I checked out Macworld Expo this year. I’ve gone every year since 2006, and I’ve always had a great time. But, speaking as someone who only got to check out the Expo and not the Conference, I just didn’t find Macworld to be a great event. I was predisposed to loving it, and I couldn’t this year. Based on some of the other articles I’ve read and conversations that I’ve had with others who attended this year, I think it’s an upstairs/downstairs issue.
Looking at the session list for the Conference portion of Macworld, it was awesome. The Conference is broken into several tracks. The Users Conference has fantastic sessions. There were 6 Mac tracks and 2 iOS tracks. The Mac part includes sessions, both beginner and advanced, across productivity, photography, and business. The MacIT track is my favourite, but then I’m a geek. That part of Macworld 2011 looked like it was just as great as it’s always been.
The Conference is, both literally and figuratively, upstairs. This year, it was held on the second and third floors of Moscone West. By all accounts, it was spacious and comfortable. There was plenty of seating for the all-important hallway discussions. Contrast that to the downstairs of the Expo.
The Expo is totally different now that Apple has left the building. There are fewer companies represented there. While some people have been joking for several years that the Expo had just been about iPod/iPhone cases, there were still lots of Mac developers there. Even better, the booths were usually staffed by their technical team, so spending time in their booth was very productive. As someone from an application team working in a booth myself, I really appreciated the opportunity to talk to the users of my applications, get feedback from them, and help them out with problems. As a Mac user myself, I loved being able to talk to the developers of some of my favourite applications. Sometimes this was giving them feedback, sometimes it was to request a feature, and sometimes it was simply to tell them that I love their apps.
With Apple being gone and many of the big players deciding to sit this one out, it left room for a lot of small players. And a lot of these small players were in iOS development and accessories. It was weird to see Thinkpads and Vaios on the show floor. I’m an iPhone and iPad user too, but it’s still called Macworld. I wanted much more Mac and much less iOS.
There were lots of tiny booths. This meant that it was a good opportunity to meet some of the smaller vendors (albeit with the caveat that many of them were iOS vendors that I wasn’t as interested in), but it created a traffic jam in the aisles. Moving through the aisles was bloody well nearly impossible. Since the vast majority of booths were very small booths, no-one other than the booth workers could actually be in the booth. To stop and see what was going on in a booth required that you stop in the aisle, which blocked everyone else from moving past. This was even worse in the teensy four-sided kiosks that took up one corner of the show floor. There were things in there that I wanted to check out, but the teeming crowds in that section made it too much of a hassle to go in and talk to developers.
Adding to the problems on the show floor was that there wasn’t anywhere to hang out with friends for those of us who were only downstairs. A large part of Macworld, for me, is the networking aspect of it — that so-called hallway track. At previous Macworlds, I got to see lots of my existing Macworld friends and make more of them. This year, there were only a handful of tables at the back of the hall, which were generally taken up by people eating. With the aisles full, there was no place to move to the side and talk. The lobby only had a few chairs near the coffee cart. There was no place to hang out, and no place to stand within a booth. As a result, I lost most of the serendipity of meeting someone new. I also didn’t run into old friends unless I had arranged something ahead of time, which further cut the networking aspect of it.
This year as someone who only got to spend time on the Expo floor, Macworld just felt like a non-event to me. I know that part of it is that I didn’t get to spend as much time there as I have in the past, but I also think that part of it is how the show evolved this year.
There’s a disconnect between the Expo and the Conference. The Conference upstairs still is Macworld. Having some iOS tracks in there makes sense, but the focus is on the Mac. The Expo downstairs isn’t Macworld any longer. The Expo is Appleworld — and I’m only calling it Appleworld because iOSworld sounds pretty lame. There were still a few Mac developers on the floor, but even most of those were often showing off their latest iOS applications in addition to their Mac offerings. The rest is all about iOS.
I can see why most of the Mac developers chose not to get floor space this year With an Expo that has become increasingly focused on iOS in previous years, taking part in the Expo is a big cost that has a questionable payoff. There’s the cost associated with the booth: renting the floor space on the show floor, as well as putting together the booth. These things are Not Cheap, especially for a big professional booth. More importantly, there’s the cost to the engineering team. As I mentioned above, most developers sent members of their technical team. As a result, those developers lost a week of productivity. This is worthwhile if there’s a benefit to the developer as well as to the community. But without a critical mass of Mac users who are interested in discussing Mac software, there’s a much smaller benefit to the development team, not to mention only a small benefit to the Mac community.
I think that the disconnect between the Conference and the Expo has to be addressed. I’m not sure what the best way is to accomplish this. I hope that it can be done.