Macworld 2012

This year marked my first time to attend the Macworld Expo. Rumors on the show floor were that roughly 20,000 people were in attendance. I met one gentleman who had been coming since 1987.

The event has undergone a lot of change just since 2009. After Apple’s last attendance that year, Macworld moved the traditional January date back to February in 2010. Then in 2011 they moved the event over to Moscone West. And for this year, 2012, they changed the name to “Macworld | iWorld”.

Nobody I spoke with liked the new name, “Macworld | iWorld”. It’s a bit awkward to say and to type. Pretty much everyone just called it “Macworld”. But the new name, awkward or not, is fitting. It goes hand-in-hand with what was happening on the show floor and with what has happened to the Apple ecosystem in general.

At the expo, the vast majority of the 250 booths were somehow related to iDevices. Many booths were selling iPhone and iPad cases, an entire section of the show floor was dedicated just to iOS apps, and I’ve never seen so many people using iPhones in my life. I even overheard a conversation about one lady who had just bought her first iPhone and was at Macworld in order to discover some new apps.

In years past, the entire event was dedicated to the Mac and to desktop software. Then the iPod-related booths began coming in, and now, just five years after the iPhone was announced, the OS X section of the show floor (though it was one of my favorite sections, filled with booths by many of my favorite 3rd-party devs) finds itself back in the corner of the Exhibit Hall. OS X and desktop software will always have a soft spot in my heart, and so in a way it was saddening to see such a relatively small amount of space relegated for what was once Apple’s flagship operating system.

In short, Macworld | iWorld mirrored what the charts have been saying for quite some time: iOS is the future of Apple.

The Macworld brand holds too much history and clout to be dropped altogether (I assume). But if it did not, then I could see the next change for this event being to change the name altogether to just “iWorld”. Surely the day will come when the majority of attendees at the Expo will own an iPhone and/or iPad, but not a Mac.

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In addition to being my first Macworld event, this was also the first time I’ve spent any significant amount of time in Moscone West.

Moscone West is a beautiful building. It is large and open, full of natural light, clean, and easy to find your way around in. When I walked into the Exhibit Hall on Thursday morning, the whole room smelled like a newly-unpacked Nintendo Entertainment System — you know? that fresh gadget smell?

The show floor was lined with wall-to-wall blue carpet. The vendor booths were arranged side-by-side and back-to-back in order to create the 9 aisles that attendees walked up and down. It was jam packed with people every time I was in there.

I had an iFan pass that got me access to the show floor and to the panels and sessions being held upstairs, but only a few piqued my interest enough to pull me away from meeting with people downstairs in the Exhibit Hall — like most attendees, the majority of my time at Macworld Expo was spent walking the show room floor. Moreover, many of my favorite panels were held on the Macworld Live stage, which was located in the back of the Exhibit Hall.

The three sessions I did catch were:
40 Tips in 40 Minutes with David Sparks, Merlin Mann, and Brett Terpstra;
The State of Apple live panel with Jason Snell, Andy Ihnatko, and John Gruber; and
Less Than Perfect Apps live panel with Lex Friedman, John Gruber, Dave Wiskus, Guy English, Glenn Fleishman, and Paul Kafasis.

Each of these sessions were packed with standing room only. We arrived about 30 minutes early to each session in order to get front row seats. After each presentation ended, it was always an honor to shake hands with some of these guys for the first time.

Additionally, many of my favorite 3rd-party developers were there as exhibitors: Smile software, Studio Neat, Realmac, Flexibits, BusyMac, Omni, Rogue Amoeba, and others. It was great to meet these guys as well.

According to the event guide, there were roughly 250 booths. The first booth I noticed when entering the Exhibit Hall was the Omni Group booth. They were right in front by the main entrance and basically had a small OmniLivingRoom set up with tables, iPads, iMacs, and a giant Samsung TV. Their booth was filled with Omni employees that I had the privilege of talking to, and they regularly had guests give software demos via the television. They were passing out Omni-branded M&Ms, utility notebooks, and large manilla envelopes the size of an iPad 2.

For each booth I visited, one of the default questions I would ask was how the show is going. Every exhibitor replied that it was going great. Many of the booths were selling physical goods — such as Doxie, Studio Neat, and the ōlloclip guys — and a few exhibitors let me know that they had more than paid for their booth space through retail sales. A lot of booths even sold out of their inventory.

To me, the best booths were those staffed by the actual owners or developers. I got a demo from the guys at Rage Software and left impressed by one of their SEO apps. Nik Fletcher gave us a demo of Clear. Dan and Tom were manning the Studio Neat booth and selling Cosmonauts faster than I could write this sentence. And I got to meet Greg and Jean at the Smile booth; it’s nice to shake hands with someone who’s awesome software has literally helped you shave hours of your work week.

The Polk Audio booth became my default conversation starter. They had a giant section in the middle of the showroom floor in order to sell their new sports in-ear headphones and had a skier, a snowboarder, and a gymnast all doing tricks and flips on a big trampoline. It was a blast to watch.

What’s New?

Macworld Expo placed a strong emphasis on apps and products that were launching that weekend during the event.

Among other great products, the most notable Macworld announcements in recent years have been the iPhone and the MacBook Air. However, now that Apple is no longer in attendance at Macworld there is not nearly the same large draw for people around the world to look to Macworld for announcements about what is new.

In the Event Guide, on the page listing all of the exhibitors on the show floor, a special “First Looks” icon was placed next to each exhibitor’s name if they were launching a product at Macworld | iWorld. From the brochure:

The Macworld | iWorld First Looks Program is all about highlighting new-to-market products that will debut at the show, and helping attendees and the media learn more about them. During Macworld | iWorld, First Looks product walls will be on display throughout the Moscone Center to help attendees identify and locate the products being introduced. Be the first to see and test all the new products launching at Macworld | iWorld.

I didn’t see the product walls during the event, but it did seem clear to me that Macworld was making a concerted effort to reward companies who launched something new during the Expo.

In addition to the First Looks stuff, I learned during the event that for an app or a product to be eligible for a Macworld Best of Show award it had to launch during the event. Exhibitors with booths at Macworld who had launched a new app last fall were, unfortunately, ineligible for the award.

It’s important for Macworld | iWorld to be more than just a consumer-facing exposition event, and encouraging vendors to launch new products at the event is a great way to keep cultivating Macworld as a seedbed for breaking news.

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From a professional standpoint, attending Macworld was a no-brainer. As a writer, meeting peers in my field and developers whose products I write about was invaluable. Relatedly, I didn’t crack my MacBook Air open one time during the whole event. All the notes I took, all the links I posted, all the writing I did, I did from my iPhone. How fitting, eh?

From a personal standpoint, the conference felt more like a vacation than a business trip. All my time in San Francisco was spent with friends and peers. Either hanging out and walking the exhibit hall, sitting in on panels, visiting the Apple campus, or sharing a meal or a coffee.

I had many conversations with exhibitors, attendees, and press folk, and nobody I met or spoke with was disappointed that they were there. In short, Macworld 2012 was a fantastic show filled with fantastic folks. I’ll see you again in 2013.

Macworld 2012