The Macworld Expo Without Apple: An Honest but Hopeful Analysis

As you know, the AppStorm team just returned from our very first Macworld Expo. To us, this was the stuff of legend. In years past we had spent Macworld glued to our computer monitors, taking in every scrap of information from bloggers making live posts about the newest developments from the world of Apple.

However, we soon found out that the atmosphere had changed dramatically from previous expos. The massive and legendary event that we had seen and heard from afar has been replaced by something else. Nearly every developer, exhibitor, and attendee we spoke with throughout the week talked about the change that had taken place.

Is Macworld a shadow of what it once was? Is the conference on a downward spiral? What will the future hold? We’ll discuss all this and more below.

A Little History

I imagine that some of our readers haven’t been Apple fanboys their whole lives and are even fairly new to the idea of a Mac community. For those of you unfamiliar with the subject, Macworld is both a popular magazine and an annual technology expo dedicated to all things Mac. The first Macworld Conference took place in 1985 in San Francisco, and continues to this day in San Francisco at the Moscone Center. Notice that was only a year after the Mac was introduced!

Though the event was created by a third party, Apple came to build a strong presence there over the years. Steve Jobs’ keynote speeches were one of the biggest hype-builders of the entire event because they often marked the release of something new and exciting. The iMac, PowerBook G3, Aqua (OS X’s interface), iTunes, Safari and the MacBook Air are just a few of the popular products originally announced at Macworld.

Apple Changes Everything

In December 2008, Apple announced that the January 2009 Macworld Expo would be their last. It was an interesting move. Here was the single largest gathering of faithful customers they could hope for, an event which they leveraged intensively for years, and yet they were pulling out amidst rumors of a CEO with failing health. Things didn’t exactly look great for Apple or Macworld.

The theories behind Apple’s exit from the conference abound. Some say that Macworld had gotten too big and expensive and that Apple doesn’t like letting other people control any relationship. Others say that Apple grew tired of announcing products at Macworld and left so they would have the freedom to call their own gatherings to announce products (which they now do). In all honesty, there’s probably not one single reason Apple pulled out. Most or even all of the commonly discussed factors likely played a role in the decision.

How Has the Event Changed?


Macworld 2011

The most notable change is the size. Macworld used to take up a large portion of the Moscone center and was spread throughout multiple sections. Now the conference is limited to the West hall and is a fairly small, centralized event compared to the Macworld Expos of yesteryear. Even some big events like the Industry forum, expected to draw thousands or at least hundreds of visitors, pulled in numbers around the 50s and 60s.

The tone of the exhibitors has also changed quite a bit. Many are simply not as excited to be there as they once were. They told us story after story of how they used to spend months preparing for this event and would rent huge areas of floorspace, go all out on booth design and spend lavishly at parties throughout the week. Now, many have been reduced to a small display at a single stand and complain about how much even that cost. Instead of spending months in hard preparation, a large portion of exhibitors we spoke with only decided to go at the last minute after swearing through the year that they had been to their last Macworld conference.

The Good News

The summary above doesn’t make it look like there is a very promising future for Macworld, but there is plenty of evidence to make me think otherwise.

First, the event is still rebounding from Apple’s exit. The coordinators still have much work to do to figure out how to run an event that the world isn’t flocking to like they once were. Exhibitors have lots of ideas and even demands about how the event should be run, priced and promoted and hopefully IDG is smart enough to listen. Next year will be their third without Apple and they’ll likely have refined their strategies to make the most of the event.

Secondly, even the most skeptical exhibitors have positive things to say. One of the most potent for them is the quality of the connections that they are making at the show. It used to be so overrun by people only interested in free swag and a glimpse at the newest iMac that the ratio of quality to useless interactions could be fairly dismal. Now however, it seems that the people there are either genuinely interested customers or members of the press who are looking for great products to promote. Both of these types of visitors are great for developers looking to push their products as the next big thing.

Finally, there is still a very large and very strong core set of people who absolutely love the Mac community and want to see events like Macworld succeed. Guys like John Gruber have been attending for years and have a lot to say about what could be done differently, but ultimately even more about how important the event is for Mac users.

There was a time when we Mac users weren’t on top of the world as we are now. We were a quirky cult convinced of the superiority of the products we used while the world shook their head in confusion. Events like Macworld reaffirmed that we weren’t alone in our unwavering devotion to Apple and helped provide the heart and soul of a customer base that never stopped telling patrons of the competition that they should switch over.

There’s an entirely new generation of Mac users now with entirely different motivations for using Apple’s products. Macworld is one of the few interesting places where the old and new customers collide and find middle ground and perhaps the expo provides a key opportunity for some of that old school fervor to rub off on the newly convinced.

The iPhone and Mac app stores have created not just a new customer base, but a huge new developer base unlike anything we’ve ever seen in the Mac community, and this will only get better in the years ahead. As this network of developers continually grows, you can bet more and more of them will see Macworld as a potential place to finally stand out against the competition and gain a foothold with customers.

What Did We Think?


AppStorm's own Josh, David and Joel with Ryan from Marketcirlce

Since this was our first Macworld Expo, we didn’t experience the longing for a bigger, more energetic event. Instead we could appreciate Macworld for all of the value that’s still very much present. For the AppStorm team, Macworld was a chance to put faces to email contacts from supporters that we simply couldn’t live without. It was also an opportunity to form bonds with new developers and innovators that we are excited to watch and work with in the future.

We feel much more plugged into the Mac community and were massively encouraged by the number of people that told us they were fans of the site. We are incredibly grateful for the event’s creators, exhibitors and attendees. Thanks to all the people who showed us around, introduced us to important people and invited us to a few exclusive parties with delicious food and good company! We’re already looking forward to next year.