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July 26th, 1999

MACWORLD Expo Wrap-up: Even An Idiot Can See That Apple's Ship has Come In
by Randy Soare
An Idiot's Table of Contents
The Keynote Speech

The iBook

The Show Floor

Final Thoughts

The Keynote

After the three-day marathon of the 1999 MacWorld Expo here in New York, I am happy to report the Mac is alive and kicking ass. From the keynote speech to the final round in the National Gaming Championship, this year's New York Expo was a smashing success. Of course Steve Jobs played the introduction of the long fabled P1 to the hilt, and still managed to pull a few surprises out of his hat. But the most interesting thing about the Expo this year was not the product announcements, although there were plenty of great announcements to be heard. Nor was it the flash and style of the exhibitors showed on the show floor. To me the best thing about the show was the positive feeling that prevailed among the people who attended the show. From exhibitors to attendees, there was a certain energy that ran across the Javits Center that said, "We made it. We, as Mac users have weathered the worst and have come out better than ever."

In the keynote address Steve Jobs was expected to introduce a number of products, not the least of which was the P1 consumer portable. In fact, most news sources were predicting that Apple was up against the wall on this product and stated that Apple would be almost forced to bring this product out or loose serious credibility in the market place. As it turns out, not only did Mr. Jobs break out the P1, officially named the iBook, but he managed to wow the audience in the process.

The iBook

When the new iBook was unveiled the audience was blown away. Oohs and Ahhs were all that could be heard for minutes after the audience had its first glance at the beautiful, sleek iBook. With a 12.1 TFT color screen, a 300 Mhz G3 processor, 512k backside cache, 32 MB of RAM, an ATI Rage Mobility graphics chip, 4 MB of VRAM, x24 CD-ROM, full size keyboard, trackpad, 56K modem, Ethernet, USB connections, a 6 hour Lithium-ion battery and a fold out handle, the rubber-rimmed iBook was an instant winner. Like the iMac, the iBook comes in the two tone ice white plastic and your choice of blueberry or tangerine.

However at a price of $1599.00, I think many audience members thought this might be a bit too steep for a consumer model. Personally I think the iBook features, weight and size are well thought out in its place and price point in the Apple hardware lineup. Some might argue that the iBook's weight is a problem. At 6.9 pounds, it is heavier than the current PowerBooks, which weigh only 5.6 pounds. However it's a lot lighter than an iMac and the iBook is priced to fit in between the iMac and the PowerBook. Others might that the iBook doesn't have SCSI, ADB or serial connections. But it is aimed at users who will most likely be connecting with iMacs. Lower end consumers who don't have external hard drives or any legacy devices. All these users need are the iMac features, but to-go. They don't want to pay twice as much for the portability factor or a full PowerBook, but they will spend a few hundred more than the price of an iMac to get that iMac to-go. However the arguments all became academic, since before a question could be raised, Mr. Jobs whipped out another surprise, the AirPort.

Without so much as a "Check this out." Steve picked the iBook he was using to surf the web during the demonstration and walked center stage. It took a few seconds for the audience to catch on to the fact that there were no wires connected to the iBook, yet it still maintained its network connection. Thanks to the AirPort, a $99.00 option for the iBook that allows 11 megabits per second connections at up to 150 feet. That's faster that 10 base T Ethernet! And a single $299.00 Airport base can support up to 10 iBooks, and allows each iBook to share the 56K modem in the Airport's base unit at a full 56K speed for each machine. To prove nothing was attached, Steve waved a hoola hoop around the two tone, curvy iBook like a magician proving that the girls is really floating.

The Show Floor

Once on the show floor the good news did not stop. The gaming pavilion was packed with companies like Bungie, Gathering of Developers, Logicware, Aspyr Media, Green Dragon Software, Ambrosia Software, Blizzard Entertainment and long time absentee LucasArts Entertainment. The National Gaming Championship provided plenty of excitement and noise to this area of the Expo show floor. Logicware was showing off Heretic II and Redneck Rampage for the Mac, while Aspyr Media had Madden 2000 Football running in addition to Tomb Raider II. Lucas Arts sported Episode I Pod Racer and The Episode One Interactive Guide and Gathering of Developers gave attendees a chance to finally see Fly! first hand. The ever supreme Bungie had the eagerly awaited action title, Oni running for people to play with. But they truly stole the show with their announcement of their impressive title Halo.

Other products that caught this writer's eye were some powerful VooDoo 3 cards coming out from both MacTell and Formac. Both companies claim to achieve up to double the speed of ATI's Rage 128 card. And Formac's card even sported a port to plug in a set of 3D glasses for mind blowing gaming experiences. ATI Technologies however, was conspicuously absent from the Expo.

