Macworld San Francisco 2004 Report – The Rubin Report

Since John and I have taken different approaches to the conference, I thought I would drop a few notes on what I see, and don’t see here at Macworld, and also a few overheard comments in and around the conference.

Only in California: Or maybe, only around Macintosh? I live in Oakland, CA, right across the large pond from San Francisco. As anyone familiar with the area will tell you, driving the 12 miles from my home in Oakland to downtown SF can take over an hour (on a good day) and even longer to make the same trip home. Driving out of the downtown convention area at 6 PM is hell; you are lucky to get 1 block every 10 minutes. So I take BART, the Bay Area Rapid Transit system, which is only a few miles from my home and a short 3-block walk to the convention center.

Now first off, not to sound sexist, I should describe Macworld demographics on the floor. To be blunt, the crowd is mostly men of all ages, tilting heavily in the 20 to 40 year range, and a scattering of woman as well, but not nearly as many. Macworld is a total “nerd fest” for Mac lovers of all kind, but mostly young guys. So today, while riding the crowded BART train to the convention, I overheard two women talking right behind me: “well I considered the G5, but I am not sure it is compatible with all my software.” “Well, my friend trades in her Power Book when it reaches half its original value.” “the school needs some new Macs in the lab.” “so I think I will get a new G4 PowerBook or iBook because I love the power.” “so I like to get a new Macintosh ever 18 months or so to keep up with the latest hardware” and on and on for the entire 35 minute ride, a long, power user discussion.

So I had to turn around to see where this was coming from. These woman looked to be in their mid to late forties, and told me they were school teachers. As the train rolled into the station for the convention center, they stood up. So I asked, “Are you going to Macworld?” “Oh sure” came the response, “We were there yesterday, would not miss it again. After all, we have lots of cool new toys to buy today!” I can’t imagine this happening anywhere else, much less with any other computer. But it is exactly why I love the Mac!

“What have you liked so far?” I asked them. “Well, not much. Apple’s new stuff is disappointing, the new iPod is too expensive, and no one has anything really new and cool! We’ve been to better shows!”

The Bottom Line: And that about sums it but for me as well. There is no THERE here! This show is considerably smaller than the past, and looks more like “maintenance mode” for most companies. Many upgrades, fixes, and repairs, but where is all the cool, new things I expect to be introduced at Macworld? They are not here!

OK, GarageBand is cool and new, but hardly earth shattering, especially for Apple. But there were many grumbles from people on the floor (and some off too!) that many of the previously free iapps are no longer free. While I understand this upsets many, $49 for iLife, a collection of some very cool software is an incredible bargain, and hardly breaks the bank. And they still are free if you buy a new machine.

And the comments are mixed for sure on the “cheaper” iPod. I too have mixed feelings actually. On one hand, I never quite understood why I would want, or need to carry around 10 GB, much less 30 GB of music with me. It always seemed like overkill. And the idea that I have a moving, running hard disk in my pocket getting banged about seemed crazy to me as well. Several disk recovery companies tell me that they that get calls about “crashed” iPods many times a week. Come on people, it’s a hard disk, not exactly friendly to shock and vibration. So the idea of a solid-state machine, somewhat smaller, longer battery life, and more durable really appeals to me. But they missed the price point completely. $50 is not a big enough difference to draw in new customers who thought the iPod was too expensive. If you can spend $249, you can stretch to $299 for the big brother. And while it is solid state, the average user could care less, and does not even consider it an issue. This device should have retailed for $199, EVEN if it meant it sold with half the memory capacity. That would make it a killer product. As it stands, while I think a great product idea, will probably not do as well until it sheds another $50. Maybe an iPodMini2 next year? I would be quite happy with a 2 GB, 500-song version of the iPod for $199.

Out in the floor: So unlike Nemo, I decided to simply scour the floor for the new and cool. As the owner of a new 17” PowerBook, I was particularly interested in a way to carry it around, so my sights were on cases of all kinds. And the first I came across was Timbuk2 Designs, Inc. Mark Dwight, CEO gave me the tour of some very cool cases. This is a local company to San Francisco, and much of his product is made right here in the US, which I also liked. Very high quality product, I carried one around to see how it fit. Look for a full review on this and other cases from my in the near future. I like it, and it holds my Powerbook quite safely, but I found it got uncomfortable fast. I was surprised that it did not come with a padded shoulder strap, so I went back to their booth the next day. I discovered that a padded shoulder strap is an optional, add-on additional purchase to this and all their bags, which I feel is unforgivable. When you pay this much for a bag guys, toss in the padded strap for free! This bag, a 17” Powerbook, water, and some paper weigh in near 12 pounds. You would think the strap would come ready to handle that!

