SAN FRANCISCO, MACWORLD 2011 — Two years ago, when Apple announced the company would skip the Macworld Conference and Expo after 2009, some took the news like a punch to the gut — and many wondered if the twenty-five year-old event would survive.
But without Apple totally dominating the event, the show has become what it was always supposed to be — a place for the wider Apple community to meet and mingle.
Last year, the first without an Apple Keynote, attendees and presenters alike walked the show floor with a mixture of pleased surprise and ongoing anxiety in the face of robust attendance shadowed by a very clear acknowledgment of the void left by Apple’s departure.
Now, in 2011, Macworld has moved from the main exhibition halls at San Francisco’s Moscone Center to the smaller — but newer, plusher — West hall, and the show is going gangbusters.
Exhibitor numbers are up 10% over last year, while both pre-registrations and first day attendance is up 25%, according to Paul Kent, chief of IDG Worldwide, producers of the event.
“The cloud of Apple’s absence is gone,” said Kent, who pointed out this year’s numbers will bring the event nearly all the way back to the numbers of 2009, Apple’s last year as the anchor tenant.
Apple’s absence from Macworld makes for decidedly less distraction, creating an environment far more conducive to the kind of networking that, in theory, is the main draw of such events.
“It’s still a good show,” said Hazem Sayed, an app developer and long-time Macworld attendee. In Sayed’s view, “being in one building is much more convenient and without Apple here people are having more conversations and doing more networking because they aren’t focused on getting hands-on with new Apple products or anticipating Apple announcements.”
Walking the floor, it’s clear the world of Mac enthusiasts — the Mac “community” — loves Apple products, needs Apple products to exist in the first place. But Steve Jobs doesn’t have to host or throw the party to bring the clan together.
“This is the meeting place for the Mac community,” said Kent. “It serves a very valuable purpose,” he explained, saying that with the buzz on the Twitter feed, the presence of over 700 members of the worldwide media here covering the event and the feel-good vibe among attendees and exhibitors on the show floor, Macworld is as healthy and vital as it’s ever been.
“It’s actually more practical,” said Michele Baker, President of Mambo Communications, a PR firm representing at least one client with a soon-to-be-announced product destined to make waves in the Mac community. “I love the vibe, but it seems more business-like” than in the past.
To be sure, there are far fewer wacky costumes to be seen on the showfloor and a growing preponderance of utilities and business oriented apps among developers in the Indie Apps Showcase.
Perhaps like Apple itself, which has come into its own in the past couple of years as the second largest corporation in the US, Macworld is finally, after 27 years, growing up.