Macworld Reboot

My yearly pilgrimage to Macworld is now complete. This year it was special for several reasons. While I had great plans to report more regularly while in San Francisco, I was having way too much fun to stop and write. Regardless, I’m now back with a full night’s sleep and ready to report.

Going In

Since Apple’s announcement last year, the entire Internet has proclaimed Macworld as “dead.” Without waiting to see how IDG would respond to this challenge, many influential technology writers declared their verdict that it was simply impossible for this conference to continue without Apple’s continued participation. Indeed, for some, the “inevitable” implosion of Macworld became sport. I wrote about my opinions on this several months ago.

While the Internet was busy making funeral arrangements for Macworld, the IDG team quietly transformed the event. This started at Macworld 2009 with the standing room only session to discuss the future. Several suggestions were made and the IDG staff was present and taking notes. They heard and they acted.

The argument going in was whether or not the conference was sustainable without Apple’s continued participation. IDG took a lot of steps to answer this question in the affirmative. Paul Kent and his team added “feature speakers” to address timely and interesting topics to the Mac community. They expanded the conference sessions. They moved the date and worked with the vendors to secure their attendance. Put simply, they worked there assess off to save Macworld.

Because one of my sessions was early on the first day, I arrived on Monday, the night before the conference began. I gave (and attended) several conferences on Tuesday and Wednesday that were fantastic. Nevertheless, there was an underlying tension about Thursday, when the exposition opened. I wasn’t sure if anyone would show up.

Thursday was the big day. Except for taking an hour to watch the David Pogue presentation (which was brilliant), I was in lockdown mode preparing for my “Mac at Work” session. It was 4:00 PM before I could make my way to the exposition Hall and as I rode the escalator down, I knew the future of Macworld may be foretold with the Expo Hall attendance. The escalator provides an elevated look at the exposition hall and as I looked into the room, I was stunned by the crowd. There were so many people, you could not even tell the color of the carpet. In short, Paul Kent and his IDG team saved Macworld. Here are my observations of how they did it.

Feature Speakers

Several feature speakers were in attendance to provide standing room only presentations that were educational, entertaining, and thought-provoking. Indeed, there were so many feature speakers that you could have spent the entire conference attending their sessions. Two of my favorites were David Pogue and John Gruber. There were several more. The point is, with just an expo hall pass, attendees had the ability to see some of the sharpest technology minds. It did not require you to purchase an expensive pass and did not require you to wake up to 2:00 AM to stand in line.

This clearly was IDG’s response to no Apple Keynote. I think it was a good one. This allowed the attendees at large to see these fantastic speakers and I, for one, got much more out of listening to John Gruber speak about the 10 biggest issues facing Apple’s future than Phil Schiller expounding on the benefits of

The Conference

This year was the first time I was able to attend the educational conference. It was outstanding. I was able to spend 10 hours learning AppleScript from Sal Soghoian. I learned about the future of electronic music on portable devices from Ge Wang and power user tips from Dan Frakes that I could spend months geeking my way through. Looking through the conference schedule, your challenge is not to find the one session that interests you but instead decide which of the many sessions would help you today.

My sessions went well. I was particularly happy to see a full room for the “Mac at Work” session. In it, we went through software and networking solutions unique to the Mac. I received a lot of positive feedback from attendees afterwards and look forward to expanding on the subject next year.

The conference was a wonderful experience and highly recommended to anyone who wants to get more of their Mac.

The Exposition

The exposition was smaller than last year. The booth sizes for the big companies, like Microsoft, also got smaller. The floor traffic, however, was insane. You really had to be patient with the most interesting vendors. With the reduced size, the exposition also became easier to manage. Where last year it would take two days to cover the entire expo, this year it could have been done in one. This made the sustained traffic throughout the expo all that more impressive. I spoke with several vendors who stated their sales numbers were higher this year than last. Everyone I spoke to said they’d be back and I’m guessing several of those who sat out this year will also be back. I’ll be posting my thoughts on some of the more interesting vendors in the coming weeks.

I also had the thrill of recording a live session of the Mac Power Users on the show floor. The attendees seemed to enjoy the show and Katie and I had the pleasure of meeting several listeners after the recording.

Photo: Allison Sheridan

About Apple

There was a subtle change that took place in the debate about Apple on the floor of the Macworld exposition. People disagreed on whether or not the conference was better without Apple but no longer did people argue whether or not it could continue without the Apple. The show can thrive next year without Apple. (And that is even before all the iPad case makers get wound up.) My friend, Adam Christianson, phrased it best. This year was a Macworld reboot. As I walked on the show floor the first time, I almost expected to hear that all too-familiar chime. The conference is certainly different than before. Some of the changes are for the worse but a lot of them are for the better. Regardless, the interest I saw last week proved the conference is sustainable.

Why Should We Care?

Macworld really is about the community. The parties this year seemed particularly celebratory. I think everyone was relieved that IDG pulled off the show without Apple. This is a good thing in light of the fact Apple appears eager to distance itself from its own community. In the end, Apples absence doesn’t matter. Every year at Macworld I get to meet with some of my very best friends and make several new ones. Mac users, as a whole, are creative, compassionate, and enthusiastic people. It is this magic sauce that really made Macworld a success in 2010 and will do so again in 2011.

Long Live Macworld.