Macworld | iWorld Reinvents Itself

| Ted Landau's User Friendly View

This is the year that Macworld | iWorld (formerly Macworld Expo) found its sea legs. At the close of my post-Macworld analysis last year, I offered the following prediction: 

“We are at a pivotal juncture in the Expo’s evolution. Adapting a quote spoken by Mr. Smith to Neo (Mr. Anderson) in The Matrix: “Macworld Expo is currently living two lives. In one of these lives, we seek for the Expo to reclaim its former glory, in size and scope, with a renewed focus on the Mac. Anything less and we abandon the Expo. In the other life, we embrace a new Expo, smaller but still thriving, redefined by its emphasis on iOS devices. One of these lives has a future, and one of them does not.”

Happily, the folks behind the Macworld event chose the life that has a future. Beginning with a new name for the event itself, almost everything about Macworld | iWorld was different this time around. More of a “festival” (it was “The Ultimate iFanevent”) than an “expo,” this was not your father’s Macworld.

The biggest change in Macworld | iWorld was a reduced focus on the Exhibit Hall. In the past, the hall was the primary, perhaps the sole, reason that the majority of people attended the event. Given the decline in the size and number of the booths, that approach would no longer work. Instead, Macworld | iWorld sought to expand its scope. Although the hall remained, it was only one of several alternative activities — all at more affordable prices than in prior years.

The other major part of past Macworld events were the technical sessions. Although they too were still around this year, they were similarly relegated to a lesser role. Some, who consider the sessions to be the “heart and soul” of Macworld, have expressed disappointment with this change. But I believe it was a necessary one, needed to attract a new generation of users to the event.

Where once iOS products were seen as invaders into Macworld, iOS has now taken over the show. The presence of Mac products is very much on the wane. If you eliminated every Exhibit Hall booth and every Tech Talk session and every special event that focused on iOS products, what remained would be very very little. So little that there wouldn’t be enough left to hold an event at all. I wouldn’t be surprised to see “Macworld” dropped from the event’s Macworld | iWorld name altogether within a few years. Some may be unhappy with this shift, but it’s no different than the shift within Apple itself; iOS devices now account for almost 75% of Apple’s revenue.

Macworld Exhibit Hall Entrance

Exhibit Hall Entrance

How did it all come together in the end? Did Macworld | iWorld work out well? For me, it definitely did (it also did for TMO colleague Bryan Chaffin). To see for yourself, join me on a personal highlights tour of my time at Macworld | iWorld.

The Exhibit Hall

The Exhibit Hall was not dramatically different in size or scope from last year. Apple was still gone as were almost all other big name vendors (such as Microsoft and Adobe). Also missing were major Mac utility vendors such as Prosoft and Micromat. Wiley was the only book publisher left. Many of the major iOS accessory vendors (such as Griffin and iHome) had opted for the iLounge pavilion at CES, rather than Macworld.

And yet…the floor was full of worthwhile products. It pulsed with an excitement that I had not felt in the previous two years. The products on display were generally more sophisticated and appealing than their predecessors. There were fewer booths selling “me-too” iPad and iPhone cases. And while a few accessories (such as the iPhone Bottle Opener case) would have been more at home on a late-night infomercial than the show floor, they did provide amusement. The crowds were bustling and seemed to be enjoying themselves.

Among the standout products for me were:

iPad folio cases [Zagg and Adonit]. These cases, with removable built-in Bluetooth keyboards, are the best choice if you expect to do frequent and extended typing with your iPad. I bought the Zagg unit and am very pleased with it so far.

Document scanners [SnapScan, Neat, and Doxie]. A new wrinkle to these popular accessories is wireless transfers. Each vendor manages this task somewhat differently. With Snapscan, you can scan directly from your Mac to a matching iOS app. With Neat, you scan to a cloud server which is accessible from your iOS devices. With Doxie + Wi-Fi, you can scan directly to the cloud (via a Eye-Fi wireless SD card) without ever connecting the scanner to a Mac.

iPhone lenses [iPro Lens and olloclip]. These lenses fit over the iPhone lens to add to its capabilities. The ones shown at the show were wide-angle, fish-eye and macro. Missing was the lens I most want: telephoto. This is apparently coming, but not for another few months. I’m still not sure any of these lenses are worth the money; for about the same cost, you could get a separate camera. But if you’d rather do all your photography on an iPhone (which does have the advantage of access to Photo Stream, iMessage, Twitter, Instagram and more), these lenses are worth checking out.

Mobile Apps Showcase

Mobile Apps Showcase

Mobile Apps Showcase. The Showcase remains ground zero for the best and most innovative software in the Hall. With just a few dozen booths, you can’t expect it to contain even a healthy minority of all the great apps in the iTunes App Store. And it doesn’t. Still, there were plenty of top-notch apps on display. Like these:

TourWrist. With this app, panoramic photos rotate with you as you move your body (and iOS device), giving you the feeling of actually “being there.” Very slick!

iStop Motion for iPad. I’m not sure how many people will find a practical use for this app, but if you want to create stop-motion animations, the Boinx app is the easiest and most fun way to do so.

