Last year's Macworld had attendees, exhibitors and a very different vibe than before. A lot of people who were there last year said it was a little odd, but not necessarily bad. People showed up, even though Apple didn't.
Then we had this year.
I returned after having been away for a couple of years, and Apple's absence wasn't the only change. This year everything was in one building, Moscone West. It was wonderful! At most, you were two escalators away from everything going on. No more expedition to the other hall to see other stuff, or bouncing back and forth between sessions and the show floor.
As someone who showed up to attend sessions and also wanted to spend time on the show floor, this was really convenient. With large areas on the second and third floors that were just tables and chairs, it also beautifully accommodated the "hallway track," that wonderful piece of any conference that can't be replicated no matter how many slides or videos you post online.
This somehow got overlooked in all the hubbub over Apple leaving: community. You hear a lot about it these days since everybody wants to sell you some way to build a community, but somehow Apple built one and didn't even try. Does Apple have an Open House where you can go check out the campus? Does Apple reach out to publications and send them sneak peeks of the New Hot Thing from Cupertino? Does Apple have a blog where you can see photos of ... anything? No. Apple is the greatest offender on all fronts. If you want to know how to build a community, Apple is not where you look for guidance. This community exists in spite of Apple's benevolent neglect, and it is a credit to IDG and the Macworld Expo team that they not only recognized it, but gambled heavily on it when planning the last two shows. I'd like to thank them for that.
This year, it seemed the show floor was concentrated: fewer vast spaces and fewer mile-wide aisles made it seem like we were all closer together. Not in a commuter train kind of uncomfortable way, but in a closer, friendlier way. We were all hanging out together, and it was a really great experience. It was a much better opportunity to hang out with a wide variety of folks.
I kept hearing variations on a theme: I'm glad Apple's not here, it's like Big Brother isn't watching over us anymore with that giant monolith smack in the middle taking up acres of show floor. Not one person I spoke to (and trust me, I spoke to lots and lots of people) was worried about the lack of official Apple presence at the show. Most folks were fine with not having a New Hot Thing, and pleased to have a more in-depth conversation about something they already owned (iPhone or iPad apps, something cool from the MAS) or had seen in another booth. It was a nice change from all the "Did you get to play with it?" of years past.
So yeah, I'm glad Apple wasn't there. I noticed, sure, but only in good ways. Between the livestreaming from our booth and the sessions I attended, I could not possibly have had more fun or expended more brainpower in a single week. I got to meet not just other Apple watchers and podcasters and notable nerds, but members of the TUAW community as well. I met regular callers to the Talkcast, some folks who show up and chat and even folks who said they only load TUAW "for the articles."
Thanks again to Apple for going home and letting the rest of us have a good time. To every single person who came by and went out of their way to say nice things to us: thank you. Truly. On behalf of Victor Agreda, Mike Rose, Mike Schramm, Steve Sande, Dave Caolo, Dave Winograd and myself, thank you for taking a moment to come by and chat with us. We really appreciate it.