I just got back from MacWorld Expo, and I had a really good time. As usual I had fun, saw some interesting toys, went to a few parties, and most importantly I got to meet a lot of interesting people. In fact, it is the people that is what makes the Expo worthwhile for me. I went to the first MacWorld Expo in 1985, and I've been to probably a dozen since then, so I'm pretty jaded about the technology and the show in general, and the excitement of product releases is getting to be really old for me. But for Expo-Virgins it is a really big thing -- lots of noise, demos, booth babe's hocking wares, giveaway's, sales, excitement, noise, products, techie toys and so on. You can tell the newbies, because they are walking around in sort of a dazed overexcited shock -- the expressions you'd expect to see on an Amish family in Las Vegas. The old timers know how to pace themselves and tend to be a bit more methodical in their approach to the show.
For me the show is about keeping contacts fresh, and finally getting to deal with many people face to face. There are many people that I've emailed with, or phone chatted with, but until you actually get to chat face-to-face, it isn't just the same thing.
Monday's Town Meeting
I thought Monday was going to be a waste of time, but it turned out that it wasn't so bad. I went to the Expo thinking that the Expo opened on Monday (since that is what my tickets said) and I didn't realize until after reservations were made that Monday was just some induction day -- with only a "Town Meeting" to look forward to, and a few "Pro" trainings that didn't strike me as all that "Pro".
In fact, it was somewhat painful to actually get in those little trainings. You could see that some conferences were nearly empty, and in typical Bureaucratic fashion you had to pre-register (sign up) in Moscone, and the trainings were in the Mariott (a few minute walk). Since we had just gotten out of Mariott's Keynote, that was annoying. Most of the trainings also seemed to be tailored towards novice, and publishing -- like that is all there is in the Mac. I wasn't overwhelmed with that, and wished they had more advanced tracks, like they used to -- but I'm sure a lot of people got a lot out of them. I spent the day meeting with people, so it wasn't a loss.
The Town Meeting started with David Pogue in old form -- he got up and cracked jokes, sang songs (with "improved lyrics") and basically warmed the crowd. He is the Tim Russel of the Mac crowd, and I think he is an aspiring vaudeville performer. I got to talk to him a little bit after the meeting and he seems like a very likable guy (I've always liked his writing). But thanks to him, I woke up Tuesday Morning singing "Listening to the sounds of silence" -- a remake of the 70's song -- but of course I couldn't remember the real words, and could only bring to memory to satirized version poking fun at Apple's tech-support.
Of course many others got up and spoke about various things, but since they were all NDA'd (Non-Disclosured) from Apple, they couldn't actually say much. So as much as I enjoyed seeing and hearing the speakers, I wasn't that overwhelmed with the content -- I'm sure it would have been more interesting if it had been AFTER the keynote.
There was an analyst that was there, (Tim Bajarin) -- I was unimpressed. He went on about how he doesn't ever believe that apple with be more than 10% of the world market, told me what I already knew,and gave me a bean-counter conformists view of the Mac. I just find that view is unimaginitive and has traditionally been very bad at forcasting future trends -- of course he was fairly positive on Apple and the next year, but nothing exciting. The problem with predictions is that they are seldom right, and you should never make broad sweeping statements (like "never over 10%") because the industry changes so much every few years.
My predictions are different (over time), but not that different, but this article isn't the right venue for that -- I'll get into that somewhere else, and some other time.
Andy Icantspellhisname (Ihnatko) came in late, as a last minute speaker. Andy made up for a lack of promptness with volume. I don't mean in volume in quantity of what he said, I mean litterally the volume at which he said it. I was a 3rd of the way back from the stage, and the sound-system was completely unnecessary. He obviously took lessons from the Sam Kinison school of public speaking. He was very enthusastic, and had some good ol' evangelism and fun in his presentation. I really enjoyed his "presentation". Which can be summed up as "I don't care". I guess you had to be there.
After that, the Town Meeting reverted to a Questions and Answers session -- and almost immediately degenerated into a bunch of whining (IMHO). Basically it turned into a bitch-fest around, "Apple doesn't come over and personally whipe my nose, and force my managers into having a clue". Of course some of the complaints are valid, and Apple does mess up on some markets, and ignore certain segments and all that, but please, that isn't the right forum for making a change. Frankly after the third person climbed down off their soap box, after giving a 5 minute droning speech about how Apple isn't doing enough for vertical market X (or running enough ads, and so on), I was pulling out my shoe-laces to make a garrot and "off" the next person who ran off topic. Fortunately David Pogue saved me from a life sentance (though I bet I could have gotten acquitted once the Jury heard the circumstances) -- Dave took the mic. and slowly explained, for the mentally impaired, that everyone wanted more from Apple, and to keep on topic about things that the people there could answer! That improved the signal-to-noise ratio, but only a little bit.
