Reporter's notebook: Talking the talk

New York -- Once the high points of Wednesday's grand opening -- complete with Steve Jobs doppelganger Noah Wyle, a flying Phil Schiller, and some new consumer portable that starts with an "i" and ends with "Book" -- were out of the way, Macworld Expo/New York got straight to business.

Remember: Despite the parties and hoopla, Expo is about products. People come here to find out how they can work and play better using their Macs.

My favorite way to find out what users find important is simply to listen. I plant myself on the show floor and butt into as many conversations as I can. It's rude, sure, but this is New York, and such behavior is expected.

Luckily, the crowds milling around the show floor of the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center afforded me lots of opportunities to eavesdrop. Here's the buzz:

Apple

Apple's iBook easily stole the show. The look and specs of the consumer notebook (especially its 300-MHz processor) impressed many attendees, and the iBook exhibit at Apple's booth drew overflow crowds. I saw several people apparently mesmerized by a slowly turning iBook, joyfully handling the blueberry rubber and happily snapping the clam-shaped system closed.

A few visitors expressed disappointment about the iBook's lack of video-out and fretted about the omission of a PC Card slot. But overall, the device got a resounding welcome.

AirPort, Apple's new wireless network system, also created a buzz, especially among high-tech couch potatoes eager to check e-mail while sitting in front of the tube.

Games

Although only keynote attendees got a look at it, the forthcoming Mac version of Bungie's Halo game showed how good the future of gaming looks on the platform. (We only got to see a movie of it, but the graphics rendering was so realistic that the keynote audience cheered.)

The gaming area was hopping for other reasons. Bungie scored again with a beta of Oni. Despite being shown in San Francisco, Oni is definitely the Mac gamers favorite and most anticipated title, even compared with big names such as Aspyr's Madden 2000 and Gathering of Developers' Fly!

More Apple

We know Mac users are a fickle (but oh-so-lovable) lot, so you had to expect some grumbling. I heard a few guys complaining about what Apple didn't announce: There was nothing new for the iMac or the blue-and-white Power Mac G3. Apple's gotten so good at surprising all of us, we've come to expect miracles at every occasion, and apparently the iBook just wasn't enough for some show goers.

Speaking of the iMac, the iBook has gone and stole all its thunder this time out. As Jobs reminded us, the consumer desktop system has only been out a year, and it already has become an entrenched part of our culture. Nevertheless, that doesn't mean anyone wanted to spend much time talking about the systems or looking at them at Apple's booth.

Similarly, Apple's announcement of Mac OS 9 (the missing link between OS 8 and OS X) caused barely a stir. (I guess Sherlock 2 just doesn't get the adrenaline pumping like the iBook.)

Even if a few attendees were less than satisfied, one thing was clear: There was a lot of energy of the floor, and a lot of smiling faces. Mac users are having fun being Mac users, and manufacturers are having fun selling them a lot of merchandise. This show is indeed about business, and business is good.

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