Archive for February, 2010

MacWorld 2010: The Ultimate Survival Guide

Monday, February 15 2010

So, the final day of the MacWorld Expo in San Francisco, and after I’ve been hanging around here for the past three days, the question on everybody’s lips is “Did MacWorld survive?” (Well, that and “Are you Andy Ihnatko?”, “Where did you get that pastry?”, and “Do you work here?”)

They are, of course, talking about whether MacWorld has survived the absence of Apple, the move to February, and a severe downsizing in terms of exhibitors. Not whether MacWorld survived me hanging around here. At least I hope that’s not what they mean. After all, it’s not like any of these people actually know me, so they’re probably not so judgmental.

My answer to the original question is “Probably”. Sure, the show floor is much smaller than in previous years (so they tell me), and the absence of a really big product announcement seems to have taken some of the edge off, but it seems that the show is actually doing OK. Of course, you can’t really tell much about the long term life expectancy until a) IDG get the numbers in, and b) we see who turns up next year. Many people may have turned up in the hope that it would still be worth attending, but decided it wasn’t.

In fact, that may be reflected in the day-to-day attendance patterns. Thursday, the floor was fairly busy with people rushing in to find the latest iPhone case, or MacBook back up battery. There were some of those here, but not as many as at CES last month. The initial rush may have been why Friday and Saturday were quieter.There are, of course, considerations other than disappointment at the show floor. Kevin Smith gave his speech on Thursday, so there may have been a lot of people who just turned up for that, while the sort of crowd that would go to a Guy Kawasaki or Leo LaPorte event would probably turn up anyway. (I missed both, due to poor planning on my part. And I wasn’t really interested in the Smith event.)

So, what was the show floor actually like? Well, it was small. With a lot of empty space. Which is a bad thing for a trade show. The organisers should have made sure there were no empty spaces by shuffling around the exhibitors, and putting in more seating space, because as it was the show looked like a whole bunch of people didn’t turn up. The show didn’t even take up all the space in the North Hall, so around the actual exhibition there was even more empty space.

So, in short, the organisers need to make it at least look like they’re using all of the space. Some empty space around the outside is OK, but it was almost as much as the actual show floor. If they’d enlarged the central stage area, and the music “studio”, included a larger seating area for the cafe…anyway, they could have made better use of the space.

Another thing I found annoying was the iPhone app show guide. As with the CES one, it wasn’t really as useful as it might have been. The map was too small, and the app too sluggish to make zooming in worthwhile. And given the size of the floor, it was just easier to navigate by feel. What really needs to happen, is that someone needs to set up infrastructure to give triangulated location information to the app. Probably only need a bunch of off-the-shelf WiFi repeaters, and location information stored for the MAC addresses. (Getting the precision down would probably take some work, but it ought to be doable. Someone write the software, and give me a cut.) The point is, that this would make these iPhone (or Android, or whatever) guides useful in so many ways that they aren’t now.

Another issue, to my mind, is cost. The conference tracks are about typical for this kind of thing – about US$295 for one of the light tracks, to US$1295 for the full access – which is actually a bit too steep for your average user. Even the show floor cost of US$45 is kind of steep for the casual attendee. Especially when you consider that it’s easy to get in for free, if you know in advance that you’re going. Obviously you can’t make it free for people to walk in, and make those that are planning in advance pay. That would be stupid. But, perhaps you could provide a single-day registration at a lower cost (more than US$15 would be too much, so that might mean rethinking the US$45 for all three).

Another serious consideration should be whether to continue to call it “MacWorld”. Increasingly, especially with the departure of Apple, the main focus is on the iPod and iPhone. And even the iPad (Targus had cases, Gelaskin had transfers, etc…). Apple’s product focus is shifting from the Mac, and it seems the show, particularly without Apple’s presence, is increasingly about the iPhone/Pod/Pad. Maybe it should be “AppleWorld”. Maybe it should become “iWorld”.┬áMaybe it should stay “MacWorld”, but I think it needs to be discussed. Maybe it has. I don’t know, it’s not like they call me about these things.

So, what was at MacWorld? Well, the big new market seems to be gloves that let you use your iPhone/Pod Touch/Pad without getting cold fingers. This is apparently an issue, with people in South Korea even using sausages to operate their devices without taking their gloves off. So expect more of those. And decals to stick on your device are still common, with one company providing software to let you cover your iPhone in such a way that the picture is continuous from the cover to the desktop image. Headphones were also big. Shure and Sennheiser seemed to have the two largest booths, with only Targus and Western Digital really competing.

In terms of software, the big word was…”iPhone”, oddly enough. There were a lot of small companies with one or two iPhone apps being demonstrated. The Mac software seemed restricted to Microsoft (selling Office), IBM, Rogue Amoeba, and one or two others.

So what of the long-tern survival of MacWorld? Well it has at least one year left in it. Apart from the banners proclaiming next year’s show in the last week of January (better for me, at least), the release of the iPad should mean an influx of content creators, including (potentially) book publishers. Now, I wouldn’t expect too many of the big names, but it could provide an opportunity for smaller publishing houses to market their books directly to the consumers.

Anyway, this probably won’t be the last MacWorld, and hopefully won’t be the second last either. But if they want to continue to be a social hub for MacUsers, they may need to look at the pricing of the conference tracks, or at least access to the show floor.