Macworld 2012: The Island of Misfit Toys

Macworld 2012: The Island of Misfit Toys

Summary: Macworld 2012 had a sexy nightlife alter ego but the daytime persona of an event still struggling for identity.

TOPICS: iPad, Apple, iPhone, Mobility

I was standing stock-still on the Macworld 2012 Expo show floor taking in the gnarled mass of booths sprawling the massive hall. Each hawked Apple accessories to passers-by, all of us washed in dry industrial fluorescent light that makes you feel thirsty and footsore no matter how long you've had a badge around your neck.

I was, in fact, looking at The Saddest Booth Babe* In The World.

UPDATE 02.01.12: I was incorrectly informed by John Gruber's post that the woman in the photo is a developer named Piroska Szurmai-Palotai. Ms. Szurmai-Palotai is not the woman in the photo: she is Director of Communications for NeoPlay Entertainment (and worked as a dev on their chess app). I tracked down the woman in the photo, and the woman in the photo is Zsfia Rutkai: responsible for NeoPlay Entertainment's public communications and PR, and her title is Junior Producer. She is not upset about the characterization and has invited me to visit NeoPlay in Hungary. /END UPDATE

My friend, chef Richie Nakano, stood quietly next to me. We both watched her.

We were waiting for her to change expression.

She sat on a stool in between two large monitors across the aisle from us. The pretty brunette was in one of those big corner booths that paid a few bucks for that sorta-prime real estate you know is a gamble for whoever forked over the money to sell wignuts or widgets or iPhone cases or other sundry USB landfill.

Her shoulders were hunched and her hands sat limply in her lap beneath breasts that were packaged air-tight in a tight, branded t-shirt.

She stared at the floor. Unlike her counterparts, she never smiled. Sad booth babe was sad.

The smell of plastic iPhone cases and industrial rug cleaner mingling with Moscone Center hot dog water only added to the very strange ambiance at Macworld 2012.

There and then, I saw that the Macworld Expo was at its crossroads.

Photo Gallery Tour: Conference at a crossroads

After Apple broke up with Macworld in 2009, was it going to be a Made In China carnival midway of Apple's red-headed stepchildren - or was it going to fully embrace the misfit culture that made Apple more than a brand?

It was true that this year Macworld's Expo got much more serious about refocusing on the user - and that's a relief in light of all the Apple user angst of late.

But the night before felt like the polar opposite of the Expo.

It was Macworld's excellent iWorld foray into sex, altered states of mind, and music much in the same spirit that weird and geeky Apple nerds first identified with Apple products. It was highbrow-lowbrow, a bit gritty, and a little bit underground.

On one night, delighted attendees smiled and crammed into the packed, historic Warfield Theater to see Modest Mouse; the Twitter buzz was ecstatic from start to finish.

At the same night's meetup thrown by The Unofficial Apple Weblog and HP, a crowd of friendly, quirky, passionate and relaxed Macworld attendees nibbled and drank. It was here where you could see the big, big difference between an Apple event like WWDC (for pundits, press and A-list devs) and Macworld (for pundits, press, devs and Apple fans).

Replacing the arrogance and exclusionary behavior of last year's WWDC with passion, grit, a gender balance, people who miss things like Bar Camps, and you could quickly see why more than one person remarked to me that Macworld was more fun because its hair was down.

After the Expo lights were off, Macworld was free to become the sexy librarian.

And it did, a few times.

Macworld attendees danced until the wee hours to live Mac-mixed underground San Francisco cult faves such as J Boogie, and dubstep bass-dropping sexiness from Beats Antique (at right).

During business hours Macworld maintained its identity crisis from years past while providing value to Apple product lovers - but you had to look for it.

There were great workshops and excellent live podcasts that fielded questions about everything from workflow to making music and giving demos.

Attendees commiserated about how they'd spent too much money on really cool stuff at steep discounts during the expo, ranging from iPhone shotgun video holders to solar batteries. Sleek aluminum chargers reminded me of the days when Macworld Expo looked like a confectionary store centered around white-icing cakes seemingly made of stacked newly-released Minis.

