Reflections on another Tuesday at Macworld

This is the fifth year I’ve attended Macworld Expo on the day of the keynote, and it definitely wasn’t as exciting as 2007. But after last year’s introduction of the long-rumored iPhone, how could it be?

Of course, another big difference is that I didn’t get into the keynote this year. There’s always a disconnect between those who attend the keynote and those who don’t. Keynote attendees have spent 90-120 minutes being caught up in Steve Jobs’ ‘Reality Distortion Field’ and come out excited and jazzed about how the just-introduced product is going to change the face of computing/entertainment/etc. Those who weren’t allowed in the hallowed shrine have a much more pessimistic view of what got announced and focus more on how their expectations weren’t met.

This year I was part of the latter camp, and although I was suitably impressed with the number of announcements that came out of the keynote, I wasn’t jazzed about anything. Well, to be honest, the MacBook Air is truly a marvel of engineering. And I got to play around with it eventually (the crowd around the Apple display area is always the worst on Tuesday), which is more than I can say for last year’s iPhone, which was only available to the highest-ranking media.

My first impressions on using it are that it’s light and thin (surprise!) but still quite sturdy. I was most curious about the new trackpad functionality and the Apple staffer showed off how you can enlarge the text in Safari using the pinch & grow finger technique. I asked if that’d work in Firefox and they didn’t know because they weren’t allowed to install any software on them. Spinning photos by twirling two fingers didn’t work so well, even the staffer couldn’t seem to get that going. Of most interest to me was being able to ‘right’-click on objects by simply using two fingers to tap the trackpad. I hope to see that capability brought to future Mac laptops. Good riddance awkward control-click!

Also of note is that the machine is entirely self-contained and there are no user-servicable parts. If (when?) your battery is acting up, the staffer noted that you would, indeed, need to ship the entire laptop off to Apple. Since there’s no possibility of upgrading the hard drive or RAM (sure, 2GB sounds like plenty now, but remember when 1GB seemed like all you’d ever need?), it’s almost like the first ‘disposable’ laptop. Good thing it’s more environmentally friendly.

Also highly-promoted this year was Microsoft’s new Office 2008. Not only did they have large banners outside the exhibit hall and a big booth with an audience area to give presentations, they had a snazzily-furnished blogger lounge and sponsored the evening party. I think there’s a lot riding on this release.

One change this year that I found slightly annoying was that half of the Expo was held in Moscone South and the other half was held in Moscone West, which is approximately two blocks away. Normally Moscone North would be used, which is directly connected to South via the hallways underground. I’m a little confused why it ended up that way, but will assume that IDG World Expo faced some kind of logistical barrier. On the bright side, it provided some level of exercise and, let’s face it, a lot of Macworld Expo attendees desperately need it.For those who got tired out (and it really can be tiring) there was a Napping Lounge, sponsored by pzizz and metronaps, featuring these strange-looking contraptions that look like Pac-Man is eating your head.

There were once again plenty of iPod case companies exhibiting at Macworld and now they’ve been joined by iPhone case companies. Similarly, where before you would be accosted by booth-goers to ‘Win an iPod,’ now it’s ‘Win an iPhone!’ Um, do I have to pay the 2-year service contract? In the category of ‘Wasn’t this news last year?’ was Axiotron’s ModBook, the first tablet Mac. The difference was that they had a much larger and flashier exhibit booth, rather than being crammed in the corner of OWC’s booth.

My award for most creative sponsorship goes to FileMaker. Currently promoting their new small-and-home-office organizing product, Bento, they provided bento boxes for the media lunch on Tuesday. It was hard to tell what went faster, the free software Bento boxes or the free lunch bento boxes.

The media lounge is always a great place to hear what others are thinking. I had an interesting discussion with New York Times columnist Janet Rae-Dupree, who thought the new Apple TV would be a huge success by the end of this year because it no longer required a computer, which was what was holding back average Jane & Joe Consumer. I was unaware that the average Jane & Joe Consumer had a widescreen TV with digital inputs, broadband Internet access and a wireless home network yet were holding off on an Apple TV because they found computers too complicated. But the debates are a big part of what makes it all so interesting and Apple’s announcements this week will no doubt inspire a lot of debate this year.

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