What a difference Apple's success makes at CES

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There was a time not so long ago at the Consumer Electronics Show when a writer from a Mac publication was, at best, met with blank stares when approaching vendors about their wares. Just as often, Mac writers found themselves on the receiving end of dismissive remarks about the viability of the Mac platform.

But if that used to be the norm, you wouldn’t know it these days. After several years of unprecedented Apple successes—including mind-boggling iPod sales, widespread praise for (and lots of sales of) Macs and OS X, and Apple’s ever-increasing influence in the field of digital media—being a Mac writer at CES no longer dooms you to third-class status. And, similarly, being a Mac user no longer means you spend the week seeing cool stuff you’ll never be able to use.

Consider just a few of the unusual reactions my colleague Dan Moren and I have noticed as we’ve been speaking with CES vendors in Las Vegas this week:

  • Excitement about seeing Mac media: Macworld staff didn’t have a problem getting companies to talk to us in the past, but often we were Just Another Random Media Person. This year, many vendors have greeted us with comments to the effect of, “We’re so glad you stopped by!” Granted, we’re a leading Mac- and Apple-focused publication, but there was a time when, as far as CES exhibitors were concerned at least, that was akin to saying the Zune is the most popular non-iPod portable-music player. Non-Mac vendors recognizing us, and wanting to talk to us, is also a reflection of the viability of the Mac market as a whole.

  • Excitement about next week: Here we are at the world’s largest event focusing on consumer electronics, where vendors are trying to get positive coverage for their products, and many of those vendors have been leading off our conversations by asking us about Macworld Expo and our predictions for new gear from Apple. Beleaguered Apple, indeed.

  • Apologies for not having a Mac version: Yes, I said apologies. More than ever before, vendors hawking computer-related products—whether actual software or just hardware requiring some sort of software driver or interface—have Mac versions of that software. In fact, we’ve been surprised by how many booth demos we’ve seen being done on Macs and Mac OS X. But even more surprising has been the responses from vendors who don’t have Mac software—more than a few have actually expressed their regret and, of those, many noted their plans to develop Mac versions. It’s not as if every new product out there will be Mac-compatible—I still expect to come across plenty of cool products that won’t work with my Mac—but the fact that vendors are actively thinking about the Mac platform is a Very Good Thing.

The most impressive aspect of these experiences is that few of the vendors at CES are traditional Mac-focused companies. Some are audio-accessory companies who’ve jumped on the iPod bandwagon, but most are general consumer-electronic companies; computing-related companies that have traditionally focused on the Windows market; and companies focusing on social networking, online technologies, and other types of products that should be platform-independent but in the past might not have been.

Of course, these changes haven’t happened overnight; rather, they’ve come gradually as Apple’s fortunes have continually edged upwards. But the reactions CES vendors have towards Mac journalists reflect opinions of the Mac market as a whole, and this year’s CES is showing me that more companies than ever before are taking Apple, Mac users, and the purchasing power of Mac owners seriously.

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