Post-Macworld Expo Thoughts

So, Macworld 2010 has come and gone and now the post-mortem analysis can begin in earnest. Already several parties have weighed in on whether or not Macworld was a “success” this year; so I may as well throw in my two cents.

As I wrote previously, this year was my first attending Macworld Expo, so I feel that I have a slightly different perspective than some of the other commenters who have more history with the event. I’ll leave my overall assessment and prognostications for the end of this piece, and focus on my impressions of a few key areas first.

The Media

The reaction of strictly media outlets to this year’s Macworld Expo has been what I would call guardedly optimistic. Most reports that I have read have acknowledged that, if Macworld is indeed dead, it’s not a Night of the Living Dead zombie but more of a rage fueled 28 Days Later zombie. On the other hand, most of those reports still pose the existential question, “will it be enough?”

I’m going to go ahead and restate the point that I made in the earlier piece linked above. My take is that, if you are in the media and saw past Macworld Expos as a venue for Apple to announce shiny new shit, Macworld is probably dead to you going forward. On the other hand, if you are looking for stories about the non-Apple vendors in the Apple market, then Macworld still has plenty to offer. None of that, though, is as much a reflection on post-Apple Macworld Expo as it is a reflection on trade shows in general. In the Internet age, Apple (or any company really) can make more of a splash with a coy media invite and a timely leak to the Wall Street Journal than any number of Macworld keynote speeches. And, in this economy, it’s a hell of a lot cheaper to boot.

The bottom line is that it is true that the days of seeing mainstream traditional media outlets such as CNN or CNBC at Macworld are probably over. The question that needs to be asked is: does that actually have a negative impact on the remaining exhibitors, or was the mainstream coverage mainly focused on Apple anyway? That’s a judgment call that only the exhibitors can answer.

The Expo

View of the show floor

There is no denying that there were fewer exhibitors attending Macworld this year than in years past. Without digging up the exact numbers, I think that the count was about half of what it was last year. Many pundits have been quick to blame this on the lack of an Apple presence; arguing that, without the mainstream media draw that Apple provides, vendors don’t see the point in attending. That may very well be the case. But I think that attempting to distill a very complicated issue into such simplistic terms is disingenuous at best.

The decision whether or not to exhibit at Macworld is a complicated one for any vendor, made even more complicated by the difficult economic times that we find ourselves in. Exhibiting at a trade show such as Macworld Expo is a costly matter, often with little to no immediate return. Compounding this is the fact that many of the same arguments that Apple itself has made regarding attending trade shows can be applied to the smaller vendors as well. It is difficult to justify the expense of renting a booth when the Internet is essentially free.

That said, it can be argued that there was still a great benefit for many of the vendors who attended. Firstly there were a plethora of smaller and specialty hardware and software vendors in attendance whom I first became aware of by visiting their Macworld booths. These are shops that have, for whatever reason, not been able to penetrate the greater blogosphere’s mindscape; yet they still are offering compelling products. Secondly, Macworld Expo offered a unique opportunity for iPhone app vendors to be seen outside the so-called app store ghetto, and to interact directly with their current and potential customers.

Floor zombies

One thing is for certain. As I roamed the Expo show-floor myself, at no point did it seem empty. In fact, my innate hatred of crowded spaces was on point the entire time.

The other sign of changing times on the Expo floor was the makeup of the exhibitors. While I was there I heard several jokes about the “iPhone Case Ghetto.” The thing is, if Macworld Expo is to survive as a trade show, these are the exhibitors that IDG must court. The small shops who don’t have the New Media Douchebag connections to get featured by TechCrunch and their ilk, and will never see the shelves of an Apple Store.

Waiting in line

The other side of the Expo, and an area where I think that Paul Kent and his IDG team really shined were the Main Stage speakers and Feature Presentations (and I’m not just saying that because the Angry Mac Bastards podcast was on the Main Stage). The three Feature Presentations that I was able to attend (Late Night with David Pogue, Kevin Smith and the iPad Special Event) were at turns, touching, hilarious and informative. All three were standing room only. I can honestly say that I derived more from them than I would have from a Steve Jobs keynote.

The Conference

While I have heard mainly praise for the Macworld Conference tracks, I am sad to say that I didn’t utilize the Conference sessions as much as hoped to. I don’t say this to in any way denigrate the sessions that were offered. The sessions that I attended were uniformly informative, and I heard nothing but positive comments for the sessions that I didn’t attend. The “failure” of the Conference tracks lies mainly on myself, and where I lie in the Apple ecosystem.

As a “non-professional power—-user” I found the Users conference tracks to be mainly aimed either below my skill level or above my interest level, and the MacIT tracks didn’t apply to me at all. If I could offer one suggestion to Paul and the team, I would suggest that they try to offer more Users tracks aimed at a wider range of skill levels.

I’ll leave my critique of the Conference portion of Macworld at that.

The Community

One prevalent theme that ran through commentary about Macworld, both before during and after the show was the idea of “community.” This is really a difficult part of the equation to factor in because, with little exception, it’s a part that lies outside of IDG’s control. I will say though that “community” is absolutely the right lens with which to view Macworld, and what a great community it is. This is a place where I think that my perspective as a newbie to the Macworld community gives me the right insight to comment on it.

First of all, I want to thank Paul Kent and the rest of the IDG team. I’m fully aware that it’s Paul’s job to be a good host, but I’ve known many who weren’t half as gracious and welcoming as he and his staff were. Paul’s personal enthusiasm and commitment to the community is impossible to ignore. But even aside from Paul and the IDG staff, I can’t think of a single moment during my time at Macworld when I wasn’t made to feel a part of the community. I won’t even try to name names, because I know I will leave someone out, but thanks to everyone who was a part of that.

The Future

The million dollar question is: was it enough? I don’t have the answer to that question. The only people who will be able to make that call are IDG World Expo. The bottom line is that this is a money making venture. If the money isn’t there, then the Expo will go away. What I am prepared to say after attending my first Macworld is that Paul Kent and his team seem committed to doing all that they can to keep Macworld alive. I know that, if they can pull that off, I’ll be there next year. I hope you are too.