First Time: A Closer look at Macworld and San Francisco

Macworld is a lot of fun. As I mentioned in an earlier article, it's a great place to meet vendors and see products up close and personal, and it's a shame that Apple feels it no longer needs this venue.

Apple has a commanding presence on the showroom floor, its stages (4 if you count FileMaker and Bento) and displays occupied a full 1/6th of the enormous showroom. I've been to a few conventions before, but none where one company so dominated the floor. Canon, Microsoft, and other large vendors also had large spaces carved out, but they were like planets orbiting Sol de Apple.

The whole point of conventions like these is to show off products. Some vendors go for flashy displays while others used the time honored method of relying on pitchmen. These folks, guys usually, but I have seen women do a good job of working a floor, are salesmen with deep knowledge of their product and can rattle off specs to the techie or make the technophobe feel completely at home with any technology. For instance, I met a salesman for Comply, a company that makes foam replacement tips for a variety of earphones.

Whoomp! Earbud Covers from Comply


Now, you might think, "So what? It's been done before." You'd be right until you actually use the product. I tried on a pair with my Etymotic hf2 earphones and I was amazed at how comfortable they were and how much the tips improved the sound of my already great sounding earphones. Being great salesman that he is, he also pointed out a product called Whoomp! which adapts the foam tip technology to your iPhone/iPod earbuds. If you've read some of my older articles and reviews then you'll know I'm no fan of earbuds. Whoomp! snaps on to Apple supplied earbuds similar to an earlier product from Griffin called EarJams. The difference is the foam.

Another vendor I spent time with was JOBY. I known them for their GorillaPod camera mount that can be made to grab on to almost any thing to provide a solid support. The thing that caught my eye, however, was Zivio Boom, a Bluetooth headset that has a great mic on the end of a Nitinol boom. The nice saleswoman pointed out that Nitinol is metal that has memory, bend it to suit you and it will return to that position when you collapse then extend the boom again (I knew this, of course). I really liked this little headset. It's shiny and well engineered. Even the charger is cool; it sports two USB ports so that you can charge you headset and your phone from the single device. Good thinking.

Zivio Boom from JOBY


SoftRAID offers software of the same name that lets you mirror hard drives quickly. Since it is not a hardware RAID you can use any drive or any number of drives to mirror your primary drive, letting you keep up to date copies in secure places in the event of a primary drive failure or disaster. The salesman reminded me that consumers seldom consider what they would lose it their computer, containing gigabytes of accumulated data were to disappear tomorrow. SoftRAID give us and cheap and easy to use answer.

And speaking of security Charismathics, a small company out of Germany that produces iEnigma, security software that turns your iPhone or other smart phones into an enterprise class access, encryption and security device. Currently many companies concerned about authentication and encryption of data use USB dongles or cards to provide centralize storage for all your security access and encryption needs. Charismatics makes your iPhone the storage device so that whenever you need to authenticated access or email encryption you only need to remember one password and iEnigma takes care of the rest. I talked at length with Sven Goßel, CEO of Charismathics and he was able to generate a small reality distortion field of his own. I guess that can happen if you truly believe in the products you sell.

Strolling around the showroom, hearing the pitches, and playing with all of the excellent products is fun on end, but this is San Francisco and the city is its own salesman.

A few years back I had an opportunity to stay in Paris for several days.

I fell in love with the city.

I'm a city boy, born and raised and I find the hustle of a thriving city satisfying on so many levels that it is hard to put into words. To that bustling pulse of urban life Paris adds a sense of romance and continuity that you tend to find in European cities, but Paris virtually oozes it. I got a chance to walk around Paris a bit and while the major attractions -- The Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, The Arc de Triomphe, and so on -- were certainly worth seeing it was the little shops, the old buildings, the sense of style and flare that is peculiar only to Paris that made my stay memorable

I had visited San Francisco many years ago as well, I was here for a week-long meeting and I didn't get a chance to see much; a brief glance at Fisherman's Wharf, a fleeting peek at the Golden Gate Bridge, and a far off glimpse of Alcatraz Island on which stood something obscured by light fog and distance that I was told was the infamous prison.

This time, however, I've had a chance to make short forays into the area around the hotel where I'm staying, and just as Paris had revealed her true charm to me, San Francisco is flirting with me big time.

My hotel is only a few blocks from the Moscone Center, so after learning the most direct route there I've started plotting more circuitous ways there and each time I find something cool.

I'm still on East coast time so I woke this morning at 3:30AM PST. I couldn't sleep so I went out to plan my next route to Moscone. I had believed that I wouldn't see much since it was night, but as with any large city, San Francisco never really sleeps. The streets are well lit, revealing the subtleties of architecture and urban planning that you might miss during the day and amid crowds of cars and people.

A few city maintenance workers were finishing up a job, a street sweeper scrubbed the curbs, and every so often I'd walk pass a homeless person resting up for another day of existing on the edge.

Smells from bakeries and coffee shops punctuated the moist, salty breeze coming up from the bay. Dark store fronts displayed stylishly dressed manekins and every so often a bus powered by overhead electric lines glided by almost silently. Not sleeping, It seemed like San Francisco was drowsing, just resting its eyes.

Brick church among glass and steel

This morning, as I walked to the Moscone Center, the city had awaken and cars, buses, trucks and people moved in a busy sychronization typical of large urban areas as stop lights and pedestrian sign orchestrated and gave order to the chaos. The hazy morning light reflected off tall glass and steel structures and here and there were remnants of old San Francisco; a brick and stone church.

Apple Store in downtown San Francisco

Like Parisians, San Franciscans have a certain sense of style that seem uniquely theirs. It's not necessarily how they dress, walk, or talk, but it's a combination of small things that creates a persona that links San Franciscans to their city.

It's easy to see why Tony Bennett left his heart here and why IDG holds its Macworld Conference here.