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MacWorld Expo New York City

MacWorld Expo New York City

© 1998 Lawrence I. Charters

Washington Apple Pi Journal, September/October 1998, pp. 20-26, reprint information

"Vaporware sells" should be the lesson learned from MacWorld Expo New York. For several years Apple has had a policy of not commenting on unannounced hardware and software, but a constant stream of leaks has undermined that policy. Then in May 1998, when Steve Jobs announced the iMac &endash; something that hadn't been leaked prior to the announcement &endash; Apple was suddenly talking, at length, about something that didn't exist yet. Even more amazing, people listened when Apple talked: for months the iMac has been the hottest topic in the computer industry that didn't involve the Justice Department.

MacWorld Expo New York was, in reality, the iMac Expo. Dozens of pre-production iMacs were scattered around among exhibitors, and the iMac had center stage at the opening keynote address. Almost everyone had "iMac compatible" products, ranging from the essential (various Universal Serial Bus peripherals, including scanners and floppy drives) to the silly (mouse pads). Almost all of Apple's oversize banners had iMac themes, as did all the parking lot and subway posters for the Expo.

And people loved it. While the iMac doesn't do anything new &endash; it is still a Mac under the transparent Bondi Blue and Platinum plastic &endash; the general feeling was that it was "revolutionary."

Revolutionary? Sure, why not? Revolutions are supposed to change things, and there was plenty of change, starting with the city. The towers and subways of New York City, specifically Manhattan, served as center stage for the East Coast version of MacWorld, leaving the endless "Big Dig" construction and dual, distant exhibit halls of Boston behind. MacWorld New York visitors tended to be much better dressed than the usual Boston MacWorld crowd, with more of a tendency to spout tough-sounding business and finance blather; the Boston crowd tends more to towards obtuse technogeek. (Actually, most MacWorld visitors in both cities are polite and quiet; it is the loud minority that differs.)

The Keynote

Interim Chairman Steve Jobs was not supposed to be at MacWorld, but he flew in, allegedly at the last moment. This had the ring of truth, rather than hype, as Steve, a consummate showman, took a rare miscue: he always appears after a video, but for this keynote, he started to walk on stage just as the video was starting, and beat a hasty retreat.

The videos were repeats of recent commercials, plus a new, fairly lengthy "commercial, " Shootout, showing an elementary school kid (and his dog) racing an adult with a Stanford MBA to set up a computer and log onto the Internet. The kid (and his dog) unboxed and set up an iMac, and logged in without trouble, stopping for some doggy snacks and some dog-and-kid playing around. The MBA unboxed and set up a Hewlett-Packard Pentium II machine; needless to say, this took more than three times as long, and without any time for doggy snacks. A great video.

In addition to the now-routine demonstrations of blistering Power Mac G3 speeds, there was an excellent demonstration of Internet Explorer 4.0.1 by a Microsoft bigwig, Ben Waldman, and a demonstration of a for-fee Disney Web site by Disney Online President Richard Wolpert. All the Apple people, including Jobs, stated that they used Internet Explorer "by choice," as did the Microsoft representative. But Wolpert brought the house down when he stopped his demo, turned to the audience and said, "I guess this is where I'm supposed to say, 'I use Microsoft Internet Explorer by choice.'" Jobs, off to the side, almost sprained his face trying not to join in the laughter.

Parenthetical Vignette

By an accident of fate, I was sitting just a couple rows back from the keynote stage. It slowly dawned on me that the two people sitting directly in front were celebrities: the world-renown dancer Gregory Hines and the comedian David Adkins, better known as Sinbad. They chatted throughout the keynote and, without really trying to listen, it was apparent that Hines uses a Mac for one reason: he doesn't have to know a thing about it to do real work. Adkins, on the other had, is a fanatic.

At one point, for example, a still image from the famed Steamroller ad (showing a steamroller crushing Pentium laptops) sparked the audience to laughter. Hines clearly didn't know why this should be funny, so Adkins eagerly outlined the "plot" of the advertisement, complete with gestures. This pattern was repeated throughout the keynote, with quiet questions from Hines generating increasingly excited responses from Adkins. I was impressed: Adkins would make one heck of a computer jock if he ever decided to leave the entertainment field. He also has Hines beat on the earring front, three to one.

That evening, talking to my daughter on the phone, I mentioned that I sat right behind Gregory Hines and Sinbad. Her response: "You sat behind Sinbad! You sat behind Sinbad!" &endash; with each repetition going at least one octave higher. I interrupted and said, "No, I sat next to Gregory Hines." She thought this irrelevant; I explained I wasn't even sure who Sinbad was. She pointed out that I'd even accompanied her to one of his movies, First Kid; I pointed out that she'd seen Gregory Hines in a much better movie, White Nights. She sniffed disdainfully, and suggested I was "out of it."

