Expo attendees enthusiastic, making purchases

Cubes and product delays excepted, the faithful at Macworld Expo are typically among Apple's most enthusiastic supporters. Yet if the long queues to check out both the Mac mini and iPod shuffle, and the throng of visitors at a nearby Apple Retail Store, are any indication, this was a particularly exciting Expo for many attendees and exhibitors alike.

Brad Choate, a software engineer with Six Apart, was enamored with the new iPod shuffle. "I'm a big Mac fan," said Choate, "I use it for work and I'm pretty gung-ho about it. I'll probably be buying a Shuffle; it's a good size and weight. The iPod is good for an external hard drive. It's got more uses than just music.

"The Mac mini is pretty cool too. I think this is a great crossover product for switchers," added Choate. "It could definitely drive people to the platform; the Mini will strengthen that. [Apple's] engineering has just been incredible. Year to year it gets better. The feature set of Tiger is very strong, especially with Spotlight."

Steven Contrereas, who was attending his first Macworld Expo in "seven or eight years" was excited about both Mac OS X v10.4 "Tiger" and the new iPod shuffle. "I live on my Mac all day," said the graphic designer with the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, "and Tiger is just amazing. And the iPod shuffle is great too. I'm sure I'll buy one. It's so cheap, and it's perfect for the gym."

A few blocks away from the Moscone Center, at the Stockton Street Apple Retail Store, crowds rivaling those seen during the holiday season were poring over new the new iPods. Knut Seryagstad and Kjetil Valeen of Norway, both in town for Macworld Expo, were making their second attempt of the day to purchase an iPod shuffle.

"We tried before but it wasn't available," said Seryagstad as he pulled his new player from an easily-identifiable green box. "So we had lunch and came back. This time we got it."

Valeen was impressed not only with Apple's product line but also Jobs' keynote address itself. "I really liked it," he said, "Steve's jokes were really funny. I think [the new Mac mini] will be quite popular because it will appeal to more people, especially people who think they are too expensive."

Developers and exhibitors were equally excited. Exhibitor Mike Matas of Delicious Monster said he thought that Apple had succeeded in rolling out a product to encourage switchers.

"The Mac mini is going to be really cool. I was surprised at how low the price is," said Matas. "The Mac mini is definitely going to help us, because Delicious Library is a big switcher program. That's going to be the thing for us when PC users are asking us for a PC version. For just a little over $100 more than [a $300 Windows library program] you can get our program plus a Mac."

At the Belkin booth -- which claims to be the largest accessory maker for the iPod -- the iPod shuffle was being cited as the new business driver du jour.

"There were some rumors about [the iPod shuffle] prior to the show, and Apple pretty much substantiated them. We're pretty excited with the Shuffle and are looking forward to getting our hands on it to develop some accessories," said Melody Chalaban, Belkin PR manager. "Apple has such a huge following with the iPod, anytime they can add something to that it's exciting for us."

Yet not everyone was ebullient. Carlos Benjamin, a graphic designer from San Francisco, pointed out that the Mac mini comes with costs that consumers might not think about.

"It's interesting that they have a monitor-less computer," said Benjamin. "Even though you think you're only spending $500 it brings the price up to a grand or so once you buy a monitor, keyboard, and mouse. Even if you buy [low end components] it's going to be $850 or so not including tax. Can't you already buy an eMac for that? It feels kind of gimmicky, like the iPod photo.

"Of course, it's cute, but it's going to look different from your monitor, unless you buy everything from Apple. And for $1,000, you can get a regular iMac."

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