By Harry McCracken | Saturday, February 13, 2010 at 7:17 pm
As I write this, Macworld 2010 is wrapping up over at San Francisco’s Moscone Center. As everyone who cares about the conference knows, it was the first edition since Apple pulled out–which meant no Steve Jobs and no Apple space on the show floor.
How’d the event survive the big transition? Well, there’s no doubt about it: A Macworld with Jobs unveiling something interesting onstage and Apple employees demonstrating stuff in the hall would have been better than this one. On the other hand, some of the most bustling, vibrant Macworld Expos I ever attended were held in Boston in the late 1980s, when Apple itself was sans Jobs and not releasing anything terribly exciting. And when Apple said it decided to leave the show in part because it could interact with its customers at Apple Store locations, it was a rational explanation even if you didn’t like it. One of the largest Apple Store locations is a few blocks from Moscone, and basically amounts to an Apple Macworld Expo booth that’s open year round. When I walked by it last night it was mobbed–with conventiongoers, I assume.
It would have been cool if the iPad had been unveiled at Macworld Expo before throngs of conference attendees rather than a few weeks earlier before a much smaller group of mediafolk. But I don’t think there’s an alternate universe in which Macworld attendees got hands-on experience with iPads. At best, they might have seen the new gizmo in demos or inside a case.
No, it’s not the lack of an Apple keynote and booth space itself that had the biggest impact on Macworld 2010. It was the fact that many prospective exhibitors decided to pass on the show when they heard the news about Apple’s departure. The exhibition area which once packed multiple halls now fit comfortably into one area, and if you walked around the perimeter you saw that there was actually room to spare. The office count of exhibitors was 25o, down from 400 last year, but around a third of the 250 were iPhone developers, some of who had bought exhibition space consisting of one quarter of one small table. Some large companies, such as HP and Microsoft, were present; others, numerous others, like Adobe and Canon, were no-shows.
Me, I spent most of two days at the event, and had a good time on the floor and at presentations by multiple smart people who didn’t happen to be Steve Jobs. Much of the coverage of this post-Apple Macworld has been cranky and apocalyptic, but I found the quality of what was there to be…not bad. The ratio of wheat (interesting products and companies, be they big or small) to chaff (boring, me-too stuff) was respectable–there were far fewer major exhibitors, but there was also reduced acreage devoted to iPhone cases. I’d trade the 2008 or 2009 show floors for the 2010 one in a heartbeat, but it was far from moribund.
And it was far from empty: IDG is saying that “over 20,000” attendees showed up, which was enough to pack the smaller exhibit space. A final audited head count is presumably on its way, but attendance was apparently down at least somewhat from 2009’s 28,353, and down a lot from the 41,891 people who attended the final Jobs Macworld in 2008.
Do I miss the older, larger, newsier Macworld? Absolutely. But I do get the sense that some of the people who are declaring the new Macworld to be pointless and/or about to die are pining for a show that never quite existed. Such as this guy quoted in a San Jose Mercury News story:
“When I first starting coming in 1990, back when the computer was new and the world revolved around it, you HAD to be there, you HAD to see Steve present,” said Jon Kahn, a 52-year-old software developer from Watsonville. He remembers the days when “developers were rock stars and fans would ask them for autographs. Now with Apple gone, it feels kind of sad. It’s not as big anymore, and I miss the old Macworld.”
I don’t begrudge Mr. Kahn his memories, but unless he was misquoted–or the Steve he speaks of is someone other than Steve Jobs–they’re false. In 1990, Jobs was in exile from Apple and running NeXT. He didn’t show up at a Macworld Expo until the 1997 Boston edition–held after a dozen years of Macworlds that I don’t recall anyone dismissing as a waste of time.
(Standard full disclosure: I’m a former employee of Macworld Expo’s owner IDG, and still participate in its Employee Stock Ownership Program.)