As for why Hines and Adkins were there, I assume it was to promote the AppleMasters program, where Apple showcases Real Famous People doing Real Things with their Macs (see http://applemasters.apple.com/). But I have a feeling Adkins would have been willing to pay the regular MacWorld Expo admission.

MacWorld: The Show

Expo security was tight. I was informed that my camera would be seized and the film removed if I took any photos in the exhibit hall, so I didn't. (None of the vendors in the hall came looking for publicity, apparently.) Once, after stepping out of the exhibit hall for a quick, very expensive lunch ($10.50 for a sandwich and drink), I was stopped going back in and told that my badge must be visible at all times. A strap from my camera partially obscured the badge and That Was Not Permitted. There were reports that Steve Jobs, following his keynote address, was stopped from entering the hall for lack of a badge, and ended up appropriating one from some flunky in order to penetrate the blockade.

There were far fewer full-fledged booths than past Expos, but there were more "mini-booths" and quite a few joint-occupancy booths. The mini-booths, clustered together in "Developer Central" (software and hardware development tools and such), education, and games areas, usually consisted of a small counter staffed by one person, with one computer on the counter. This type of booth was ill suited for extended demonstrations (there just isn't enough space for spectators), and even interactive conversation is difficult, since the staffer is required to face away from the audience in order to demonstrate something on the computer.

Several large vendors who needed to be at MacWorld were not. Quark, for example, has severely damaged its reputation over the past year following the introduction of Quark XPress 4.0. Past users faced extraordinarily high upgrade prices -- so many didn't. Those who did found themselves saddled with a bug-ridden, user-hostile page layout package that was not backward compatible with older plug-in tools, and had huge problems with file format compatibility and integrity. Given the massive concentration of publishing and graphics firms in New York City, a large booth with plenty of informed, helpful staffers would have been a Good Idea. But Quark was nowhere to be found, even though there were lots of smaller vendors offering XPress plug-ins, enhancements, or packages aimed explicitly at driving Quark out of its publishing niche.

iMacs, iMacs Everywhere

iMacs were prominently displayed throughout the Expo, in Apple's booth as well as at the booths of various hardware and software vendors and even some resellers. This was a splendid idea, since it gave anyone who wished a chance to play with an iMac, play with the mouse, evaluate the display, admire the uncluttered, relatively cable-free nature of the unit, and see it zip through whatever it was set up to do.

This also created some confusion, since not all the iMacs were equal. Some were very early prototypes, and various components &endash; such as the power switch &endash; were not functional. Few supported the usual CMD-Opt-Power reset function (I was repeatedly assured that yes, you would be able to reset the "real" iMacs), forcing users to unplug the machines in order to escape from a crash. On the other hand, the machines were hard to crash, even though skeptics were trying very hard to do just that.

A bigger problem was one of utility: many of the iMacs had nothing on them, so there was nothing to do but play with various Finder functions: opening windows, creating folders and such. Several vendors set the iMacs at their booths to doing nothing more than loop through QuickTime clips or Director presentations. Since any old Mac could do these tasks, they wasted an opportunity. Shame, shame.

At the keynote address, Steve Jobs mention that Apple did listen to customers, and the original proposal, to include a 33.6K modem, had been scrapped; all production iMacs would ship with 56K modems. He also showed a list of applications that would be bundled with the machine, and there was one glaring change: originally, FileMaker Pro was listed as part of the iMac bundle, but FileMaker had been dropped.

At this writing, these are the specifications of the iMac as it will be shipped in mid-August 1998:

Things Other Than iMac

One Apple Web site, the Macintosh Products Guide (http://macsoftware.apple.com/), was heavily promoted in Apple's exhibit area and at various locations throughout the exhibit hall. The site is not new, but large numbers of attendees claimed to be unaware of its existence, and spend hours searching the site for various specialty products.

Guitar Center, a California retailer specializing in music hardware and software, had a constant crowd at its booth, as they did last year in Boston. The array of specialized music (MIDI and acoustic) hardware and software was educational; there were programs, patches and plug-ins for doing things with music (and sound) that most people didn't even know needed to be done.

One music application that doesn't exist yet looked interesting: Musitek's SmartScore. This package allows you to scan in a music score and create a MIDI file directly from the scan. The scanned image is also turned into an editable score on the screen, so you can change things around. It also accepts input from a MIDI device, and will output to a MIDI device. Pricing wasn't mentioned, but if and when it is released this fall, musicians &endash; especially those with scanners &endash; should give SmartScore a careful look.

