Apple Computer Inc. CEO Steve Jobs traditionally uses the annual Macworld Conference & Expo to introduce his company's latest and greatest hardware and software - and this year was no exception.
Jobs' big news at the show, held Jan. 9-13 at San Francisco's Moscone Center, was that Apple's previously announced move to Intel processors would be much sooner than expected. He said the first Macintosh computers using the processor, the iMac and MacBook Pro, will be available in January and February, respectively - a full six months ahead of schedule.
Jobs also introduced a new personal Web-page creation application, dubbed iWeb, which will be a part of the iLife suite of applications installed on all new Macintosh computers. This application allows average users to create their own personal Web pages complete with blogs, podcasts and the Apple-coined "photocasting" without the technical knowledge such creation previously required. Apple believes that this approach, allowing average users to accomplish technically sophisticated tasks, will help bring owners of the pervasive Windows-based machines into the Macintosh fold. Apple's market share in the personal computing world remains in the single digits - but judging by the admittedly anecdotal evidence from the show floor, Apple's market share is beginning to trend upward.
However, one area where Apple's market share far outpaces its closest competitor is the personal digital music player. Apple sold more than 14 million iPods in its first fiscal quarter, which ended Dec. 31 - about an 83 percent market share.
On the Macworld Expo show floor, the iPod was ubiquitous. A lucrative cottage industry has sprung up around the many iterations of the iPod, and vendors offering iPod addenda took the opportunity to show off their merchandise. The accessories ranged from the practical, such as Griffin's iTalk attachment, which turns the iPod into a personal recording device, to the purely superfluous, like patent leather and diamond-encrusted iPod cases. An interesting twist on the iPod accessory craze is the emergence of the many automakers that are beginning to offer iPod interface options to their sound systems. Many vendors parked cars tricked out with these interfaces on the show floor.
Photographer Sabrina Meng was at the Adobe Systems booth checking out the company's new Lightroom application. Meng had recently switched from a PC to a Mac "probably more because of the viruses than anything else."
"Everyone around me was using a Mac," she said, "and they were all telling me it was going to be faster, easier, better, especially doing graphic work. I said I'll give it a shot, and it's been great. I love it. And I come from a family that builds PCs, so I'm the traitor!"
Adobe's Lightroom helps photographers import, select, develop and showcase large volumes of digital images and offers much the same functionality as Apple's Aperture. Meng says that she had been planning on buying Aperture until she learned of Lightroom, which is still in beta stage but is being offered as a free download at the Adobe Web site (http:--labs.adobe.com).
She explained that she already had a chance to test Aperture: "I was there when they showed it at the presentation at the Apple store," she says. "I got to play with it a little bit."
When asked about the differences between the programs, she half-seriously alluded to her suspicions of a conspiracy between Apple and Adobe, based on the fact that two amazingly similar products were introduced just months apart. "It just looks so similar. I mean, you have to wonder if they're all talking to one another about these things."
The conference was a wealth of educational opportunities, with classes ranging from two-day, in-depth, professional-level courses to shorter, lighter fare aimed at the consumer. Many vendors also set up mini-auditoriums in their booths and offered free lessons.
Online courses on many topics are pervasive, but several folks at the show saw an advantage to learning at a conference rather than online.
David Nottage, a regional manager for the national print services company AlphaGraphics Inc., says it's "easier to ask questions. It's also easy to work with your peers that are in the group whereas online it's just a little more difficult. That's where people truly learn, when there's personal interaction."
Video editor Kym Yrulegui agrees. "Everybody is here in one place, under one roof. As I walk over to a booth and talk with a guy about something, then decide later that I have another question, I can go right back over and talk to him again. I can do all that on the Internet, but you can't touch, feel, move, try the product, see it working. There aren't any distractions; you're completely focused on it. That's why I like it."
Joy Powers was chatting with exhibitor Kevin Poll of iStockPhoto.com, who was giving her the run-down on the company's stock-photography service. Powers thinks there's another simple reason she likes learning at a conference instead of online. "I think it's more fun that way. You can interact with people online all the time, but it's neat to actually meet someone that has similar interests, or the same hobby."
At database software maker FileMaker's booth, famed film editor Walter Murch (Apocalypse Now, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Jarhead) was featured in a presentation that showcased his use of the database application in his everyday editing workflow. Murch says that a show such as Macworld is a unique opportunity that one is hard pressed to find elsewhere.
"I think it's all about cross-fertilization, and serendipity," says Murch. "You can do some of that on the Internet, but actually being physically here, and getting the look and feel of the booths, tells you something about the products, on a gut level, that even the best Web site and brochures can't tell you."
Kyle Killion, technical director for exhibitor MacControl, takes it one step further and says that of the many conventions that MacControl has shown at, Macworld is the cream of the crop.
"Mac users are an advocate user base." he says. "The people who come to this conference are the decision-makers, and they influence other people. They made the iPod. The iPod was originally a Mac-only product, and it became worldwide because the Mac users were out there, spreading the word. We love Macworld."