Through great begging and groveling, I was able to acquire a Press Pass (actually, it wasn't that difficult this year). In the press room I ran into Jim Carlton (Wall Street Journal writer, and author of the book, "Apple: Intrugue, Egomania and Business Blunders"). Considering I had been pretty brutal to him (and his book), he was very civil and professional -- he knew who I was from the moment he glanced at my name tag. We spoke for a few minutes, his brief comments about his book was that when he was writing it, it was a completely different time for Apple, and that things are different today -- and that he wished he hadn't had such a tough deadline (and had another year to work on it).
There is no doubt that his book is well researched, even if I don't agree with the conclusions. Of course, my thinking was that he had time to make updates in the last year+ it took for the softback version of the book to come out, and while he added a chapter, no major changes were made to the content, so I'm not sure I buy his plattitude -- but I wasn't going to start an argument. Even if we don't agree on his book, I think he is a lot more positive about Apple now... and that is good for Apple. Apple needs reporters that can "get it" -- and my impression is that he coming around.
Just after the keynote, I ran into Douglas Adams (writer of Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, among other books, and fellow Mac Enthusiast), and I asked him a few questions about what he thought (1). He mentioned that the Keynote was fun, the Mac market seems to be picking up in the UK, and he seemed very positive in general. He mentioned that he enjoyed the presentation and the new machines -- though he had a minor grumble that he had just bought his family iMacs for Christmas, and now they had them in multiple colors and he had missed out (Of course it is always good when a company keeps releasing newer and better products that you want even more than the ones you loved before). But I didn't have much time to spend, and he had to get off to an interview. I forgot to check to see if he was wearing a digital watch.
(1) Douglas Adams is quite tall (6' 6" at least I'd guess), and I felt like I was interviewing a basketball player or at least Micheal Crichton. I was probably just overly sensitive to height since someone else that I had met that day mentioned, "I thought you'd be taller" and then followed that up with, "are you sure you're 5' 10?". The sarcastic comments that flew threw my mind included such witicisms as, "No, I lie to feel bigger", or "I am when I jump".
I saw Sinbad while at the Mariott, another known Mac enthusiast, but he was eating (as were we) and there was no reason to bother him. Of course there are many other celebrities stalking the show. Tom Clancy is often at the shows -- but I didn't see him this year. Tom Selek, Tod Rudgren, Thomas Dolby, Mohamed Ali, and of course Jeff Goldblum are just a few of the others I've seen or talked to at various shows. But the point of the shows (for me) aren't for meeting celebrities so that I can go name dropping, it is more meeting the inside contacts.
I chatted with Stan Flack and many others at Mac Central and Version Tracker. Ryan Meader had his Mac OS Rumors chat, and I got to speak with them (and actually hung out and chatted with Ryan and Family). Jason O'Grady came by the Rumors meeting, and I had a nice conversation with him as well. It was all good getting to actually put faces behind the email. Later I bumped into Henry Norr at the Apple booth, and things went pretty well (2).
(2) I don't always like Henry's pontifications about how Apple should run their business, and we'd exchanged emails in the past (nothing too heated, but not complete agreement either, but I don't think he remembered it). When Henry is doing general reporter stuff, like writing on the show or doing those kind of reports, I generally enjoy his stuff.
Of course, for each person I did get time to talk with, there are always many others that I just missed meeting with. I wanted to talk to Mike Flaminio of Insanely Great and Monish of MacNN among others. And I really wanted to bump into Hyawatha Bray and have a discussion with him -- not to fight or argue, but just to offer him a sigmoidascope to help find the foriegn object he has lodged (I figure that must be what has made him so surly towards Apple). After reading his latest articles it seems he may have finally gotten it on his own -- glad to hear it.
There was a party or three that I missed, including Mac OS Rumors party. Next year I'd like to get lots of people together and help host a big WebMaster Party -- with all the WebMasters getting to chat a bit before hand, and then having an open thing for everyone. At the 1985 MacWorld a friend (Mark Murphy) had a Pizza Party (in China Town) where we took over a Pizza Parlor and played the first networked Mac games -- it was a really good time. I was thinking of following in those footsteps, but just didn't have time to set it up (or work with others) for this Expo.
The Mac-Community is great because of the people. User Groups are one great example of this -- but I had another reminder of this during the expo. I just mentioned on the site that I was trying to borrow a PowerBook to take notes and the like (really just commentary about borrowing one from work or a friend) -- a few different people offered to loan me theirs. In fact one guy (Ken Ott) drove up from 45 minutes away just to drop by my Hotel and loan me his G3 PowerBook for me to use during the show.
To me the Expo is about the people. There are many contacts to be made, friendships to keep fresh, and the ability to put faces to the names. I did that, and it made the trip worth while. The tone of the show was great, dozens of new products released. Most important of all was that people were enthused. The Mac wasn't going anywhere (contrary to the negativity of the last few years), but the energy and enthusiasm revitalized things and reminded people of that obvious truth. It was great to be there and get energized with enthusiasm.