Digital cameras and digital video are no longer exotic: everyone seems to have a camera, or peripheral, or software program that "does digital." The Olympus D-600L, with its elegant, simple, SLR (Single Lens Reflex) styling and superb picture quality, is still the clear favorite at the "low end" of the market. In theory, digital cameras just don't have the quality to threaten traditional film cameras. Hewlett-Packard, however, had an immense, panoramic, high-definition digital print of the Grand Canyon (shown in a unique spiral booth) that they claimed would shock the skeptics. It did. Created by Stephen Johnson and printed on a large-format Hewlett-Packard plotter, the hype claimed it was "better than film," and it was impressive; a better print from film didn't seem likely.

Hewlett-Packard, of course, is far more interested in printers than cameras, and they promised the HP Printer Cable Kit for iMac, coming in August for $69, will allow the iMac to use HP's popular DeskJet 670 and 690 series printers. What wasn't quite as clear: would HP start producing, again, Mac-compatible printers for the non-iMac users? While they once dominated the inkjet market for Macintosh users, Epson and Alps have recently completely taken over the market.

Imation doesn't normally attract much of a crowd at trade shows, but this show was an exception: their SuperDisk USB drive (in iMac colors) will give the iMac access to 720K and 1.4MB PC and 1.4 MB Mac floppy diskettes as well as Imation's own 120 MB SuperDisk diskettes. Pricing seemed a bit confused; prices mentioned at the keynote address and in Imation's own booth ranged from $169 to $189, but in any case the price seems quite reasonable.

Getting images printed on paper is only possible if you can first get the picture in the computer. Except for some PowerBooks, Macs aren't equipped to read the CompactFlash cards used in cameras, and must rely on slow, serial-cable transfers, but not for long. InterMart Systems was demonstrating a SCSI-based gizmo, the PCD-10, that allows a desktop Macintosh to read and write to PCMCIA cards and, using an adapter, CompactFlash cards. Microtech's Digital PhotoAlbum•p is an oddly-named SCSI device with essentially the same purpose.

In theory, both Iomega and Syquest are preparing USB-equipped versions of their mass storage devices. Iomega will allegedly have Zip and Jaz drives for the iMac (both in translucent plastic), but only Syquest had a booth at the Expo, and their bright-red, translucent plastic Sparq drive (with one gigabyte removable cartridges) is supposed to be available the day the iMac is released. (A USB-equipped Zip drive prototype was available at another vendor's booth.)

There were lots of charting packages shown, from the highly specialized StatView and JMP (which are, to be honest, far more than charting packages) to some simple packages that just aren't that interesting. One stirring exception: Adrenaline Charts Pro 1.0, an amazing 3D charting tool that can make even an Alan Greenspan presentation exciting. Adrenaline Software originally wrote the package for QuickDraw GX, which Apple then killed, but the current package requires nothing beyond a Power Mac and 32 MB of RAM. The package allows you to incorporate 3D objects, photos, textures, and QuickTime clips in a chart; even the national debt looks good in Adrenaline Charts Pro.

Corel attracted crowds at their booth, showing previews of CorelDraw 8 for Macintosh and proclaiming a new slogan, Draw Different. When it ships in August or September, CorelDraw 8 promises to support AppleScript, QuickTime, ColorSync, Macintosh drag and drop, and other common Apple technologies. They also promise it will be compatible with CorelDraw 8 files from Windows 95 and Windows NT machines, and be able to suck up files from Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator, as well as support PDF, EPS, TIFF, GIF, JPEG, PICT, and other graphics formats. One sour note: if you signed up at the show, you could get CorelDraw 8/PhotoPaint 8 for $99; when it actually ships, Corel says the upgrade price for existing Macintosh CorelDraw owners will be $249.

Possibly the best toy at the show was CoolDVD, from Elecede Technologies (better known as E4). CoolDVD is an internal SCSI-based DVD drive that supports DVD 1.0, MPEG I and MPEG II, as well as various flavors of CD-ROM, CD-audio, PhotoCD, etc. Playing a DVD movie on a Power Mac may not be something you need to do, but it is slick. All you need is a PCI-based Power Mac or compatible with a free PCI slot, a 120 MHz or greater processor, and a space to put the drive; if nothing else, you can remove that old, creaky CD-ROM you may already have…

IBM, believe it or not, was showing a Macintosh package: World Book 1999 Multimedia Encyclopedia. Priced at $50 (?), it is a very attractive, highly interactive reference tool, perfect for students or office work. While the depth of the entries isn't up to Encyclopaedia Britannica levels, navigating around the encyclopedia is very easy, and it employs some new 3D "bubble picture" technology that is perfect for illustrating remote people, places and things.

One vendor had an almost all-PC booth: Media4 Productions. Their product, MacDrive98, is a set of utilities that, once installed on a Windows 95, Windows 98 or Windows NT machine, allow the PC to "transparently" use Mac formatted disks and Mac format files. Even the long Mac file names are handled well, and MacDrive98 correctly assigned the proper icons to various files, too. If you need to get along with PCs in your office, installing MacDrive98 may make this much easier.

