Sunday, January 29, 2012

The vanishing trade show

Saturday I attended what's left of Macworld Expo, now known as “Macworld/iWorld” in San Francisco’s Moscone West.

I last attended the show in 2009, which was also the last year of Apple’s participation. Their huge exhibit space cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in booth rental, setup charges and salaries — so with other avenues to reach customers, they decided to drop out. The show never has been the same ever since, although despite some predictions (including my own) Macworld Expo is not dead yet.

Founded in 1985, the Macworld Expo once helped justify the construction of the Moscone convention center complex. At one point it required more than 400,000 square feet of exhibit space in Moscone (South) and Moscone North. (Earlier in the week, the Photonics West optical trade show filled both halls).

This year, despite the longer name the show needed less than 100,000 square feet in Moscone West.

The only one of the traditional major Macworld Expo exhibits was HP, through seniority occupying a 20x30' booth right at the show entrance. In a new take on the traditional “booth bimbo,” HP hired two of the “Gold Rush” squad (aka 49ers cheerleaders).
Another longtime exhibitor was Xerox, taking over the Tektronix Phaser color printers that date back to 1988 (the one color printer company that didn’t need the help of Palomar Software). As for Mac software, I was unable to solve my Exchange calendar synchronization problems. However, saw two new (to me) drawing programs — Art Board and Concept Draw — which might replace my old copy of Smart Sketch for the times that PowerPoint is not nearly enough.

My favorite hardware item was microcone, a (pricey) five-sided microphone for recording 5 6 separate voice tracks from a meeting to a Mac, for transcription or for use as a Skype microphone. On the music side of audio, there were other microphone vendors on the show floor (from Blue and MicW) but the show seemed much less (Mac) music oriented than any other time in the 21st century.

The main trend was that the new name reflected the longstanding shift away from Mac to cases, headphones etc. for iPods and iPhones. I lost track of the number of booths selling cases and headphones, including major audio companies like Polk (with athletes jumping on their trampoline) and Sennheiser (showing their $200+ headphones).
If you wanted to play an electric guitar, you could try it out with the iRig plugged into an iPhone or iPad. However, iPod speakers were much less common than in 2008.

There were a few things that I would have bought for my iPhone or iPad — if I owned an iPhone or iPad. Tops were the keyboards, which included the RightShift and ZaggFolio for the iPad and the Slide to Type 2.0 for the iPhone.

But in the end, we left with two free cases from the moshi drawing and a pair of $10 earphones that claim to be waterproof. In the end, we split our $30 direct cost equally between the earphones, our two Groupon tickets and the offstreet parking.

It was a nice chance to show my daughter an example of that vanishing 20th century phenomenon, the trade show. I can’t imagine going to a smaller show in the future, but perhaps we can find another more vibrant example of the genre to visit before the phenomenon dies off permanently.

Update 2:00 p.m.: Correct error on Microcone pointed out by sharp-eyed reader. Serves me right for not putting on my glasses when in the booth.


Shawn King said...

"Their huge exhibit space cost hundreds of thousands of dollars..."

Apple didn't pay for their booth space costs. Apple pulling out of Expo had nothing to do with costs.

"HP, through seniority occupying a 20x30' booth right at the show entrance..."

Seniority has nothing to do with it. HP paid for the space placement.

"In a new take on the traditional “booth bimbo,” HP hired two of the “Gold Rush” squad (aka 49ers cheerleaders)."

What is new about that?

"microcone, a (pricey) five-sided microphone for recording 5 separate voice tracks..."

I'm sure you meant to say a *six* sided microphone. Those pesky facts, getting in the way of a good story.

Joel West said...


Thank you for your interesting opinions, and pointing out the factual error regarding the microphone.


Jack Brandais said...

Things have changed a lot since I went there with you in what, 1988?