Today is the last day of Macworld 2011 and could very well be the last of Macworld Expo altogether. This is my fourth show in the past five years and it's the second without Apple. What a difference their absence has made!
What if God didn't show up?
Let's accept that Macworld Expo is pretty much a carnival. For a brief period of time vendors come to promote their products alongside other vendors and generate excitement in the community. That's what leads to sales and product recognition. At the same time a thriving but ephemeral community forms around the carnival with each member attending for his own pleasure and self edification. It's a symbiotic relationship and both sides win.
But Macworld Expo evolved into worship for some and one day their god didn't show up. When that happened the faithful were still faithful but just not sure what to do. Some vendors returned. Some didn't. Some of the community returned. Some didn't. It's fair to say some changed their religious habits pretty quickly while others honestly believed their god would return.
I'm not a very religious person myself but even I can see the ironic parallels here.
Losing my religion
I attended my first Macworld in 2007 where Steve Jobs announced the iPhone. It was the pinnacle of recent Macworld Expos. The keynote had lines forming the night before and the crowd overflowed into rooms with a video feed for those who couldn't fit into the conference hall. The Expo was two huge exhibit halls that took me a couple of days to explore. And Mac software giants such as Adobe, Microsoft and Quark had booths to match their status in the Mac software community.
Of course, nothing compared to Apple's spacious and elegant plaza that was the size of all the software giants combined. To call their space a "booth" would be an injustice. Walking into the Expo hall and seeing Apple was like getting to see the great and powerful wizard of Oz. It was awe inspiring and a little magical.
This was the Mac community's Mecca.
For the second time now Apple has been absent from Macworld and the show is quickly dying. The excitement of the first day has shifted from the opening keynote to the opening of the Expo doors. Enthusiasm for the new and fantastic gadgets and gizmos is all but replaced with "yet another iPad case". And the two huge halls are now one small hall where you can see the side and back walls from the entrance.
The giants are gone too. No Adobe. No Microsoft. No Quark. Not even FileMaker. The biggest name this year was Omni Group and really no one else. Some of the smaller names that I've seen at every Macworld are still here. Strangely their booths have grown no bigger but they seem to have a bigger presence now.
Is Apple killing Macworld? That's not really a fair question--of course not. They didn't set out to destroy a seasonal community that evolved out of the excitement for their products. But to be honest Apple was the core of Macworld Expo and that core is gone. Without it, the show is withering from the inside out.
We've had the show for 25 years with two shows some of those years. During that time Apple has grown and we've grown up. Those we idolize as children can look very different through adult eyes.
Steve Jobs is mortal. We see that now with his latest need for medical treatment. The man and the company we've come to love is the same but different to us now. They're changing and doing things unexpected and that scares us.
But this is life not religion. We have to accept that and not confuse the two. I love the community that I've had a chance to be a part of online, afar and a few times in person here at Macworld Expo. We can still be a community and still share the excitement for something we really enjoy. It just probably won't be here any more.