updated 09:15 am EDT, Mon March 31, 2014
Former media event lives on as accessory, app showcase
The Macworld Expo (now called Macworld/iWorld) certainly isn't the show it was five years ago, the last year Apple attended. Its a much smaller show -- maybe 25,000 attendees at best -- but with a more sustainable focus: a showcase for computer and mobile peripherals, accessories and gadgets, as well as a gathering of app developers. Because Apple doesn't make big announcements timed to the conference anymore -- and the one company that did, Microsoft, chose not to have its Office for iPad event there -- the Macworld/iWorld show doesn't make the news as often as it used to.
But that's not to say that the show is no longer worth people's time and attention. MacNN and Electronista were there this year, and found it to still be one of the more enjoyable trade shows we we cover -- not as overwhelming as CES or Mobile World Congress, for example. Macworld/iWorld, now housed in the smaller Moscone North (and taking up around 90,000 square feet of it) was still well-populated on the show floor (particularly on Friday and Saturday), but managed to be more intimate and friendly (not to mention that it was easier to see everything). The training track, which this year featured more than 50 tech talks and keynotes, is still an invaluable resource.
Is it still worth going to, particularly if one is traveling a great distance? It depends on what you're looking for. Macworld/iWorld remains the largest gathering specifically dedicated to Apple gear in North America, and we counted 188 vendors in total at the show -- with products, services and offers ranging from baffling to brilliant. While some of the biggest names -- the aforementioned Microsoft, Logitech, Griffin, and OWC to name a few -- weren't there, plenty of well-known vendors (particularly if they had something new to offer) came along: Adobe, Western Digital, Micromat, Parallels, Xerox, Canon, Sennheiser, Kanex, Drobo, Scosche, Backblaze, MacPhun, Moshi, Olloclip, ScanSnap, The New York Times, Otterbox, CrashPlan, Dataviz, DriveSavers, Que Publishing, e3, Fujitsu, Readdle, Rain Design, iKlear, Lantronix and Topaz Labs, among others.
Waterproof cases from Seidio
The bargains these vendors were offering on their products -- typically 20 to 50 percent off their retail prices -- were, by themselves, enough to make an Expo-only pass worth the paltry $30 for the three days. The steal of the show had to be ConceptDraw Office, which was selling at the Expo for $49 -- 90 percent off its normal price. If one was in the market for accessories, particularly for iOS devices, it was a shopper's paradise -- and app developers were offering free copies of their paid apps left, right, and center.
The Expo was also an excellent place to see products first-hand that aren't publicly available yet. Many of the ones that caught our eye were successful crowd-funded projects on the brink of coming to market, sometimes within days. Crowd-funding has turned out to be a major engine for product innovation, and we got a chance to get our hands on or at least a good look at new stuff from established companies and newcomers alike. We'll be posting about some of the forthcoming stuff we saw that we're excited about, from Simplicam to the BearExtender Edge, from The Roost to the iMacompanion, from Shiny Soap to Glowdeck, from Flir One to Hider 2.
We also had a chance to chat with some of the makers of the stuff we already use and love. Getting to talk with executives from Blue Microphones, Rogue Amoeba, BusyMac, Sonoma Wire Works, MacPhun, Micromat, FastSpring, Henge Docks, Vox, Que Publishing, Moshi and others -- giving them our love, feedback and feature suggestions -- really cemented our relationship, whether professional or as customers. There were also new-to-us products, apps and services to learn about; passionate entrepreneurs entering the market with bold ideas or fresh variations on a familiar theme; and the fun of discovering new stuff to buy you didn't even know you needed, which is always invigorating.
There were meetups for Bitcoin fans and Apple Consultants, educators and musicians. The "Macworld Live" main stage featured editors and columnists from MacWorld magazine (such as Chris Breen, Dan Frakes, Dan Moren and Jason Snell), while the "second stage" offered live podcast recording, a GarageBand demo with Bob "Dr. Mac" Levitus and product spotlights. There was even an iBeacon scavenger hunt, but sadly no movie stars this year. Maybe if that Sony biopic of Steve Jobs gets underway soon, Macworld/iWorld 2015 might see a visit from Christian Bale?
The big-ticket agenda of the show went beyond the Expo and into the conference rooms where some 58 sessions were held, ranging from talks for creative professionals to the MacIT track. A trio of full-day workshops kicked off the event on Wednesday, with hour-long sessions filling Thursday through Saturday. Of special interest this year was a two-hour, open-access App Camp for Girls open house, and discussions on wearable tech, the NSA, emerging mobile technologies, music production, ebook creation, and former Apple engineer Andy Grignon discussing the creation of the iPhone.
IDC cleverly offers various levels of passes for the show depending on what attendees are interested in. Prices range from the $30 Expo pass to a $1,099 "everything included" superpass (and prices are discounted for early-bird registration). It's held in San Francisco, a lovely city close enough to the Apple "mothership" and other Silicon Valley landmarks to tempt visitors to turn the occasion into a mini-vacation.
Is Macworld/iWorld still worth it? For big-deal announcements, not so much -- but for those who still enjoy the feeling of the "Apple community" we used to get more of, want to see and touch the latest stuff for Macs and iDevices (and yes, a fair amount of it works with Android and Windows PCs), buy stuff cheap, meet the people you crowd-funded last summer, or get in on some bargain-priced presentations and workshops, the leaner but cleaner Macworld/iWorld show has a lot to offer. It may not take as long to see everything as it did a few years ago, but your feet and eyeballs won't be numb by the end of the day, either.