Life at the Expo
MWSF ’03

While tens of thousands of Macintosh users, and potential Switchers, attend the semi-annual Macworld Expos, the vast majority of Mac enthusiasts will never have the opportunity to attend an Expo.

What’s it like to spend a day at the Expo?

The San Francisco Expo is held each January at the Moscone Convention Center. Located in the heart of San Francisco, Moscone has two vast halls; one in the South Hall, and the other in the North Hall. Traditionally, the North Hall is home to smaller exhibitors, and the South Hall hosts the Apple booth, and the rest of the biggest names at the show.

The North Hall beckons, so let’s begin. From the entrance, the Hall is filled with booths as far as the eye can see. The bigger vendors are clustered at the front. As of 1:00 P.M. on opening day, the crowd is thick! The aisles are packed with bearded geezers, Gen Y’ers (one had the Jaguar fur motif dyed into his hair!), corporate types in three-piece suits, people in motorized wheelchairs, and every type of Mac user you could imagine. The crowds’ oozes slowly down each aisle, as people stop to gaze in the booth, pick up some of the voluminous amounts of free literature, ask questions, and try the software/hardware for sale. At many booths, there are long lines to try products. Naturally, you can buy almost every product right here at the Expo. Some few vendors who don’t have physical product for sale have Macs on-line to order order the Internet.

I have never seen so many flat-panel displays in one place before! The 15″ flat-panel iMac is the norm for display Macintoshes. They are as common as sand on a beach. A close second is the 17″ flat-panel connected to desktop G4 PowerMacs. Any vendor that sells a graphics product displays their wares on the big 22″ or 23″ flat panel display. Vendors like nVidia have row upon row of demo machines with big displays for people to use.

Having oozed past the bigger booths at the front of the North Hall, you get to the medium and smaller vendors in the middle and rear of the Hall. This area operates at a more relaxed pace, and it is a pleasant change from the frenzied ambience around the big booths. The smallest exhibitors are two-person booths, and they usually staffed by the company CEO’s and chief programmers. Sometimes, the same person is the CEO, chief programmer, cook and bottle-washer. The booths at the back of the North Hall are the only places I know where you can have a personal one-on-one product demo, a long discussion with a product’s programmer, and then buy it from the company President. In contrast, the big booths at the South Hall tend to be staffed by PR droids who can only spout the company line, and can’t or won’t talk in-depth about the product. It’s virtually impossible to talk with company movers and shakers at South Hall booths. Don’t even bother to try to get special information at mega-booths like Adobe, Apple, or Macromedia. Intimate access is the norm at the back of the North Hall!

Next up: the South Hall and the mega-booths.

Where do the 800-pound gorillas live? At the South Hall at Moscone Center.

The South Hall is big, bad, loud, crowded, loud, and the atmosphere is electric. It’s packed with attendees all the time. Bass-heavy music throbs from booth after after booth. Loudspeaker-equipped product demonstrators are like carnival barkers touting their exhibit; “C’mon in and try your hand at our handy-dandy new graphics application. It slices, it dices. It’ll change life as we know it.” Yeah, right. But people are queued up to try the wares.

The Apple booth (it’s so big that you can hardly call it a booth) is a high-powered electromagnet. Sooner or later, all intelligent life forms within 1000 yards are inexorably attracted to the Apple booth. The motif is white-on-white, with demo Macs on translucent white countertops lit from below. One long counter is all PowerBooks, with over 25 ‘Books to try, including the new 12″ and 17″ PowerBooks. The lines are longest at the 17″ PowerBooks. After waiting your turn, you can spend a few minutes with the new hardware, but you’ll feel the hot breath on the back of your neck of the person waiting behind you to caress the new hardware.

Apple has plenty of employees to answer questions, and if you stump the front-line workers, they can refer you to more knowledgeable employees. I was fortunate enough to discover a web page on my employer’s website that wouldn’t load correctly on the new Apple web browser “Safari.” The reason I was fortunate was that the Apple person watching over my shoulder was the Apple Internet Product Manager. Within 2 minutes, I was speaking with one the the Safari developers, who committed to working with me to get Safari able to correctly display this company web site!

Big vendors like Hewlett-Packard have expansive booths, with almost every Mac-compatible product on display. Poster-sized prints cover the walls, showing off their printers to best advantage. In contrast with the easy access to top brass in the North Hall booths, it took me 10 minutes and 5 staffers to talk to someone who could answer my question about the printer driver for my HP 750 PSC multi-function printer. I did get the right answer, but it was a bit of a struggle. At least I did not have to wade through the phone tree…

My free Macworld goodie bag got heavier and heavier as I picked up more literature, pens, and lapel buttons. Like most attendees, I go through the accumulated freebies at home each night, separating the wheat from the chaff. How many trees died for this Expo?

Leaving the South Hall after my two-hour tour is like coming down from a Starbucks coffee high; I’m wiped out from sensory overload. But I know that I must recover overnight, as I have more to see and do. Two hours in the South Hall covered only one third of the booths!

David Weeks

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