Macworld Expo 2002: The Show Will Go On

The week before a Macworld Expo trade show, Apple usually guards its pending product announcements with enough secrecy to make the CIA envious. If the company isn't refusing to comment on rumored products, then it's issuing outright denials to nip any unwanted speculation in the bud. Take last fall's Apple Expo in Paris--an event ultimately canceled in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks--when Apple CEO Steve Jobs specifically ruled out any new hardware announcements, in part to quash the kind of wild rumors that surfaced before July's Macworld Expo in New York.

What a difference a few months make. With less than a week before Macworld Expo in San Francisco, Apple seems to be going out of its way to encourage speculation about its plans. First, Apple moved Jobs's keynote speech forward a day to Monday, fueling talk that the company had major announcements to make. For the last week, Apple's Web site has featured a countdown to Macworld Expo, complete with interest-sparking teasers such as "This one is big. Even by our standards" and "Beyond the rumor sites. Way beyond."

Apple's moves have sparked anticipation for a trade show that was already garnering a high level of interest because of Mac OS X. Just like at the July Macworld Expo, next week's event figures to focus heavily on Apple's next-generation operating system. This time around, however, many more developers will have OS X-native products to show off, thanks in large part to the September release of OS X 10.1. Already, developers including Connectix, Nemetschek, NewTek, and ScanSoft plan to promote OS X-savvy versions of their software at Macworld Expo--and that doesn't account for companies who are holding off on product announcements until next Monday.

There's no question the forthcoming Macworld Expo will offer plenty in the way of product launches and OS X-related news; but will those announcements be made to sparse crowds? An ongoing recession hurt attendance at most tech industry trade shows throughout 2001 (although Mac events fared relatively well, with July's Macworld Expo setting an attendance record for the New York show). Following the September 11 attacks, trade show exhibitors and attendees have been even more reluctant to travel.

IDG World Expo, which produces the biannual Macworld Conference and Expo, doesn't expect record crowds, largely due to the sour economy. "We're down a little (in pre-registrations), I'll be perfectly honest with you," says IDG World Expo vice president Rob Scheschareg. As for exhibitors, Scheschareg expects around 350 to be on the floor at this year's Expo, down from 420 at the 2001 event in San Francisco.

"You're going to see [that drop] in the special interest areas," Scheschareg says.

While quantity may be down, quality figures to be up, with next week's Macworld Expo attracting a greater share of Mac users who are more passionate about the platform than casual consumers. To appeal to these users, Expo organizers have added several new services and to this year's conference while expanding other offerings.

Chief among the additions are the Birds of a Feather meetings--informal sessions where Mac users with similar interests can get together to discuss everything from Darwin to digital video. Power Tools conferences offer two-full days of intensive training in Photoshop, FileMaker Pro, or Final Cut Pro. Organizers have added a networking lounge for conference attendees and have expanded the offerings of the introductory MacBeginnings sessions.

"Our focus is not so much on the [attendance] numbers, but on the quality of the content and the quality of the experience," Scheschareg says. "Attendees love the experience of Macworld Expo. They love going and love being surrounded by that. Now more than ever, they need that."

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