I was also very impressed with bags from Brenthaven as well (which INCLUDE a wide, padded, non-slip shoulder strap.) These are designed “exclusively” for Apple, and are only available from Apple and Apple resellers. They have a large array of bags for just about every machine and configuration. As soon as I get the chance to carry my 17” in one of these for a week, I will let you know more about them as well, but so far, people I have spoken with rank these as the best there is for carrying a portable machine.

Software: Again, nothing much to get excited about. Microsoft did not really display anything new, except the latest upgrade to Virtual PC (6.1), which basically changes the name on the screen. Virtual PC 7, promised to be on the floor did not make an appearance. However, this new version is said to be G5 compatible, which, understanding the complexities of the G5 was not an easy trick.

Aladdin Systems continues its bundle release strategy with “The Big Mix”, a package of nine audio and music programs. About $230 dollars worth to be exact, all for $99. It includes Audio Hijack, Disco, Goggiebox, GrooveMaker LE, iPodRip, iTunes Publisher, Making More Music, MP3 Rage, and Spark LE. Like other Aladdin bundles, 1 registration and 1 install get you the whole package at an incredible bargain, and with GarageBand from Apple, these apps should play well together. Again, look for more on this when I get the chance to play with them for a while.

Intuit was showing off Quicken 2004 and Turbo Tax. Nothing ground breaking here either, and not enough reasons for a 2003 to 2004 upgrade in my opinion. Plus, if you are like me and track a good number of stocks in Quicken, a bug that has plagued the last 3 or 4 versions is now fixed. That is the good news. The bad news is that Intuit has left the fix up to you, and you must enter almost all your stock purchases and sales into Quicken again, by hand, TWICE for each! Sorry Intuit, but this is unforgivable. In my case, I cannot upgrade because it will take me months to do this, and they offer no script or program to fix my data file. I hope to see this oversight fixed soon, or they will leave a lot of customers behind at 2003! As for QuickBooks Pro, I did not get a look, but understand that this project also sports some new features as well.

Now Up-To-Date and Contact have a new, OS-10 compatible release, and now include Palm Syncing. There are still some holes in syncing to other important Macintosh apps, but Now says that this will be fixed really soon.

Dantz showed off Retrospect 6.0, and the best backup solution to ever hit the Macintosh and PC world just got even better. With version for single users and corporate accounts alike, this is one amazing piece of software, with the ability to back up to the largest number of devices I have ever seen, including other hard disks, tape, CD-R, DVD-R, network drives and now fiber channel tape libraries and Xserver raids. Gone is the terabyte limit to the size of the volume, so large data servers are now covered. Its easy to use GUI makes backups a snap, and the incremental backups keep the backup data up-to-date without getting large, fast. Look for more on this product later as well.

Netopia introduced a new version of Timbuktu for the Mac. While not a major update, there were some significant design and GUI changes. And of particular importance to people behind a firewall, support for multiple ports on a single IP address are now handled properly, which means you can now connect to machines behind a firewall by specifying the IP address and port number the forwarding IP in your router. More features for remote administration were also added, including the ability to get the Apple System Profile from a remote machine sent to your machine. More on this later.

Hidden way in the back was a small company called Mark/space, with a set of Sync tools for the Mac that seem to be otherwise missing! Sony Clie users now have a cheap ($29.95) sync solution for the Mac. They also have solutions for Pocket PC, Hiptop, PalmOS, and Garmin iQue. Expect additional solutions from this small software company in the future. (

Toys: Not so much in the toy market this time. But my favorite toy item at the show was a product by Slim Devices called Squeezebox. For $299 (wireless) or $249 (Ethernet), this small device simply connects to the back of your stereo and your network. After a bit of set up, it access your iTunes library of music on your Macintosh Computer and makes songs and play lists available to your stereo system! This small, remote controlled device brings your music from your Mac to your stereo without having to bring your Macintosh to your stereo. The fairly easy to use, 2 text line interface makes selecting music a snap at the device, but even more cool, any web browser on any machine may also access these devices and remotely control what music is pushed to the device as well. I saw 10 of these sold in the short 5 minutes I was standing at their booth. The only gotcha is that music purchased via the Apple Music Store cannot yet play on this device because of Apple’s DRM. Still, this product is going to be hot!

Well, that’s it for now. More from me as I go through my notes and start reviewing some of these products.

-Owen Rubin-

Leave a Reply