The first Macworld Expo without Apple at its core wrapped up over the weekend in San Francisco. And despite the, shall we say, "more intimate" nature of the event, vendors with whom The Reg spoke were uniformly positive.
Attendance was down - way down, to around 20,000 compared to previous years' 50K. And joining Apple in snubbing the festivities were such longtime Expo stalwarts as Adobe, Epson, Canon, Nikon, and a host of others.
But the exhibitors who did make the trip to the Moscone Convention Center and set up shop in the greatly reduced exhibition space seemed glad to have the place to themselves.
"Everybody loves to see an Apple keynote, myself included," said Neil Ticktin, publisher and editor in chief of MacTech and MacNews, but "without Apple here at the show, the third-party community overall is able to really come to life. The focus becomes the community and not Apple itself - and for the community, that's a good thing."
As one exhibitor - who preferred to remain anonymous, perhaps knowing Apple's penchant for hunting down heretics - told us: "It's actually nice not having Apple here, because the people that are here are here for the other vendors."
Matt Nichols, director of communications at pico projector–maker Microvision, agreed: "We don't have to compete against some of the really huge brands like a Sony or a Nokia that seem to garner all the attention at a show like the Consumer Electronics show."
For Eric Prentice, CEO of Dr. Bott, the tighter quarters were a boon: "I think the economy of a trade show is about the guy in the booth talking with the guy outside the booth. You look at previous Macworlds, and you've got 50,000 people. This show, I'm guessing, will be between twenty and thirty. But you've got a quarter of the space. And so half the people in a quarter of the space means that that ratio of those two guys talking, that economy, has actually doubled."
Nearly every vendor with whom we spoke felt that crowding - and loved it. "We've been swamped the entire time," grinned Jonathan Bradley, marketing manager of gadget-maker Mophie.
"If you're standing here [in a booth] it feels as big and as busy as it ever has," said Chris Bross, an enterprise recovery engineer at the data-recovery service DriveSavers.
"As you can see, the aisles are just packed, there's people waiting here as I'm talking with you to talk with me," said Grant Dahlke, marketing mouthpiece at online Mac-products store Other World Computing. "Those that stayed home, I think they missed something."
"The booth has been packed - even without Apple here, the show has exceeded our expectations as far as the audience that's here," said Rick Spillers of HP's Mac-Connect imaging and printing group. "We're getting customers from all segments, from consumers to pros to our DesignJet customers - it's a great mix."
Mark Fuccio, senior director of products and markets at Data Robotics, makers of the Drobo RAID-system line, was of the opinion that the mix which Spiller referred to was skewed to the more-knowledgeable side "Although there aren't as many people," he said, "it seems that the people on the fringe who were just coming to see what's new, what's new with Apple - those people aren't here. A year ago, people asked more innocent, naive questions - we don't see that as much this year."
Microvision's Nichols agreed: "We see a group that is highly educated, highly technical that can really help you make your brand, because they're kind of a viral group. If they like it they're going to tell other people - and if they don't like it they're going to tell other people."
As another exhibitor who preferred to remain nameless told us: "With Apple not here, the 'lookie-loos' who are there just to see Apple, they're going to the Apple store - and that's fine. But they're not the people who are buying product, that are interested in the industry. The people that are here are of a much higher quality."
Or as Chip Pearson, managing partner at Jamf Software, publishers of the Casper Suite of client-management software put it: "The tire-kickers, the fanbois - there's not as many of them." Pearson also echoed what others said about the compression effect of the smaller space: "The way it's packed in it still feels the way it did before - but instead of being all of Manhattan, we're just constrained to the Lower East Side."
Each of the vendors with whom we spoke said that they planned to return next year, with Microvision's Nichols adding: "I think this show is still very, very valid. I think that some of the bigger players may choose to come back."
But will they? It's all a matter of perception. As Dr. Bott's Prentice put it: "I think the single most significant factor that's going to determine the success of Macworld in the future is what the people who aren't here are going to say about it."
He meant the media - of whom there were, from his observation, far fewer roaming the floor than in previous years. After all, most media outlets are simply dazzled by whatever shiny object Steve Jobs may be waving that month.
And you can bet Jobs won't be waving anything at Macworld Expo 2011, which is scheduled for January 25 through 29, 2011. Which, according to many vendors, will be just fine with them. ®