What’s the mood at this year’s Macworld Expo? In a word, “somber.”
As readers know, we have been attending and chronicling the Expo for years, as well as similar events such as London’s and Paris’s Apple shows. Every time, most of the participants we’ve canvassed before the show have offered either genuine enthusiasm or cautious optimism regarding what was about to take place. Keynote attendees’ voices lifted as they contemplated being in the audience for some breakthrough announcement, a “One More Thing,” or just some modest but personally important product revision that they’d been waiting on to make a purchase. Developers tended to be more circumspect, yet it was clear that they, too, were hoping for excitement, and doing their best to encourage it at their own booths. Anything could happen, mostly thanks to the fabric cloths so conspicuously draped over Apple’s banners and booth before each show, and it was worth a flight or two to see what took place.
This wasn’t the case in the later years of the London and Paris shows. Without an Apple keynote or any major domestic announcement to draw crowds, developers reported that their booths were something close to ghost towns, staffed for fans—and business opportunities—that never came. The recent formal death of the Paris show was presaged by informal signs that such was inevitable; event or not, we’d heard that major players were just not going to return.
Right now, the feeling we’ve gotten is that Apple’s impending departure from the Expo has similarly all but sucked the air from Moscone Center’s convention halls. As a direct consequence of that announcement, some of the best—and smartest—iPod and iPhone third-party developers have been putting out the expected press releases this year, but are already planning to bail on next year’s Expo and use their resources elsewhere; at CES, or, like Apple, on things other than trade shows. People have seen what became of the London and Paris events, and they wisely don’t want to spend the money or labor to host dead booths or prop up zombie trade shows. The last ones out the door there bore witness to how sad Apple fandom can look when the crowds don’t turn out, and huge trade show budgets mean little if there’s no genuine excitement to entice people to show up.
To be clear, iLounge’s editors are in no way happy about this state of affairs. We’ve viewed the Macworld Expo not only as a trade show, but as a chance to catch up with far-flung friends and staffers spread across the globe. For the last two Expos, it’s been a time when Jesse comes down from Canada to share wines and sakes with Jeremy before their cross-continental flights; when Bob Levens flies in from the U.K. for his annual Beard Papa pilgrimage(s); when Dennis and Bob Starrett are forced to abandon their sun-soaked Southern California and Florida abodes to shiver in the 58-degree winds of San Francisco. It has been a chance to see not just Apple’s customers—the silhouetted ones who will no doubt be cited by numbers, iTunes, Retail Stores, and device sales—in this morning’s keynote, but rather Apple’s community, the real people with real names, real faces, and real constraints who make and support the iPod, iPhone, and Mac ecosystems.
Over the next couple of days, we will be talking with many of the industry’s top iPod and iPhone developers—those who felt that this year’s show was worth attending—and getting a sense of where they plan to be a year from now. Our current thinking is that we might all wind up, instead, in Las Vegas. Under the right circumstances, that wouldn’t be such a bad thing. And it would certainly be better than not being together as a community at all.