A Macworld/iWorld Lament

I can't say I was surprised when IDG World Expo's Paul Kent broke the news to us at TUAW that Macworld/iWorld 2015 was canceled and that the longtime Mac lovefest was on hiatus. It's kind of like having a good friend who has been ill for a long time, getting thinner every time you see him – you aren't surprised when the friend passes away, but you're saddened just the same.

Now, we don't honestly know if Macworld/iWorld will be back in the future or not. The word "hiatus" is defined as "a break or interruption in the continuity of a work, series, action, etc.", so we can hold out hope that at some future point, the expo will be resurrected. But to be honest with you, I don't think that's going to happen. The world has changed a lot since the first Macworld Expo in 1985.

My first trips to Macworld were in the late 1980s. At the time, I was working for a gas pipeline company as a "special projects supervisor," which I turned into an IT director position as the PC revolution exploded. We were an all-Mac shop thanks to my insistence on staying away from DOS, and about the only place to go to get a hands-on look at the latest in Mac peripherals and accessories was Macworld Expo. Local Apple dealers at that time carried just a hint of the many products that were available, so between Macworld magazine, (which also passed away within the last month), MacUser magazine (which died a long time ago), and the annual Expos, that was how we got our product info. That era was also pre-Internet, so there was no way to "get online" and get detailed product descriptions from vendors. Local bulletin board systems (BBSs) were good for keeping in touch with local Mac users and swapping freeware, but that was about it.

Macworld Expo in the late 1980s was impressive: the show usually covered the full floor at Moscone Center, and it took serious planning and effort over Irish Coffees at the Buena Vista for someone from our team to visit each booth. Of course, Apple had a large presence at the show, and we would talk with Apple reps about enterprise-related gizmos like NuBus Ethernet cards and 3270 terminal emulation software, or try to negotiate a bigger discount on large purchases (Guess what? We never could...). There were conference sessions, back room meetings with software vendors, and of course the occasional keynotes with such notables as John Sculley and Jean-Louis Gasseé.

Macworld was more than just San Francisco, too. Shows in Boston and New York made the Expo more accessible to those on the East Coast, and it was at the 1993 Macworld in Boston that the Newton MessagePad was introduced -- one of my employees was at the show that year and FedEx'd an original Newton MessagePad to me, probably the first one in Denver. Unfortunately, shortly after that time Apple's executive presence at shows and conferences was taken over by Michael Spindler, who was about as exciting and charismatic as a pile of mud. Spindler was followed in 1996 by Gil Amelio, who surprisingly had even less charisma than Spindler.

Things got exciting again when Steve Jobs came back in 1997, giving the first of his patented "Stevenotes" at the Boston show. Although I wasn't in attendance at Macworld for quite a few years in the late 90s and early 00's, I remember avidly following the news of Jobs' talks, simply because every time he talked, the news got better, the products became more exciting, and it looked like Apple was coming back from the grave.

After a hiatus (there's that word again) from Macworld during a stint with IBM, I began attending Macworld San Francisco in 2006. This time, I was looking at the show with the eyes of a consultant and blogger. The Apple Consultant Network had a presence at the show – we'd actually volunteer to answer questions on the show floor – and it was a blast. Apple was still in attendance at the show, and if I recall correctly the show floor covered not only the main hall at Moscone Center, but also Moscone North.

One thing I remember vividly from the 2006 or 2007 show (my memory's not that good) was a large iPod game display that was run by Apple in Moscone North. Remember, iOS wasn't yet in existence, but this was for the games that ran on the iPod!

Macworld always had a big focus on music, and during those years, Moscone North seemed to be the location for the band stage and talks on using Macs in music. There was no iPad, there were no iPhones, so music – if you wanted to make it – was being performed with the assistance of Macs.

My most vivid memory of Macworld Expo was being in the keynote for the iPhone in 2007. I think I got into the line at 4 AM... which put me towards the back of the keynote venue. The Stevenote was probably one of the most electric events I've ever been to. You knew when Steve announced the iPhone and described its functionality – even in those early days – that we were seeing something that would literally change the company that invented it and change the world. After the keynote, thousands of us gathered around the single iPhone prototype rotating in a Lexan cylinder, knowing that we wouldn't actually get our hands on the device for quite a few months.

The iPhone really marked a big change in the focus of the show, which turned from being truly Mac-oriented to what a lot of us old-timers referred to as "iPhone Case World". At the 2008 show, many of us wondered if all we'd see at future Macworlds would be iPhone accessories.

