaign at Macworld Expo” is one way some people think they can send a message to Apple about how “mad” they are about Apple dropping out of future Macworld Expo. In reality, all they’re doing is exposing themselves as whining fanboys (or fangirls, perhaps).

If you’re attending the Macworld Expo keynote on Tuesday, Jan. 6, you can send a message to Apple by remaining silent during the 2009 keynote. While Phil Schiller is on the stage, let there be no applause, no whistling… just utter and complete silence.

Boo hoo. Apparently, I’m not the only one who thinks this campaign is stupid and childish.

Get a grip, folks. This isn’t the end of the world.

I’m as big an Apple supporter as the next guy — probably even bigger, since I’ve been using them and writing about them since 1989. I have to admit that although the announcement saddens me because it marks the end of an era, it’s not going to have a major impact on how I buy and use computers and software.

I get better attention and support in an Apple store than I ever got in the Apple “booth” at Macworld Expo — and half the time I had a Press badge on at the show. Indeed, an Apple Store is like having a Macworld Expo Apple booth with attentive staff available almost every day of the year. And I’d rather see Apple cut back on its trade show budget than cut back on employees or development costs. Wouldn’t you?

As for the silent treatment aimed at Phil Schiller, that’s not only rude, but it’s inconsiderate and unbelievably childish. And think of the message that sends to the rest of the computing world about Apple users.