MacAlly showed off a huge number of USB input devices including some great joysticks and game pads. Microsoft and Contour Design offered multi button USB mice alternatives to Apple's round mouse. MacTell also offered some nice choices for USB input devices as well. And for the hard core console gamers who just have to use a real Nintendo or PlayStation controller with their Mac, Kernel Productions showed off USB and ADB versions of their Joyport connection box.

Hewlett Packard had a large presence at the show where they gave away blueberry snow cones to promote their fast and powerful new solid ink color printer that comes in translucent white and blue to go with the Apple's current G3 boxes.

Singapore Shinei Sangyo Pte Ltd. showed off some cool Mac add-on products like their McPiper cordless phone. This handy phone has voice mail and phone book functions built in and it can exchange voice and phone book data with your Mac via a USB connection and their software. They also showed a super compact MP3 audio player, the jazPiper, that holds 60 minutes of MP3 Music and can be expanded with SmartMedia cards and also has a USB connector to download from your Mac. The jazPiper can also take direct voice recordings for up to two hours. Oddly enough the jazPiper also has a 250 telephone number book built in, however this comes in handy for letting the jazPiper dial a phone number for you via tone generation.

A startup company called Magically, Inc. demonstrated an interesting product called the Virtual Desktop. This unique service allows Mac users to have a web based customizable "desktop" where they get an integrated suite of tools that include an e-mail account, calendering and to-do list functions that can be shared with other Virtual Desktop users, including Windows users. Additionally users can store and transfer files through their Virtual Desktop. The service also offers full encryption and intelligent file storing that can determine if a file is from a Mac and has a resource fork, and automatically turn it into an archive so it will not be damaged in transit. For the shareable calendering and to-do list functions alone, users who have suffered through trying to use the feeble and unfriendly Microsoft Project, Virtual Desktop may be a nice alternative. And best of all the service is free!

For iMac users who just can't seem to get the angle right with the little flip down foot on their iMac, Century Corp. offered its "Dance with i" iMac stand. This snap on base for iMac's allows full rotation and tilting of the iMac and comes in all five iMac flavors. They also introduced the "Yes i Hub" for the iMac which combines the swivel base with an integrated four port USB hub. Lastly, Century offered a sporty PowerBook drive enclosure that converts IDE PowerBook drives into external SCSI drives.

For Mac based Wall Street investors Aladdin Systems introduced MacTicker. This specialized Internet browser runs in the background and automatically updates stock prices from the web and displays them on your desktop. For all you Apple stock owners who are constantly checking your investment, this product seems like a handy tool.

Randy's Final Thoughts

These are just a handful of the fabulous products that were on display at this year's show. I couldn't possibly mention them all here. But that's a good thing. Because it means lots of companies are investing in the Mac again. Everywhere you looked on the Expo floor this year you saw new innovations that captured the spirit of what the Mac has always been about. Making something so cool, so elegant and yet so functional you just had to have it. It truly seemed like people were finally starting to "Think Different."

It was this spirit that seemed to buzz all over the show floor this year. In comparison to last year's New York MacWorld Expo where they were empty booths and vendors showing two-year-old products, this year was alive with fresh new ideas that made people proud that they were Mac users.

On the down side of the show there were a very few things to complain about. My main frustration was the lack of actual merchandise for sale. Most booths only showed you the products but were not equipped to actually sell them on-site. Even the two big store booths for Computer Town and DataVision were out of most of the popular products before the first day was half-finished. While I can sympathize with Computer Town who is not a local New York chain. However DataVision should have been able to do a better job of restocking their booth. Especially considering their main store is less than three miles from the Javits Center. Hopefully everyone in attendance learned a lesson from this and will be equipped to capitalize on the crowds for future Expos.

Those vendors not withstanding, the New York Expo was an overwhelming success for Apple Computer and Mac users this year. For press people, developers and vendors the show is always a chance to see old friends or make new ones. For attendees, it is a chance to see what the future holds for their computing platform of choice. Judging by this year's MACWORLD Expo, I'd say the future looks very bright indeed.

For a look at all of our MACWORLD Expo coverage, check out our MACWORLD Expo Special Report.

Randy Soare is the co-writer of the column The Name of the Game for The Mac Observer. Randy is also partner in his own software company IWS Interactive, where he creates all kinds of interactive media from web sites to IWS's original adventure game Manhattan Apartment Hunter. Randy has been a Mac user ever since he threw his IBM computer from the rooftop of his Manhattan apartment building back in 1993.

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