When considering the major religious pilgrimages, there are a few biggies that spring to mind: Christians make their way to Jerusalem, Hindus have the Char Dham, the Islamic faith has its Mecca, Elvis fans have Graceland and die-hard Apple fans have Macworld in San Francisco.
Eager fans around the world huddle over their computers to find out what new products Steve Jobs will introduce during his Keynote speech, impatiently refreshing their browsers as tech blogs update their blow-by-blow coverage of the event. Many remember heading out to community colleges to view the satellite feed of the Keynote, back when such feeds were still offered. For the past couple years, if you want to see Jobs deliver the speech live, you have to make the trip to San Francisco.
A SHORT HISTORY
Macworld hasn't always only been held in San Francisco, but it's had a home here at least once a year since its inception, and the Moscone Center has always been along for the ride, in one capacity or another. Prior to 2005, the expo was held biannually, splitting its time between the west and east coast, with the winter edition taking place in San Francisco. The summer event bounced back and forth between Boston and New York for years, finally settling in Boston exclusively, only to lose Apple's official presence, which quickly led to the demise of the Summer expo.
The Moscone Center was built in 1981 and now consists of three buildings: Moscone South, North and West. The North and West buildings were added in 1992 and as a result, Macworld Expo in San Francisco became a Moscone only event.
THE WEST COAST IS THE BEST COAST
Both San Francisco and the Moscone Center are obvious choices for Apple's biggest events: San Francisco is, of course, a hop skip and a short-ish drive from Apple, Inc. headquarters at 1 Infinite Loop in Cupertino -- but as a city it also represents the loose-living, free-spirit lifestyle that Apple has always exemplified in its products and, for better or for worse, is as good a stand-in for the "Apple culture" as a person is likely to find. As for Moscone, it's not only big enough -- an important factor as the conference draws tens of thousands of attendees and hundreds of exhibitors, not to mention Steve Jobs -- it's also an innovative structure, being powered entirely by solar panels since 2004, making it one of the largest structures of its kind in the country.
For a first time attendee and especially for any devotee of Apple's iconic sense of style -- style which meticulously trickles down even to the retail environment -- the Moscone Center is a surprisingly unwieldy structure: Spread out amongst three buildings, rounded beams jut out at odd angles, flanking the entrance to the West building. The resulting lines aren't as clean and elegant as might be expected and the resulting form manifests as a monstrosity that doesn't photograph well from a distance and, even up close, it's difficult to find a favorable angle from which to snap a picture. All the same, as closely tied as it is to the Expo, the Moscone Center is not an Apple only venue and didn't spring from the mind of Jonathan Ives or Steve Jobs.
Given the stories of secrecy which often surround Apple, the Moscone Center was surprisingly accessible just a day before the big event. You'll often see pictures of banners as though they're taken through a spy camera and just over the heads of brutish security guards -- but (at least today) it was possible to walk into Moscone South with a digital SLR camera in order to snap some pictures. Informational signs were still being set up, staffers were scurrying about preparing for this or that -- often smiling as I walked by -- but there was no whiff of "Macworld Buzz" in the air (though there is apparently "something" in the air, if the banners are to be believed) no undercurrent of something big waiting to happen, no spidey-sense that a secret product was being stored nearby in a locked room, no legion of fans staring at the building in anticipation of Steve's impending moment on stage. One almost expects a blast of reality distortion upon entering the convention center but is instead met with the cold reality of dogged, boring preparation.
In other words: A person can feel kind of silly walking around with a camera, as though there's some valid reason to be taking pictures of the Moscone Center on a Sunday afternoon.
To be sure, downtown San Francisco has been plastered with posters which reference the conference (and iPods, for good measure) and massive banners do dominate the interior spaces of the Moscone Center -- and yet, San Francisco seems content to go about its daily business despite the fact that Macworld (Macworld!) is just around the corner. No matter: If something special is going to happen in the next couple of days, you'd never know it from those milling about outside or inside Moscone South. For those who walk past the Moscone Center off and on during this particular week in January -- Macworld is just another annual event inside the convention center.
As it turns out, most of the action for the day was to be found over at Moscone West, as the exhibitors were checking in and getting set up. The security was more intense, but still essentially disinterested -- and getting in wasn't much of a problem. Questions weren't asked until facial expressions made it clear that answers were sought: "Can I help you?" "Is this where I pick up my badge?" "You can pick it up here tomorrow." "Ah. Okay." "Uh, Sir -- you can't bring that camera with you tomorrow..."
That could be a problem. Hundreds, if not thousands of conference attendees will arrive with iPhones and a built-in camera in less than 24 hours. Perhaps the ban only applies to quality cameras?
Cult(ure) of Macworld will discuss Steve Jobs' Keynote presentation on Wednesday, January 16.
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