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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”. Maybe 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.

Who is he, and what is he on about?

Thursday, May 7 2009

Where I work, we get this interesting little tech newsletter called Computer Daily News. The most interesting thing about it is that it seems to be put together by someone working out of their garage. It has no web presence to speak of, and the contact e-mail account is the editor’s personal e-mail from a service provider. The best explanation for this is that it is a subscription service, and the editor wants to avoid having people just read it from the website for free. (And he clearly has no idea or interest to set up a website with the appropriate restrictions.)

The newsletter is not necessarily the greatest source of tech news, but it does give more coverage to local events and news, which is probably why my work subscribes to it.

However an odd note turned up in relation to their speculation on the anticipated Apple tablet device.

New iPad a goer, says Powell

SYDNEY – Apple’s handheld reader/media pad – reported to be nearing release after the design was worked on by CEO Steve Jobs while on sick leave (CDN yesterday), definitely exists, says CDN special reporter Gareth Powell who adds he’s seen, and held, a prototype.

CDN had noted a Business Week report that said the device – larger than an iPod Touch or Kindle, but smaller than a notebook – would be called the “iPad”, and reckoned they were probably guessing.

Writes Powell: “They may well be, but it exists already in prototype as I have had one in my hands. Think Newton only larger. I think it a certainty – it will kill the Sony market and hammer the Kindle market — and I want one. For the record, I read Hornblower and the Hotspur on a demo version inside a factory where they were ironing out the bugs of making it in quantity.

“Which is well down the line from concept but well away from certainty of launching. But mate, it does exist, and I will be the very first customer. And possibly the very first Australian/Welsh user.”

Now Gareth Powell is something of a bete noir of many in IT in Australia. This gives some background on it. Or you can try looking up the FAQ for aus.flame.gareth-powell. I was somewhat alarmed when I found out that he wrote for CDN regularly, but kept reading it and just tried not to take his contributions too seriously. This aside, there are a number of interesting things about this report.

Firstly, Gareth Powell, despite being a “Technology” “Journalist”, has no discernible web presence, like CDN itself. He has a column in The Australian’s IT section, but that’s it. There is a web site for a Gareth L. Powell, but he’s a British Science Fiction novellist. This absence from the tubes makes it hard to verify anything he’s said.

Secondly, how did Gareth get access to a prototype device from Apple. He was well known for his dislike of Apple back in the day, and he’s a barely recognisable writer from Australia. Was the factory he used it in Sydney? Singapore? China? San Francisco? Cupertino? Which Apple employee is to blame?

Thirdly, what the hell is he (and David Frith, editor of CDN) doing violating a Non-Disclosure Agreement? He’s unlikely to get further access to equipment from anyone, if he goes blabbing his mouth off at the drop of a hat. An experienced journalist should know better than to bite the hand that feeds him information. If he didn’t sign an NDA, we’re back to how he got access. Was he visiting a plant in China that has been making the units for Apple? And isn’t blabbing about what he’s seen putting his source at risk?

Finally, where is the other coverage of this story? I personally forwarded it to AppleInsider and CNET (including the contact information for CDN), and have heard nothing back. Neither has either of them used it. I suppose without a website to link to, it might be difficult for a modern organisation to credit such a rumour. Or it could be that they are all in the know on the device but have signed NDAs and are honouring them. Or it could be a well-known fake that’s been doing the rounds, and I (and probably Powell as well) have been suckered. Be nice to get some acknowledgement that they got the e-mail, though. Maybe they didn’t get the e-mail, in which case they need to update their contact information.

In any case, I hope Gareth is right about the device, although it sounds exactly like what I wanted before I got my iPhone. (Hell, I still want it, but I won’t be buying it before my iPhone contract is up, or if my MacBook dies.)

And now the end is near…

Friday, September 5 2008

Final day of MS TechEd. Last night’s party was, perhaps, a failed effort. Unless free beer and wine appeals to you, I suppose. (It wasn’t all bad, but I think some of the acts were lost on the audience.)

Last night was more interesting from the viewpoint within my own organisation. Some of the topics discussed at the bar afterwards, to my mind, showed up typical biases between the various branches of the organisation.

But, as for the conference, it continues. Not many interesting sessions today, so hopefully I’ll get a bit of wandering done.

TechEd 2008 Day 3. Or is it 2? I lost count.

Wednesday, September 3 2008

I’ve been meaning to keep this more up to date, but the fact that I am this disorganised is the main reason that I haven’t been too active as a blogger before.

So, I’ve been wandering around TechEd, going to sessions on the relevant topic, and sitting through talks that are more about selling products than solving problems. Throughout the whole thing, I have been encountering what I see as being Microsoft’s problem since the early 90s, if not the mid 80s.

Microsoft don’t actually seem to get on board to anything until they see where it’s going. This gives them the appearance of following rather than leading. They used to lead, once, some might say they still lead today, but really, they’re following other companies, and also the open-source and online communities.

For instance, I sat through a presentation in the keynote, where they went on about a new asset management and workflow tool. It looks really impressive, except that I’ve seen more or less the same thing from 3 other vendors in the last year. And some of them are much more mature. Of course, as per usual with Microsoft, theirs offers “seamless” integration with Exchange, Office, etc… but they give no clear idea how it might integrate with other extant systems, such as those in use at my organisation. We already have substantial investment in HP and Symantec products, and we’ve started looking at their offerings, so Microsoft are a bit late to the party, but they are going to tell us how we it is part of Windows Server.

Of course, this brings up the touchy subject of anti-trust, which I’ll go into somewhere else, but that’s not really the point. The point is there’s no real innovation here. Or if there is, they’ve kept it secret too long. Of course, many people will see this for the first time here, and assume they’re ahead of the curve, and Microsoft will be safely ensconced in organisations around the world. (Remind me later to go on about Monocultures as well.)

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