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Macworld Expo minus Apple: Traditions meet market reality

Apple on Monday said it will pull out of participating in the annual Macworld Expo show. The traditional timing of the show must have contributed to the decision as well as market conditions. The move will trouble small developers hoping to get some face time with Mac influencers.

Macworld Expo minus Apple: Traditions meet market reality
Apple on Monday said it will pull out of participating in the annual Macworld Expo show. The traditional timing of the show must have contributed to the decision as well as market conditions. The move will trouble small developers hoping to get some face time with Mac influencers.

Worse, it may create an educational and pro market vacuum for ISVs at the very time when the Mac is gaining strength in the business market and even in the enterprise. The Expo has been a primary gathering for academic customers and Mac consultants.

Various industry observers are pointing at Steve Jobs show-or-no-show or whether the company has anything "big" to reveal this year. That really isn't the point. The timing of the show has been a problem for years.

(On a personal note, I have attended every Macworld Expo San Francisco since its beginning in 1985 and others in Boston, New York and Tokyo. Longtime Mac observers will remember that there used to be many other regional Mac Expos, in the States and outside.)

While other PC-centric shows such as PC Expo and COMDEX dropped off the schedule, the winter Expo has remained. And this year, despite the terrible economy, more than 40,000 Mac fans will come into San Francisco.

While I regret Apple's decision, I understand it. When Apple killed the New York Expo, we understood that the stores were carrying the weight of the brand marketing to customers — some customers, mostly consumers. Users can check out the new machines and software in the mall or on the street at their own time.

For Apple and some of the larger vendors, the cost of the show is compounded by its timing. The first week in the New Year is not good timing for a tradeshow, for Apple or for any vendor. The dates of the San Francisco and Boston Expos were originally chosen because of the sweet deals that the exhibition company got for holding a show at a time of the year that nobody else wanted.

The first problem for vendors is the transportation around the holiday season, which can be expensive and tricky. Over the years I've seen vendors that had booths still in transit on the first day of the show because of snow storms or bad planning).

Worse, the crunch time for Expo preparation falls during the year's big holiday season, when workers want vacations and motivation is low. And this is a time when management can close down a business for a couple of weeks and save money.

The timing of Macworld Expo has also conflicted with another major show, the International CES in Las Vegas, put on by the Consumer Electronics Assoc.  This is one of the largest technology trade shows in the world.

Years ago, several Mac hackers would rent a large convertible, come to the opening day of the Expo and then drive out to Vegas for CES.

For Mac professionals, the real deal with Expo hasn't been Apple the company, except when Steve drops bombshells such as the switch to Intel. After all, you can check out the new software and hardware at the Apple Store. Instead, Expo is about connecting with ISVs and developers.

Over the past few years, the Expo conference increasingly has featured Mac solutions in business and Windows integration as themes. This year is no exception. The Mac is gaining acceptance in the enterprise — check out all those MacBook Pros that are  finding their ways into the enterprise, SMB and departmental computing.

On the show floor, business vendors use the Expo as a way to get in front of customer and press eyeballs — not consumers — but the growing ranks of Mac-centric business VARs, consultants and IT professionals. I seem to remember that once or twice, ages ago in the late 1980s, the first day of the show was devoted to Macintosh business customers.

The Macworld Expo has been a way to bring business customers and solutions together. That confluence now appears in peril.

This issue needs addressing by Apple and an exhibition vendor. Perhaps this need can be served with some sidetracks during WWDC. Or perhaps a new, smaller enterprise and business show.

But it can't be done at the Apple Stores.

[Revised on Dec. 18 to improve coherency. ]