Splashtop Remote Desktop. Several apps do this sort of screen-sharing with your Mac, but Splashtop remains my favorite. The app keeps getting better; the latest update has numerous improvements over what was at the show last year.

Quickoffice Pro HD and Office² HD. If you want to have Microsoft Office-like apps on your iPad, these are the two best choices. My quick take is that Quickoffice has the more elegant Apple-like interface while Office² has a wider range of features.

Air Dictate. The poster at the Avatron booth had this app listed but crossed out. Why? Because Apple pulled it from the App Store just before the show. Too bad, as it sounded very promising. With this app, “you can enter text on your computer by talking into your iPhone 4S.” They hope to tweak the app and have it return to the App Store soon.

• Video Camera. To create multi-clip videos on-the-fly, all in one app, this is all you need. [Correction: Actually, this one was not in the Showcase; it was a separate booth in the main area.]

OS X Zone. The OS X Zone was at the far end of the hall, the final row, where you might miss it altogether if you were not determined to see everything. Hopefully, you didn’t miss it. It housed a collection of small booths that featured numerous excellent Mac programs — such as Printopia, BusyCal, Sandvox and PDFPen (also available in an iPad version, on display at a separate booth in the Mobile Apps Showcase).

OS X Zone

OS X Zone

Beyond the Exhibit Hall

Outside the Exhibit Hall, there was more going on than at any previous Macworld event. In addition to the expected technical sessions, there were musical performances, art displays, movies, and (for the first time) evening events. Here’s what most captured my attention:

Tech Talks. What used to be the Users Conference was renamed Tech Talks. With this year’s affordable iFan Pass, you could attend these talks for dramatically less cost than ever before. Perhaps as a result, the sessions were more packed than in the past few years. Most sessions I checked were either close to or at capacity. Unfortunately, the schedule was also more compressed. This meant that popular sessions too often competed with each other. As one very personal example, my session on iOS File Sharing was given at the same time that Jason Snell, John Gruber and others were offering their choices for the Top Stories of the Year and that Rob Corddry (from the Daily Show) was being interviewed by David Sparks.

Just figuring out what was going on at any one moment could be a challenge, as there was no printed documentation with a complete list of all the sessions. To see the full list, attendees needed either to download the Macworld iOS app or go to macworldiworld.com. This was a mistake in my view; I hope full printed schedules return next year.

RapidFire. My favorite event of the show. Borrowing a format popular at other tech events, Macworld RapidFire was a two-hour series of 5 minute talks. Keeping each talk to this minimal time assured that you would get a wider variety of intriguing topics than at any other single venue in the show. And, if one topic didn’t especially interest you, not to worry. The next one was always less than five minutes away (actually, host Dan Moren did not strictly enforce the five minute rule, but kept it close). A personal favorite: Dan Frake’s talk on all the things you can do with LaunchBar. I use this terrific utility every day and still learned a few tips.

Music. Macworld | iWorld billed itself as “where Apple technology meets music performance.” It lived up to its billing. Sadly, I was too busy with other commitments to attend most of these music events, but I did find time to check out Sal Soghoian impressively playing his guitar at the Midway stage as well as moe.’s absolutely incredible all-iOS-device Main Stage performance of Crab Eyes. With your eyes closed, you’d think the song was done entirely with real instruments.

Bottom Line

The transition is complete. After struggling to find a new identity in its post-Apple environment, Macworld | iWorld has hit its stride. It is no longer seeking a return to its past glories — days that will never happen again. Instead, the show has planted a stick in the ground and said: “Enough with the past. This is where we are now. Let’s move forward. Let’s not worry whether this is better or worse than the Macworld from five years ago. Instead, let’s just make this year’s event the best it can be and work to make next year’s even better. And see how that goes.”

So far, it seems to be going very well. I for one am finished with laments about how Macworld used to be. This year’s Macworld | iWorld was jam-packed with more good stuff to see and hear than any one person could squeeze into their schedule. To me, that spells: success. Let the word go forth: Macworld is back!

Comments

wab95

Ted:

Many thanks for taking time to provide such a detailed description. Having never attended a MacWorld, and having now read both your and Bryan’s thoughts on this year’s event, as well as others’ on Twitter, I wish I had, and perhaps will one day in future.

That said, given that there seems to be a consensus at TMO that Macworld|iWorld has become more of a festival for users and enthusiasts, I wonder if can evolve into an organised forum from which feedback and ideas can be relayed to Apple in an organised manner.

Specifically, given that many of the attendees and speakers, like yourselves, engage the Mac and iDevice community on a regular basis, and are in a position to provide insights into the thinking, concerns, likes and dislikes of the community, it seems that there is an opportunity here for substantial representative input to Apple on a wide range of issues.

This would lack the rigour of a systematic survey, but the advantage of dynamic exchange, discussion and consensus.

Obviously, Apple would have to agree, but even if the exchange were not live, it could still be organised.

Just a thought.

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