Simultaneously, booth after booth of incomprehensibly overdesigned iPad stands crowded next to the usual vaporware and dumbed-down single-purpose apps built shortsightedly around a single aspect of Apple functionality.

It was place where you could pick up a gorgeous HyperJuice, or the crappiest plastic speakers - and a demo of gorgeous and sleek nerdy bird-watching app iBird Explorer Plus, or a demo of Ow My Balls XL for iPad.

It was a menagerie of mismatched everything. It was a three-ring circus of Apple-flavored gimmicks and gear. It was also place to find a few shiny diamonds.

I always notice what's missing: this year, conversations were replaced by sales. You didn't walk around a corner and get drawn into a surprise live interview at a booth with a famous Apple face like you might have in the past.

Right before we left, my friend stopped in the middle of an aisle near the main stage.

He turned and looked at me for a minute.

He said, "Isn't this where Steve Jobs yelled at you?"


Yes it was.

And Steve Jobs was never coming back to Macworld.


* "Booth babe" is a job description. Some people (none of whom are booth babes) seem to think the term indicates a gendered insult. I have no problem with booth babes and women that want to be sexy in tech - unless they don't know anything about their products or are unapproachable. The problem I have is with booth babe culture is the way men treat them, and the way men see and define booth babes. This article is impressionistic, and not review or investigative. As it happens, the woman described in the beginning of this article was one many thought was a hired model in a sea of hired models. She was, in fact, the unhappiest looking female company rep at Macworld. After that, how you view booth babes is up to you.

Top photo of Beats Antique by Joe Pezzillo, @ejoep; second photo by Daniel Lin under Creative Commons 2.0 License.

Topics: iPad, Apple, iPhone, Mobility

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  • Yelled at you?

    Steve Jobs yelled at you? The beast! But, then again, he either yelled or sneered at everyone. You're in the club.

    Love your work. Keep it up.
    • RE: Macworld 2012: The Island of Misfit Toys

    • RE: Macworld 2012: The Island of Misfit Toys

  • RE: Macworld 2012: The Island of Misfit Toys

    Macworld = YAWN!
    • RE: Macworld 2012: The Island of Misfit Toys
      Yet here you are reading all about it ...
  • RE: Macworld 2012: The Island of Misfit Toys

    Looking for identity? So you just now noticed? I am sure I am not the only one to get the following image of Mac fanboys since the death of their leader: that scene in the Star Trek episode where the people burst into the room crying out, "Landru, guide us" -- and Spock makes the sad commentary on their lives.
  • RE: Macworld 2012: The Island of Misfit Toys

    Interesting how Ms. Blue's response to this (on Twitter) has been to go directly to ad-hominem attacks, calling anyone who disagrees a "fanboy," rather than addressing the substance of the criticisms.

    Nowhere does she offer a satisfactory explanation of why she insulted this woman in the first place. Instead, she just edits her attacks out of the article in an attempt to revise history.

    Nobody, man or woman, deserves to be so needlessly attacked in a public article based only on their appearance like this. After all, this is a report on a technology show, not a fashion show.
  • RE: Macworld 2012: The Island of Misfit Toys

    Hack Writer Chick* is hack.

    *This is just a job description. I take offense at the way man-humans would use this term to sexify mediocre writers who are unable to take ownership of their mistakes**.

    ** Via the use of asterisks which point to mush-mouthed cop-out notarization.
  • RE: Macworld 2012: The Island of Misfit Toys

    Sorry, but "exclusionary behavior of last year's WWDC?" It's supposed to be. It's a developer conference, not a trade show. You seem to misunderstand that point. And it's not just for "A-list devs"; any dev can go - just buy a ticket. If you disagree, then I thank you for the designation of A-list dev.
  • RE: Macworld 2012: The Island of Misfit Toys

    Fascinating how we humans find it hard to see the world without a bunch of filters getting in the way. When one of us is caught relying on those filters to do our work for us, it's a time for candid honesty. Admit the mistake, apologize and make a promise to do better next time. Attacking those who point it out just makes it worse.
  • RE: Macworld 2012: The Island of Misfit Toys

    Final note - how easy it would have been to walk across that aisle and find out who this woman was. Find out why she was sad, if she was sad at all. Death in the family? Just found out she has cancer?