Things that might have been interesting if someone would have bothered to show them: NetObjects allegedly has an excellent Web site development tool in Fusion 3.0, but the staff in the booth was usually so busy talking to one another, or people from Apple, that this allegation could never be proved. Apple's own WebObjects software was on one machine in a mini-booth, but again, the staff seemed more interested in talking to one another; their Rhapsody group was similarly self-absorbed. Adobe claimed that PageMill 3.0 would be out "soon" for the Macintosh (it has been out some time for Other Machines), but offered not one shred of evidence to support this claim. IBVA Systems was showing their Interactive Brainwave Visual Analyzer, a $1,300 hardware and software package that allegedly allows the user to control a computer using nothing more than brain waves; demonstrations seemed to consist of staffers telling visitors "no, no, that's not how it is supposed to work."

Magazine Bins

MacWorld Expo New York had one very nice innovation: large bins in the lobbies filled with sample copies of various Mac-related publications. Among the most interesting: the old standby, MacWorld magazine, is still worthwhile, and the soon-to-die MacWeek will remain a weekly essential until it expires. There was a prototype issue of eMediaweekly (the successor to MacWeek) which shows some promise, despite the stupid title. FileMaker Pro Advisor is superb reference for FileMaker users, and SciTech Journal is an excellent magazine for Mac users in the science and engineering community. Digital Camera had their very first issue on display, and it has possibilities; How, a lush magazine for designers, is not new, but it was new to many attendees.

For professional computer techies, NetProfessional Magazine is a gold mine of information on cutting-edge technology, and down-to-earth advice on how to connect Macs to things both exotic and mundane. MacAddict is rapidly becoming the most popular Mac magazine, combining an outrageous editorial style and highly developed sense of humor with short, useful articles and a CD-ROM in every issue. Possibly the most intriguing magazine was The Mac Report, a news weekly aimed squarely at the market MacWeek is abandoning. Working against it, however: all electronic subscriptions entered during MacWorld Expo were rejected because of configuration errors on their Web site.

New York City as Host

MacWorld Expo/New York was not your regular MacWorld Expo. For one thing, this East Coast variant is usually held in Boston in August, not New York City in July. Veteran MacWorld attendees have learned where the cheap motels are in Boston, learned how to get around on the famed subway, and developed a resigned acceptance to the endless waits for "complimentary" buses between two Boston exhibit sites.

New York, in contrast, was an unknown: many attendees had never visited the Big Apple, and what little they knew about it suggested that "complimentary" buses, or simple compliments, would be impossible to find. New York is big, expensive, crowded, noisy, dangerous and full of New Yorkers. Right?

True. But this isn't the entire story. Among other things, it is surprisingly easy to get around, with an excellent public transportation network. The subway cars are worn, but not covered in spray paint. The fist day of the general Expo, July 8, there was a grisly death in downtown New York, but it was a woman rollerblader who ran under a tour bus, not a Mafia or gangland murder.

It is loud, and at times the smell is -- ahem -- not what you'd find in an alpine meadow. Hotel room rates are high, parking is outrageously high, but meal prices are decent. New Yorkers seemed, if not exactly charmingly polite, at least decent, if impatient. Tourists and out of towners seemed more obnoxious than most of the natives.

Next year, it will be back to Boston for MacWorld Expo. But, having broken the ice and actually visited the Big Bad Apple, I'll be going back to New York City, too.

For Expo photos, see the Pi's brief MacWorld Expo Tour.


Adobe: http://www.adobe.com/
Adrenaline Software: http://www.adrenaline.ca/
AppleMasters: http://applemasters.apple.com/
Corel: http://www.corel.com/
Digital Camera magazine: http://www.digicamera.com/
Elecede Technologies: http://www.e4.com/
FileMaker Pro Advisor magazine: http://www.advisor.com/
Guitar Center: http://www.musician.com/
Hewlett-Packard: http://www.hp.com/
IBVA Systems: http://www.ibva.com/
Imation: http://www.imation.com/
InterMart Systems: http://www.intermartsys.com/
JMP for Macintosh: http://www.jmpdiscovery.com/
The Mac Report magazine: http://www.macreport.com/
Macintosh Products Guide: http://macsoftware.apple.com/
MacWeek magazine: http://www.macweek.com/
MacWorld magazine: http://www.macworld.com/
Media4 Productions: http://www.media4.com/
Microtech International: http://www.microtech.com/
Musitek: http://www.musitek.com/
NetObjects: http://www.netobjects.com/
NetProfessional Magazine: http://www.netprolive.com/
Olympus: http://www.olympus.com/
SciTech Journal: http://www.scitechcomp.org/
StatView for Macintosh: http://www.statview.com/
Syquest: http://www.syquest.com/


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