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My consistently late review of MacWorld 2014

It's not quite a month yet, so I still have some time.

As usual, I'm finally getting around to writing this late, starting a week after MacWorld 2014 started in San Francisco. So, after a four year absence, I finally returned to see how it was faring without the presence of Apple, itself.

When I first visited MacWorld, back in 2010, the iPad had just been announced, but not released, and Apple had previously announced that they would not attend MacWorld that year, or in any subsequent years. Much was made of how it would transition to a fan based expo of celebrating the community.

So, is it working? For the most part, the expo hall, which is what most people who visit see, is just a collection of iPhone cases, charging solutions, and iPad stands. Fewer actual device and peripheral makers seemed to be present. Only Drobo and Western Digital had any real presence, along with another company selling their Cube solution to add PCIex cards to your 2013 MacPro over Thunderbolt 2. These are all great products, which I wish a) I had a need for, and b) I could afford. (In fairness, I bought a Transporter Sync from Drobo's sister company, and I wish I could afford a Drobo. And I really do want to get WD's big announcement, MyPassport Pro Thunderbolt RAID 2.5 inch portable hdd.)

In terms of the conference, I was less than impressed. Iain US$75 to go to the MacWorld conference track, only to discover that all the interesting talks were on the MacIT track which, even with the early bird discount, was ten times more. The one session I did attend was, to me, underwhelming. Less a how to, than a "here's my expensive rig that I control with my iPad". Yes, technically, you can master multitrack recording with an iPad, but you have to use top line equipment to preserve the sound quality. And I didn't particularly like the song he used as a demo.

So, what is the benefit of MacWorld? Without the really big names to pull people in, why bother? I mean floorspace was given to two electronic massage companies, and a windows installation company. As in a company that installs glass panes in the holes in your house.

There are some interesting small companies there. One company that makes hardware to control guitar effects boxes and amplifiers through your iOS device. Blue showing off their microphone range (although, tellingly, the Lightning version of their Mikey device still isn't available). A number of publishers selling or giving away their (physical) books on Apple hardware and software.

But, really, the value, if there is any, is in "Appapalooza" (proving that the 90s still lives on in the minds of IDG's event planning people). This is where the small software developers, and one or two of the big ones, show off their iOS and MacOS software. Where you can see an ios app that scans in a musical score, and converts it to a midi file that plays on the device. All the processing done on your iPhone, or so they tell me (not yet available for download, so you have to take their word for it - it can certainly play Clare de Lune). Obviously, these are the people the expo is still relevant for, people who don't otherwise get to promote their app outside the App Store itself.

So, whither MacWorld? Trade shows in general seem to be on the way out. As the big tech companies (Apple, Google, Samsung, even Microsoft, and anyone else) move away from the regimented timetable of the next public conference, and towards their own curated events, where they control the message, and particularly the media coverage. This has the effect of cooling some of the enthusiasm, not just of the public or even the press, but of the other technology companies.

By contrast, it also opens up the conference to smaller players. Sadly, while the App focused area of the show floor was certainly worth a look, a lot of the rest of the space is taken up with people selling cases and wraps. (Reports from CES suggest they, too, are being overrun by iPhone cases and iPad stands.)

But it's not just what happens on the show floor, or in the conference halls. MacWorld was also the hub for a number of social gatherings. The problem being that they were somewhat exclusive. Much is made of the big, invite only soirée, but if you don't know the right people, you won't get an invite. Other events are organised by specific interests, leaving some of us out, while others are presumably forced to pick between them.

So, as a poorly socialised outsider in the tech community, will I go again? Maybe. It's a convenient excuse to visit SF at a niceish time of year. You can pick up some swag. I'm not sure about the conference, though. Unless I pay for the technical track, I might not bother. Who knows, maybe next year some of the big players will be back. Not Apple, of course.

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