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ATPM 11.04
April 2005



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Segments: Slices from the Macintosh Life

by David Blumenstein,

Paint It White: My First Macworld San Francisco

Apple Computer maintains such a firm grip on its technology and architecture that at Macworld Expo San Francisco it was the accessory vendors who were elbowing each other for space on the show floor. In all my years attending personal computer trade shows, I cannot recall ever experiencing such a territorial separation. Interestingly, I have learned just recently that Apple is planning to launch a Made for iPod brand mark, which, by my estimation, will be yet another licensing abyss into which accessory vendors will dutifully and blindly dive headfirst.

“Paint it White” and placing the lowercase letter i before anything should be the golden rules of Macintosh-based product development and marketing. I remain convinced that almost anything painted white could have been sold on the show floor as some sort of enhancement to the computer and audio experience. Those companies that did not take the hint prior to the show were copiously taking notes and running out to local hardware stores to remedy the situation.

The proliferation of i-branded products, and the launch of the Mac mini, will spur vendors to deluge the market with an onslaught of targeted accessories. Some have all ready hit the market: mini Tower, mini Grandstand, and my favorite, the mini Skirt—a glow-in-the-dark pedestal. My suggestion is that you march on down to your home supplies store, pick up a piece of glass-block, and rest your Mac mini on that.

If you were to discount all of the vendors marketing and selling iPod, audio, and PowerBook and iBook accessories on the show floor, add another five percent for those defying logical categorization, and then throw in another ten percent for vendors who simply kicked back Web site content at their booths, there was really about two hours of time to be spent on the floor. It had me wondering why attendees put up with it. And then it came to me. This is the only game in town. I found it odd when Steve Jobs kept likening time spent at Apple Stores as miniature, not mini, Macworld Expo experiences, with all of the hardware and software on display and the knowledgeable people at the ready to answer questions.

Most of my time was spent in the specialty software section comprised of one-square-meter booths, where companies that could not afford the hefty real estate prices passionately displayed and discussed their wares. It was a pleasure to spend time in this area. Not all of the products were ready for prime time, but that didn’t matter as much to me as the collective level of enthusiasm.

I came across two firms that exemplify the range of applications and services. The first was Corriente Networks and its software-based WiFi RADIUS server entitled Elektron. It’s economical, intuitive, and presently a part of my home network infrastructure. The second one was Beezwax Data Ltd., a consulting firm specializing in helping businesses manage their data, and it is the maker of the Hive line of contact managers and organizers, all built upon FileMaker Pro. I was taken aback by just how much FileMaker Pro has progressed. The last time I worked with the application, it was a Claris product.

Toward the end of the show, I just had to find a place to sit down on the show floor, and as luck would have it, I sat right down with the IDG trade show manager for the show in an empty booth. We got to talking, and once I explained that this was my first Macworld Expo San Francisco and that I had attended 20 years of personal computer trade shows, she started asking me all these questions about the show itself. I tried my best to answer all of them. I even sent mail to a whole slew of IDG executives about the show as a follow-up. At first they were cordial, but when I pushed the idea of specifics and having someone who could objectively and constructively criticize work with them, they dialed back their enthusiasm.

Macworld Expo, whether it be in San Francisco or somewhere on the East Coast, is going to have to change with the times and realize the shifts in the marketplace. Without Apple as its cornerstone, the folks at IDG masterminding Macworld Expo Boston are going to come to a rude awakening. I would ask them to give me ten reasons why to attend. At this point, I would settle for five highly specific ones, which do not include the panel discussions or conferences. There should be at least a handful of reasons for an exhibits-only attendee to show up at the front door of the exhibit hall.

I can think of a number of ways, one in particular, but before I start doling out free advice to IDG, I would like to hear what it has to say on the matter and what if any plans it has to make its East Coast show a success, insofar as attendees are going to want make it a yearly event on their calendars.

Were there things to write home about? Of course. The Mac mini, the iPod shuffle, Corriente Networks’ Elektron, Griffin Technology’s RocketFM, and Delicious Monster’s Delicious Library, to name a few. Whatever you do when attending or displaying at Macworld Expo, do not lose the passion, otherwise it is Game Over! Hey, I need more quarters.

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Reader Comments (7)

Jim · April 1, 2005 - 17:27 EST #1
I'm glad to hear someone else say this. I found the info overload made me more sales-receptive, and that was a bad thing.

I bought SoundSoap from a booth that took weeks to get it to me (it requires an authorization code AND a serial number--why not just hand out CDs?), and an ill-fitting Marware Sports Convertible that will be a hassle to return. Both were discounted, but the hassles weren't worth the discount. That said, there WERE some good free panel discussions and demos.
Donald Crease · April 1, 2005 - 19:15 EST #2
It was as if I was there. I particularly liked your insights on just how much Macworld has veered from being a technology based tradeshow.

Right on target about the marketing spin, and the glass block idea should really catch on.
Seth · April 1, 2005 - 21:55 EST #3
I attended my only Macworld show with David many years ago in Boston. Honestly, I have to tell you, that we already knew what Apple was going to present. (yawn) The real excitement is always with the evangelical developers and supporters not just of Apple Computer and the Macintosh as a platform, but with the adoring user-base. And as you go up and down the aisles, there are always just a handful of companies that stand out. I grab everything and try to make sense of it. Information overload. David has a great way of finding the best in class at the show. And not just in some trivial or pathological sense -- it's actually relevant to evangelical users.

It's good to know that there are still some really innovative thinkers outside of Apple who are using their talents to enthrall and excite people about Apple products and the Mac platform. And it's nice to finally see David come around from the dark-side.

Thanks for the update, David. Maybe you should organize a show and show 'em all how to really do it.
KT Scheding · April 1, 2005 - 23:58 EST #4
Definintely start marketing the iBlock, in Glass and perhaps Granite. You'll make millions.

Your article confirmed what I have been feeling for years -- there are few compelling reasons to go to the trade shows in their existing format. Perhaps limiting each vendor to one booth, all of the same size, would make it easier for everyone to find the nuggets we wish were there.
John Konopka · April 2, 2005 - 02:05 EST #5
I think you're missing a huge part of MWSF which is the opportunities for training and eduction. MW is much more than just the commercial exhibits.

I've attended MWSF for the last decade or so. During that time there has been a lot of change. A silent change of sorts has been the high level of integration we now see in Apple hardware and software. There used to be booths for add ons like RS-232 interfaces, SCSI accessories, CRTs, video cards, etc. New hardware now is fairly complete. Software is in a similar situation. There used to be all sorts of little companies offering add-ons that are no longer needed.

Another change is that so many things we now buy have become very cheap. Ink jet printers, hard drives, laser printers, scanners, memory all used to cost thousands of dollars. Now you can get good quality in all those categories for under $500 and sometimes under $100. That reduction in sales price means those companies can no longer afford to have a booth

I hope IDG and Apple can find a way to keep the event alive. It is very much worth it to attend the workshops and classes, to meet other users, to visit the booths and to meet some of the people who build the products we use.

Tery Spataro · April 2, 2005 - 11:56 EST #6
David, Great article! I haven't been to a MacWorld '94 NY. But you certainly got me thinking about what I've been missing out and what I need to get back in touch.
Neil B · April 6, 2005 - 19:58 EST #7
I am not a Mac owner, but the next machine I buy will probably be one. From my few visits to the Apple store in NYC, it looks like there is plenty to be had. If I went to MacWorld, I too would seek out the small (or not small) vendors with creative, useful products, not just a bunch of cute gimmickry. I would be hesitant to return if my experience was mostly being overstimulated by flashy, low utility products.

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