Macworld Expo Prelude

Macworld Expo 2010 kicks off tomorrow in San Francisco. Is it going to fly without Apple? I don’t know. I don’t think anyone does yet. Apple’s traditional presence at Macworld was so large, both figuratively (with the attention paid to their keynote address) and literally (with their massive booth on the show floor), that their absence has effectively rendered Macworld a new event. I think it’s smart that IDG moved the date back a month; anything they could do to emphasize that it’s going to be new and different this year can only help. (I have no idea if it was feasible, but if it had been, I’d have advised moving the show across the street to Moscone West, just to make it look different, too.)

Apple’s absence will be felt in two ways. First, the lack of an Apple keynote address has significantly diminished the amount of media attention. That was inevitable. But it wasn’t really Macworld Expo, the trade show and conference, that was garnering that attention. It was Apple itself. Apple’s keynotes really didn’t have much at all to do with the exhibit floor or conference sessions. I suppose there were some number of attendees who considered attending the keynote as a major reason to buy a conference pass, but percentage-wise only a small number of attendees could ever see the keynotes in person. It’s not like Apple hasn’t given us much to talk about recently — hello, iPad — it just wasn’t announced at Macworld itself.

The more worrisome factor for me is Apple’s absence from the show floor. They had a huge booth in a prominent spot and they drew people in. The role they played on the show floor is very much analogous, I think, to the role played by a big department store like Macy’s or Nordstrom at a shopping mall.

To me, though, the reason to walk the show floor has always been about the small companies — often the really small ones. The ones where the employees manning the booth are the engineers and designers who made the product they’re promoting. I’ve been to a bunch of Macworld Expos and I never once failed to discover at least one fascinating product by walking the show floor.

In terms of what’s going on other than the trade show, I’ve long thought that the inordinate amount of front-loaded attention paid to Apple’s keynote address drew attention away from the fact that Macworld has turned into a large and successful conference, with tracks spanning everything from programming to graphic design.

Nothing could replace a Steve Jobs keynote address, so, wisely, they’re not trying. Instead, Macworld has scheduled a bunch of featured speakers throughout the week, including David Pogue, Kevin Smith (yes, that Kevin Smith), Leo Laporte, and, yours truly. I’ll be speaking Friday at 4:30pm, where I’ll share the secret recipes for my award-winning cupcakes and melt-in-your-mouth croissants.

(DF readers: you can register for the show using the discount code “GRUBER” to get a free expo pass that will get you into my talk (and the show floor, and the other feature presentations). That code is also good for a 20 percent discount on any of the conferences. Just keep in mind that with that code, it’s totally free to come see my talk and the other feature presentations.)

The bottom line for me is that the potential is there for Macworld to remain a great show. Imagine if there’d never been a Macworld Expo before, and that this was the first year. It wouldn’t be surprising that Apple declined to participate. But is there demand for a days-long nerdfest for Mac and iPhone professionals and aficionados? I say yes.