Even without rumored "new iPads" anywhere in sight, Macworld/iWord opened its doors in San Francisco on Thursday to a public obviously content to be there.
The enthusiastic crowds came as a thorough breath of fresh air after a disappointingly lackluster Media Preview Day on Wednesday which garnered fewer than expected vendor participants.
Anticipating 20,000 attendees (about the same as last year) the show sponsored by IDG World Expo continues to survive, despite the withdrawal several years ago of Apple Corp. from participation.
In response, Macworld has shifted its focus from business-to-business volume selling to attracting consumers who are fans of Apple's Mac, iPad, iPhone, and iPod line-ups. With that in mind, this year's show now features just the standard slate of new product rollouts and conference sessions, music mini-concerts, an iPhone film festival, and several art galleries including a display of cells from early episodes of the TV animated satire South Park.
Fans seemed very receptive; the show floor was full on Thursday and the aisles were crowded with folks checking out new software and hardware accessory gadgets from Apple's partners. Nearly every one of the 271 vendor booths was busy. One vendor even told us that attendees seem more interested in buying than they did last year.
No 'Big Announcements'
With no Apple and no big new product announcements this year, what did the attendees actually say about the show? In off-the-cuff interviews with us on the floor, several pointed to the lack of any "tent-pole" products -- such as the rumored next-generation iPad or the iPhone 5 -- to give the show a center of gravity.
On the other hand, another repeat attendee said he thinks the products "seem more polished this year -- not as rough around the edges."
Regardless of some complaints about a lack of freebies, giveaways, and tchochkas, many attendees were buying new products on the spot (unlike B2B trade shows such as CES, Macworld has turned into a consumer shopping event, where you can actually buy products at the booths.)
While Apple's hardware have grown smaller over the years and mobile software now must be downloaded from the Apple App Store, of the tons of software apps and hardware accessories, many on display showed sophisticated levels of creativity.
Cool Hardware Accessories
Western Digital is demoing its first drive for Thunderbolt, a new technology from Apple aimed at faster image and data transfers. WD's MyBook Thunderbolt Duo uses the same box as its My Book Studio Edition II, but the new device will come with two Thunderbolt ports instead of connection options such as USB or FireWire,
Also in the category of hardware accessories, Sanho Corp. is showing CloudFTP, a small white box that lets you connect any USB storage device wireless to your iPad, iPhone, any Wi-Fi device, and to the cloud.
Priced at $99. CloudFTP lets you stream music from a storage device to your iPhone or iPad, transfer photos quickly from your digital camera, and stream movies to your iPad rather than having to load it onto the iPad's limited storage space, or connect by wire.
In one scenario mentioned to us, you can use CloudFTP on a family trip to stream a movie via Wi-Fi from your iPad to each of your children's iPhones at the same time.
Meanwhile, HP - in one of the largest booths at the show - is making much of the fact that many of its printers are compatible with Apple's AirPrint Wi-Fi printing system, which lets all Apple's mobile devices print directly to an HP "ePrint" printer without having to worry about printer drivers. HP ePrint is activated by means of a free downloadable app to your mobile device.
Another standout hardware device is a wireless scanner from Doxie. Not only does it save you from adding yet another wire to your tangle, the small and portable scanner has onboard storage, enough to hold 600 documents. So you can take your scanner with you, scan documents into it, and then upload them to your computer (or mobile device) when you get home.
Interesting Software for Macs, iPhones, iPads
In the software space, the Omni Group is offering a collection of business productivity applications for the Mac, the iPhone, and the iPad. This includes a feature-rich drafting and diagramming program called OmniGraffle, a to-do organizing program called OmniFocus, OmniPlan project management software, OmniOutliner, and OmniGraphSketcher.
Yet although Omni's huge booth rivals the size of HP's, it seems kind of lonely compared to some of the others. A beautiful bright red 1991 Volkswagen Van attracts attention to TuneUp, a popular program for organizing the music in your iTunes library, fixing mis-labeled tracks, finding cover art, and deduping tracks.
Karelia is showing an intriguing app for the iPad, updated last summer for Mac OS X "Lion." Like its predecessor, Sandvox 2.0 is aimed at small businesses and organizations that want to put up simple Web pages without needing to know any coding, or even any Web development terminology.
In walkthroughs by Karelia on the show floor, every step from selecting a design template, to adding a document to your blog, to creating a picture library, and even to adding a "Contact Us" box, came across to me as being very intuitive. In one nice feature on the "Contact us" page, the email address is never displayed on screen, meaning that spammers can't screen-scrape the email address.
Elsewhere, CoPilot Live showed its GPS software for the iPhone ($20) and the iPad ($30). The app helps with trip routing in much the way as your car GPS system does -- but wait until you see that on your iPad's generous screen!
Wish List for the Next iPad and iPhone?
While trolling the floor, We asked showgoers for their wish lists for new features when the next generation of iPad and iPhone come out. Most confessed they couldn't really think of anything new. "They've done everything they can do," as one put it.
A couple of people, though, mentioned 3D viewing on the iPad. With a shrug, Jay Gibbs, with Band of Techs in Downey, CA, noted that he'd like to see a projector feature for the iPad.
Nick Rose, a freelance writer for a local newspaper, has another significant item on his wish list. He'd like the iPad to evolve in the direction of being a full desktop computer. Specifically, he wants to be able to put on the machine programs like the high-end photo-editing programs from Adobe, and to be able to easily transfer photos to the iPad for editing, so he can edit while traveling.
Currently, Rose has to bring along a Mac laptop to do such editing. He finds the iPad to be "too underpowered" for this task.
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