2009 was the last year that Apple had a presence at Macworld, and that was also the year that there was a lot of discussion about whether or not the show would even continue into the future. Without Apple, was Macworld relevant? I think 2009 was the year that IDG World Expo had an attendee forum at which people could speak out about what they thought should happen with the show in the future.

Some of us felt that the expo was no longer relevant in the Internet age, that all of the presentations and vendor demos could be better done online. Others thought that it was time to move Macworld Expo out of San Francisco and into a smaller show that roamed the world. The discussion was for naught...

In 2012, Macworld became Macworld/iWorld, reflecting how iOS devices – both iPhone and the iPad released in 2010 – had changed Apple's focus away from the Mac and towards the touch-interface mobile devices we're all using. During a few of these years, TUAW had a presence at the show in the form of a booth – we did a lot of live broadcasting from our booth, including interviews with a number of notables in the Apple world as well as vendors of hardware and software.

A regular event for TUAW fans was the annual TUAW Meetup. Probably the best one was in 2012, when a large number of TUAW readers gathered at Jillian's across the street from Moscone North to have fun and have a chance to win prizes donated by sponsors. That year, one of the three founders of Apple –- Ron Wayne –- attended the event. That was definitely a fascinating thing to experience, especially when Ron was the winner of one of the big giveaway items!

One of the things that was a constant throughout the latter years of Macworld and Macworld/iWorld was the camaraderie of the attendees. Whether it was going to the loud and boisterous Cirque du Mac party sponsored by The Mac Observer every year, or just going out with a group of friends to get great Indian food at Mehfil, eating with other tech bloggers and PR folks at Appency's annual event, or joining the ranks of the bloggers and writers at the "Ink-Stained Wretches Dinner" sponsored by TidBITS, sharing food and talk during the show was a major tradition. I recall hosting a Newton Meetup one year at Chili's, attended by a number of people who brought their working Newton MessagePads to the event.

It was always fun to meet TUAW readers and (when we actually were allowed to do podcasts) listeners and viewers of our various podcasts. There's something great about meeting people in the flesh rather than just knowing them by an email address or Twitter handle. Finally getting to meet Patrice Brend'amour at this year's Macworld/iWorld was wonderful, and my hope was that the show would go on so I could meet our other buddies like Hal Sherman and Ben Roethig.

The past few years seemed to be an indication that the show was changing, not necessarily for the better. While Macworld had filled large venues in the past, this last year it seemed that it was struggle just to fill the small Moscone North hall -- a venue that previously had been an "overflow" area from the main floor. The conference talks were just as good as usual, but the number of vendors making the investment in a booth had dwindled. Some vendors came to the show, but only for meetings off the Expo floor.

So, will Macworld/iWorld return from its "hiatus" in future years? I honestly don't know. For many out-of-town visitors, the show was a large expense when we toted up airfare, hotel expenses, meals, and ground transportation. For companies exhibiting at the show, the cost was even more onerous –- although tax deductible. San Francisco's deep union ties made it impossible for any company to set up a small booth without the paid assistance of union helpers. I recall two run-ins with union workers; one who threatened to have me arrested for actually plugging in an Ethernet hub without his help, the other when I was shooting some video before the show actually opened. In both cases, a combination of laughing at them and using obscene gestures seemed to defuse the situation...

My personal wish is that the show comes back as a one- or two-day event in a number of cities, not just San Francisco. Get a much smaller venue in six or seven cities in the US, Europe, and Asia, have a one-day event that captures both the heart of Macworld/iWorld, provides an opportunity for the parties and meetups that make the event so fun, and gives vendors a chance to show off their latest software or accessories.

Or how about creating a virtual event that EVERYONE could attend? Streaming conference talks, virtual booth visits, and even online meetups could be a way to get the feel of the event without having to hop on a plane, fly to San Francisco, and then pick up the flu after being around a large crowd of sneezing attendees. It's almost 2015, folks – there should be a way to do a virtual event for 100,000 people. If there isn't, perhaps IDG World Expo could lead the way in developing a method of creating virtual conferences, reinventing itself for the 21st Century. If not IDG World Expo, maybe TUAW's corporate overlord AOL could look at footing the bill... are you listening, Tim Armstrong?

I truly do hope that the loss of 2015 Macworld/iWorld is just a hiatus and not the announcement of the end of the show. If IDG World Expo has the opportunity, will and financial backing to keep the show going in a new format, I think Macworld/iWorld could survive and even prosper.

What are your most vivid memories of Macworld or Macworld/iWorld? We'd all like to know, and you can relive those memories in the comments below.