Macworld Expo is Dead: Long Live the Macworld Expo

banner-macworld-logoA Macworld Expo without Apple (s aapl) is like ordering a decaf, non-fat latte – what’s the point? This is old news, right? Not really. For many, this time of year is when the discussion about going to Macworld begins. IDG has already started some of its marketing push. Will Macworld 2010 be a ghost town, or will it be the best Macworld ever?

Macworld was in intensive care in 2008 and Apple’s decision to not exhibit in the future killed it, right? Maybe not. Macworld may end up stronger than ever. It reminds me of the classic science fiction plot where the main character goes through some strange metamorphosis on his deathbed (Doctor Who anyone?).

The Big Squeeze

My first Macworld was 1995. The clone wars were about to begin, but it was still Apple’s show. I had an absolute blast, and it wasn’t just because Sandra Bullock was filming “The Net” on the show floor. Back then there were detailed product demos and face time with a vendor’s sales and support team. Schwag bags were so big I’d have to ship a separate box back to Kansas.

As time marched on, smaller vendors were squeezed out by the big shots. Just like in any business, big national chains increased costs and make it more expensive for the little guys. Eventually, vendors stopped sending top personnel and often just hired warm bodies to staff their booths.

After over a decade of attendance, I decided in 2008 to pack it in. Too many exhibitors were doing “engineering via PowerPoint,” showing off screenshots and mockups of future products in lieu of real demos. Quicken Financial Life is still M.I.A. Any word on NightHawk? When I asked an exhibitor a moderately difficult question I was simply handed a card and told to call some support or sales number, or pointed towards the FAQ on their website. Furthermore, the show’s emphasis on Mac hardware and software had been overwhelmed by a preponderance of laptop and iPod cases and sometimes seemed to be more of a fashion show than a technical conference.

As a press person, qualifying for passes became difficult as the show management became overly bureaucratic. Many attendees and exhibitors hated the event’s timing, right after the holidays and New Year. After the second day in 2008, I decided it would be my last Macworld due to the increased hassle and decreased value. Apparently Steve Jobs agreed with me and took a pass on 2009, and then Apple soon followed suit.

Better, Faster, Stronger

With Macworld declared dead, IDG can take the opportunity to completely upgrade the event. They can rebuild it. They have the technology. Better than it was before. Better, stronger, faster. Now instead of the beginning of January, the Expo takes place in February. This gives all of us time to breathe after the first of the year and the busy holiday season. Additionally, the expo is at the end of the week and includes a weekend day.

Better hours will attract the casual Mac user who wouldn’t necessarily take time off from work to attend, but who simply wants to learn about new Mac products. These are the people who go to the Apple store “just to browse.” Registration is currently free for an exhibit-only pass thereby encourage those window shoppers (not to be confused with Windows shoppers). IDG is also focusing on attracting more small and independent developers who had been priced out of previous Expos. These are all very smart moves by IDG and will greatly increase the show’s value.

I’m psyched to attend in 2010. I’ll have plenty of time to recover from the holiday rush. I’ll attend on Saturday so I won’t be missing as much work. The outreach to small and independent developers will act as a tonic to boost the show’s technical and Mac-focused content. I’ve always loved the developer pavilion and am glad to see this concept extended. Not only is the person working these smaller booths the sales agent, but he or she may also be the developer! Want a feature in the program? Just ask and they’ll try and accommodate you. Like a rainforest, removing a couple big trees lets the underbrush grow and flourish.

Will attendance increase in 2010? I predict it will, and I plan to be part of this. Are you attending? Exhibiting? Thinking about it?