For those who haven't travelled to San Francisco to attend Macworld, or who don't routinely follow any aspect of the event beyond Steve Jobs' Keynote speech, it may comes as a surprise to discover that the Moscone Center doesn't fold in on itself after Apple's enigmatic CEO leaves the stage on Tuesday afternoon.
In fact, the "conference and expo" aspect of Macworld Conference and Expo plugs on for another four days, ending with the work week on Friday. Yes, Steve Jobs' Keynote speech is newsworthy, it's the linchpin of the conference and if you read a headlining story about Macworld, it's probably going to be focused on the new products announced during his hour and a half on stage -- but that period of time is only a small fraction of the week as it related to Macworld proper.
Conference badges are picked up early in the morning on Monday and are varied based on price. Attendees can pay less for a conference-only badge -- with no guaranteed access to the Keynote on Tuesday. More money for a Super or Platinum pass guarantees a Keynote seat (but not a good seat) and also access to all of the conference sessions.
These sessions cover a wide variety of topics and most are structured openly: If a speaker or a topic is of no interest, attendees are encouraged to quietly move on to another presentation. A smaller selection of classes must be picked in advance; these tend to be day-long events.
One such class, covering workflow between Adobe Creative Suite 3 applications, spanned both Monday and Tuesday (picking back up after the Keynote) but should have been condensed into one half-day session. Of the two presenters, Sandy Frost was particularly prone to digression, and was rarely able to keep it together when sidelined by her sudden inspirations of thought. Both presenters read their slides almost word-for-word and a provided handout essentially negated their presence.
Other classes were scheduled for an hour and these were largely hit or miss. Most seemed to involve significant audience migration, probably because the session descriptions were often unclear when it came to topic focus: One class would seem to be geared towards professionals, only to have the instructor discuss consumer applications such as iPhoto.
One highlight of the shorter sessions was an engaging talk about Macs and the Media, as presented by Rob Curley. (Vice President of Product Development at the Washington Post.) Curley's session didn't focus much on Apple technology per se -- instead, he delved into news aggregation and the intersection of information design and journalism as it relates to the concept of hyper-local news. Not even the nearby presence of Steve Wozniak (he was signing copies of his book, iWoz, just down the hall) was enough to pull Curley's audience away, most of whom were eager to ask questions throughout the engrossing presentation.
Curley mentioned (as often as he could) his humble beginnings in Kansas and this seemed like a good ice breaker for a post-presentation compliment, as he and Jeff Croft -- a relative and also another advocate of content aggregation and its role in the news -- share a similar employment history.
Curley knows how to give an inspiring presentation, and he's certainly got his finger on the pulse of social and hyper-local news.
Another extreme: The Making Color Behave session was scheduled to last just over an hour and the presenter's first question did not bode well: "How long do we have?" This was the last scheduled session on Friday -- on the last day of Macworld, no less -- and when scheduled to present information within a one-hour window, the vital bits should be presented inside that hour. Instead, the first thirty minutes were a rambling and irrelevant discussion about the history of color, and when time was up, the presenter was clearly prepared to go on for another hour, at least. Bad form.
David Pogue's session, set up to mimic a late-night talk show, drew a large crowd and started off with a funny broadway-styled musical about the iPhone, set to the tune of My Way. (This same video made the rounds on YouTube, shortly after the iPhone launched last June.) Pogue's most intriguing guest was a bigwig from the Mac BU over at Microsoft, and the resulting Q and A was an interesting look inside the world of Microsoft Office, still a huge factor in the Apple ecosystem, despite internal efforts such as Pages and Numbers. Pogue also talked with curators from the Computer History Museum and at one point invited a handful of self-proclaimed "Apple Zealots" onto the stage to discuss their stories. (The hands-down winner exchanged iPod Shuffles at her wedding, instead of rings -- a close second had amassed a collection of Apple hardware that impressed even the Computer History curators.)
While the sessions were nice (well, most of them) a few moderated panels would have been a great way to break up the monotony of one hour-long slide show after another.
As Macworld is riding the wave of over twenty years of experience, there's simply no excuse for an event of its size to have a website as disorganized and dysfunctional as macworldexpo.com: Useful information, when it exists, is buried in page after page of click-throughs, and determining which sessions would be available to which badge holders is an exercise in futility.
iPhones and iPod Touches were everywhere, and if they aren't made to be aware of events as they occur when within range of the Moscone Center buildings in 2009 -- there simply won't be an adequate excuse. If Starbucks can beam information about currently playing songs to an iPhone, the single biggest Apple conference in existence should be able to tell its attendees when sessions are starting -- and where they are located.
One last nitpick: The Macworld badge holders were horribly designed. The lanyard didn't clip through the credit-card-sized plastic badge and the plastic holders were far bigger than they needed to be. Because of this, badges were prone to falling out of the "fitted" pouch with even the slightest bit of provocation. (Nevermind the fact that attendees were often subjected to shoulder-to-shoulder crowds and jostling.)
The showroom floor opened its doors just after the Keynote on Tuesday, and booths were immediately packed with attendees wanting to get a closer peak at Apple's new products -- and to fill bags with promotional schwag from companies hoping to cash in on the excitement of Macworld.
Apple's booth didn't disappoint: Plenty of MacBook Air display units were available and were handled by thousands of greasy hands (conference food ensures greasy hands -- and more long lines) while others sat down to watch demonstrations of the new announcements by people who weren't Steve Jobs, or anywhere near as charismatic.
(Word has it that Steve Jobs was on the expo floor. Make sure to take your grain of salt along when clicking through.)
Beyond the obvious and immediate draw of the Apple booth, companies such as Microsoft, hundreds of third-party software vendors, and countless peddlers of iPod/iPhone accessories were eager to answer questions and/or pimp their own products to anyone interested (or brave) enough to make eye contact.
It's difficult to take much stock in the pundits and/or analysts who continue to question Apple's direction when browsing a showroom floor (there were two, in all) packed tight with booth after booth of corporations all with a financial interest in the success of a company that has handily dodged expectations of ruin ever since Steve Jobs' return in 1997.
One week gone by and the Macworld Conference and Expo has come to an end, culminating in several hundred slides viewed, a few restless nights, more than one "wow" moment, a ridiculous amount of calories consumed and one distressing crack in the casing of an ever-reliable but over-used MacBook laptop and throughout that week, Cult(ure) of Macworld has been an attempt to look into consumer obsession with Apple Inc. as its collective user-base swarmed upon San Francisco in order to take part in a one-of-a-kind event.
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