updated 11:00 pm EDT, Fri July 16, 2004
MWB 04 Recap
There's no question that Macworld Conference & Expo's return to Boston was muted by Apple's absence, a smaller showfloor, and a sharp downturn in attendance. Predictions from pundits had spelled disaster for Expo before the virgin doors of the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center even swung open Monday. Yet when the curtains came down Thursday and the carpets rolled up, the consensus among attendees and exhibitors was largely positive.
Looking at the show as a whole and judging its effectiveness depends one one's perspective. Compared to Macworld San Francisco, Boston barely made a blip on the radar, but the East Coast Expo has always played second fiddle to its January counterpart. Macworld New York had been shrinking in size every year since its debut in 1998, so a smaller Expo this summer wasn't a surprise, even if IDG World Expo had been hoping to reverse that trend by returning to Boston -- before Apple voiced its opposition to such a move. Still, there's no denying that Boston was subdued by Apple's departure. Whereas Macworld Expo had become synonymous with "good for all Mac users" because of the products and announcements that came from the floor, Boston could be said to be "good for those who showed up."
It's important to remember that neither Macworld, Macworld Boston, nor Macworld Expo are the names of the show, although the latter is probably the most popular nomenclature. Macworld Conference & Expo, as it formally goes by, is not just an expo, but also a place with numerous workshops, conferences, and presentations taking place. It's an event where Mac users can meet other Mac users, speak to vendors who make some of the products they use, learn of new products, receive hands on demonstrations, and learn everything from more basic Mac techniques to creating a professional home recording studio. If you sat from an armchair at home thinking that Macworld Expo was a disappointment because Steve Jobs didn't deliver a riveting streamed keynote or because new products as a whole were fewer in numbers than in previous years, then you're probably correct to think that. Even those who attended Macworld Expo with an Exhibits Only pass and simply scoured the show floor for cool new things to check out probably felt let down. But there was lots more taking place on and off the showfloor.
In place of the requisite keynote presentation, IDG World Expo offered attendees a more relaxed feature presentation that brought together four members of the original Macintosh team. Andy Hertzfeld, Jerry Manock, Bill Atkinson, and Jef Raskin shared stories of days past with the audience as author and New York Times columnist David Pogue moderated "The Macintosh at 20: A Celebration of 20 Years of Innovation." Combining interesting anecdotes -- countless of which can be read on Hertzfeld's or are already familiar with Apple's past.
Two other feature presentations were equally entertaining and interesting. Rick Smolan, who produced the best seller America 24/7 spoke about himself, the project, and the role Apple hardware played in making everything possible. The MacBrainiac Challenge, hosted by Macworld editor Christopher Breen, gave attendees a chance to watch some of the names they've read on the Mac Web show off their knowledge by answering a series of challenging and usually very random questions that were almost always piqued with humor, be it in the questions themselves, from Breen, or from one of the participants.
The many Geeks and Gadgets presentations held on the show floor spanned a variety of topics from the opening Town Hall, which featured Scott Sheppard of Inside Mac Radio and OSXFAQ, Jason Snell of Macworld magazine, Bob "Dr. Mac" LeVitus, and Chuck Joiner of the MUG Center, to more specific topics like streaming music from your Mac to everyone on the Internet.
The show floor itself was certainly the smallest in recent history, spanning just six main aisles comprising about 50 exhibitors. A large Apple Specialist booth, populated with the likes of Microsoft and MYOB as well as a small theater presentation area, dominated the show floor. Quark and Belkin also had sizable booths showing off their latest products (although nothing brand new was announced from either), as did Harmon Multimedia, which showed off its new On Stage and On Tour portable speaker products geared towards iPod users. The surprising all-star of Macworld Expo booths went to Spymac, which rolled out its new Wheel web services product and line of merchandise with a sleek black booth that ushered attendees inside, plasma TVs, and small spot lights. The International QuickTime VR Association also had a large presence on the floor, mostly displaying fantastic panoramic images from member photographers. The non-profit IQTVRA also collaborated with IDG World Expo to deliver a 360 degree tour of Boston and the convention center. The group's QT Bug, a blue Volkswagen New Beetle also made an appearance on the show floor, joining Tech Superpower's Geek My Ride custom-fitted Lexus IS 300 as the only wheels on the floor.
While Macworld Expo Boston wasn't everything to everyone, those who ventured out, participated in workshops, or attended presentations had their share of things to do. With another two years left on IDG's contract with Boston for Macworld Expo, this year may simply indicate what the summer expo will come to represent for Mac users.