You may not be able to surf tech blogs without coming across the iPhone applications, but that doesn’t mean that it translates into the real world. In previous years, the show floor of Macworld has been more like iPodworld, with accessories, cases, and speaker systems for the media player around every corner. With the iPhone and its attendant software being Apple’s latest hot trend, you might think that iPhone applications would fill that niche, but you’d be surprised.
It’s not to say that iPhone applications weren’t being shown on the floor, but their presence wasn't overwhelming as with the iPods. Aside from the one guy hanging outside the press room repeatedly (and somewhat desperately) asking people if they wanted to see Windows running on the iPhone like he was trying to sell us a dodgy Rolex, iPhone app developers weren't really getting in your face.
But why not? A big part of that is the circumstances of many iPhone developers. For every larger company that's producing iPhone applications, there are hundreds that are one- or two-man shops. And lots of those have only one or two apps. It’s a pretty expensive proposition to exhibit at Macworld; even the smallest booths are pricey, and that’s not even taking into account travel and accommodations. And while many iPhone apps are created by Mac developers who are accustomed to making the trek to San Francisco to show off their products, there are plenty of iPhone programmers who are joining this community for the first time.
And what do they get out of it? Sure, they might pick up a few people who wouldn’t have found them in the App Store. But it’s not as if they can sell their application to you at the booth. And while some Mac software developers and hardware vendors often offer discounts on their products at the show, that’s not possible for iPhone developers: they have to lower the price for everybody.
Well, unless they start handing out cash to attendees.
And showing off apps isn’t exactly easy either; either you have to slap an iPhone into the customers’ hands, run a pre-created demo video, or just hookup to a Mac running Apple’s iPhone simulator. None of those approaches are what you might call ideal.
Apple has positioned the App Store as the best way to market your iPhone app—that’s not really true, of course, since it puts developers in a free for all that’s moderated only by Apple. But valid or not, it’s potentially another piece of ammunition for Apple in its argument that trade shows aren’t worth attending when the same thing can be done online cheaper and more efficiently.