Having Fun at Macworld Expo

“Congratulations, Paul. You did it.” 

I am of course referring to Paul Kent, IDG’s General Manager of Macworld Expo. What he did (together with the rest of his staff) was put together this year’s Expo — which continues through tomorrow here in snow-free San Francisco.

With Apple having pulled out, there was intense speculation these past months as to how Macworld Expo would hold up. I can now tell you that it holds up very well. This Expo has to be considered a success by any standard. 

Exhibit Hall Overview

The Exhibit Hall is a focal point of any Macworld Expo. This year is no exception. From the moment the doors opened at noon, until the end of the day, the floor was packed. Anyone who thought people would not show up for an Expo without Apple were (how can I put this?) wrong.

Almost everyone I spoke with, from vendors to attendees, was in a good mood. Vendors were impressed with the overall traffic and attendees were pleased with the mix of booths on the floor (it wasn’t all just iPhone cases and headphones). I’m sure some people had complaints, but I didn’t hear any.

That’s not to say things couldn’t be better. The exhibit space is much smaller than in previous years. It occupies only the North Hall of Moscone Center (and even some of that is partitioned off). In contrast, last year the Expo largely filled the North and South Halls. The reduction is the result of a number of companies sadly not showing up this year. There is no Adobe, no MacKiev, no Prosoft Engineering, and no Peachpit Press, to name just a few. There are also almost no games on display, either for the Mac or the iPhone. And, yes, it would have been great to have Apple anchoring the floor, showing off the iPad and the newly announced Aperture 3. But that was not to be.

I also have a minor complaint about the Mobile Applications Showcase, which is where most iPhone products at the Expo are located. The “booths” here are round tables about the diameter of a car tire. Each table hosts up to 4 different companies, giving each vendor so little space that, when I came up to look at a product, I often had to stand in the “space” of an adjacent vendor. I appreciate IDG’s effort to offer these vendors a presence at a minimum cost. But I believe they should have allotted more square footage to each Showcase vendor (especially given that there was empty space in the hall that could have been used). 

Still, the Exhibit Hall was thriving. The vibe on the floor yesterday was energetic and there was plenty to see. It took me several hours to make even one loop around the floor, as I stopped to check out all that interested me. And I’m still not done; I’ll be doing another similar tour today. At least for me, Macworld Expo is still clearly a better venue than the iLounge Pavilion at CES

Exhibit Hall Highlights

Here are some highlights of what I saw yesterday:

I spent time at the Omni Group booth, where I chatted about their iPad plans. They confirmed an intent to get iPad versions of their suite of software out the door as quickly as possible. But don’t start opening your checkbooks quite yet. Like everyone else, they’re still waiting to get their hands on an iPad. I took a look at Fujitsu’s latest document scanners, especially the new cross-platform mobile ScanSnap S1300. And I checked out iStudio Publisher, a recent addition to the page layout category, positioned as more full-featured than Pages but almost as easy to use. 

Although I’ve had no time to try them out yet, I was favorably impressed with the demos of several iPhone apps: Quickoffice Connect Mobile Suite (an app that allows you to view and edit Microsoft Office files on your iPhone), tvider (an app that can append audio and video files to Twitter messages), and Retro Recorder (an app that claims “even without an external microphone, it can capture detail other recorders cannot”). Although he did not have a spot on the floor, Bill Atkinson (yes, that Bill Atkinson, the man behind MacPaint and HyperCard), was outside the hall showing off his newest creation: PhotoCard, an iPhone app that combines his spectacular nature photographs with a customizable postcard generator.

In perhaps the biggest surprise on the floor, a company called XSKN was showing off an Apple Bluetooth keyboard that XSKN modified (with Apple’s approval) to include an extended range of shortcut functions. The keyboard (not yet released) will work with the iPad and the iPhone. This is the first confirmation I have seen that Apple intends to allow the iPhone to connect to external keyboards.

Although Microsoft has a booth at the Expo, there was no evidence there of their big announcement yesterday: Office for Mac 2011 is on track for release by the end of this year. In off-site meetings, however, Microsoft showed off some of Office’s new features, especially the Mac Ribbon (their new combination interface of Macintosh menus and Office Toolbars).

Macworld has posted its Best of Show awards. How times have changed. Of this year’s eleven winners, six (6) were iPhone apps! Two of the remaining five winners were hardware peripherals designed to work with the iPhone. While this may partially be the result of who did and did not have a booth here, I believe it also reflects the changing nature of where the action is for third-parties in the Apple universe. It isn’t with the Mac anymore, especially not Mac software. I expect the iPad to further accelerate this trend.

Beyond the Exhibit Hall

There is more to an Expo than just the Exhibit Hall.

For starters, there are the Feature Presentations. Yesterday, these included Late Night with David Pogue (I missed it but I heard it went very well — with a surprise appearance by LeVar Burton) and Q & A with Kevin Smith (I had a front row seat here and was not disappointed; he was as raunchy and as hilarious as ever). Coming up on Saturday, there’s an iPad event (of which I am a panel member). No, there wouldn’t be an actual iPad on site, but we’ll still have fun talking about it.

There are also the Conference Sessions. Especially as I am a speaker here, I was concerned about a drop in attendance. Not to worry. My Users Conference session yesterday was packed to almost overflowing (and I heard several others sessions were similarly well attended). The more expensive Power Tools sessions (held on Tuesday and Wednesday) appeared to fare less well (when I checked in on a few of them, there were as few as a dozen people in a room). Still, when the Expo is over, I believe IDG will be satisfied with the Conference results.

Finally, there are the evening parties. Last night, the highlight was Cirque Du Mac, featuring the Macworld All Star Band (including TMO’s Dave Hamilton, Bryan Chaffin, Chuck La Tournous, and Bob LeVitus — as well as Chris Breen and Duane Straub).

All in all, yesterday was a fantastic day at Macworld Expo. While Apple’s presence would have been welcome, not once did I find myself lamenting about Apple’s absence. The show goes on, with or without Apple. I am now convinced that Macworld Expo will be back next year, with more vendors and more attendees. For those of you who, like me, view Macworld Expo as the last best place for Mac fans to gather each year, I believe we can breathe a collective sigh of relief.