    That would have been a story worth telling instead of an agenda being presented.
  • RE: Macworld 2012: The Island of Misfit Toys

    Of course, having manned a few trade show booths in my time, I definitely feel for Ms Szurmai-Palotai. Typically the floor of a conference center is a thin layer of carpet over rock hard concrete. if she was manning (womaning?) the booth solo, she was probably dead tired, her feet hurt, and was sick of male nerds mistaking her for the decorative sort of booth babe.

    Nuthin' but respect.
  • RE: Macworld 2012: The Island of Misfit Toys

    It's not so much that Ms. Blue backpedals at breakneck speed, blaming those who pointed out her incompetence in the first place; it's not that she is trying to save face by rapidly re-defining the term "booth babe" so she can claim whatever she wants; it's not even that she is too stuck up to simply realize her mistake, take a step back, and write a shrt follow-up proclaiming "whoops, I screwed up, you guys are right"; the full breadth of her incompetence comes through when she thinks these single booths are the equivalent to expensive exhibition booths (they are not - they are usually there to offer individual developers a means to participate) and that corner 'booths' are the more expensive kind (not in this case, they aren't) - Ms. Blue also mistakenly implied that 'booth babe' was part of a larger exhibition booth, by placing her "between two large monitors", instead of properly describing the arrangement.

    ISWYDT, Ms. Blue, your audience isn't as dumb as you think it is - and it was done solely to make a point that wasn't the to be made, and that shouldn't have been made to begin with. It's no coincidence that the 'booth babe' image didn't accompany the text, but was linked off-page.

    I don't know why Steve Jobs yelled at you, but for all I'm concerned, he had good reason to - and it's unfortunate that he won't be able to do so again.
  • RE: Macworld 2012: The Island of Misfit Toys

    Violet Blue, that saddest booth babe in the world is in fact the developer and sole proprietor of NeoPlay Entertainment. Had you actually been doing your job, i.e. reporting, you would have known this, because your would have talked to her.<br> But no, being the bad reporter that you are you stand around making up your own facts to fit the story that you want to tell.<br><br> For someone that advocates female rights and empowerment to the extent that you do, you display a breathless ignorance of the issues.<br><br> Had you been doing your job you would be celebrating this woman, not sneering at her in order to make a factually incorrect point.

    Re-submitted without calling you a pustulent wart.
  • RE: Macworld 2012: The Island of Misfit Toys

    As a female and dev/hacker/reverse engineer I take great offence to your comments about "Booth babes" your complete inaccuracies as to what they are.

    Your inaccuracies to the "Saddest booth babe" are also greatly troubling. Towards someone who just looks like some poor nervous woman who's exhibiting her work for the first time. Glad to know you were a caring fellow woman willing to help her cheer up by just talking to her and asking her what she was there for.

    I'm all for some Apple bashing, but I prefer to do it based on fact and using some actual tact.
  • RE: Macworld 2012: The Island of Misfit Toys

    Just leaving a note to point you to the strikethrough update at the top.

    The woman in the photo is not Piroska Szurmai-Palotai, and Piroska Szurmai-Palotai is not a developer.

    I am confirming the woman's identity before doing a formal statement. Some have accused me of sidestepping the issue because I have not responded the way they would like. I have been contacting people in Hungary and the UK so that I may respond properly, if any further response is warranted or requested by the parties involved.
    Violet Blue
    • Whatever you say, booth babe

      @Violet Blue
      Only dump the ugly glasses.

      lol... :D
  • RE: Macworld 2012: The Island of Misfit Toys

    What's all this about you calling someone a "booth babe" and then rewriting the story? Whats wrong, got your tongue stuck in the wrong hole?
  • RE: Macworld 2012: The Island of Misfit Toys

    What's all this about you calling someone a "booth babe" and then rewriting the story? What's wrong, got your tongue stuck in the wrong hole?
  • RE: Macworld 2012: The Island of Misfit Toys

    What a bunch of whining whinging little nancy pants. All of you, GET A F-ING LIFE.