A lament for the end of Macworld Expo

On Tuesday IDG World Expo (the trade show business unit of the same company that owns Macworld.com) announced that it was putting Macworld/iWorld — the show formerly known as Macworld Expo — on hiatus. Given that the printed magazine just saw its last issue distributed, I'm not surprised, but I am sad that it's come to this.

Macworld Expo had one hell of a run. It started in 1985, the year after Apple introduced the Macintosh itself. For many years, it was the central event for Macintosh users, IT professionals and others who used and supported Macs. Long after other computer industry shows like Comdex went the way of all flesh, Macworld Expo continued onward.

Macworld Expo was originally semiannual — it happened in January in San Francisco, then happened again on the east coast during the summer months. For many years the east coast event was located in Boston. That was my first experience with it: back in the early 1990s I worked for a Cambridge, MA-based Mac software developer doing tech support, and was asked to help man the booth.

It was a revelation. Macworld Expo in the 1990s was part technology fair, part Disneyland, part bazaar. You had to work hard to stay up to date about what was happening in technology. I did my best, scouring whatever Mac-centric magazines and periodicals I could find, but I always learned a lot going to Macworlds, and inevitably found new stuff I'd never heard of before.

You could get great deals at Macworld Expo — vendors were anxious to offset the expense of exhibiting at the event by selling their products in volume, often at steep discounts. And they had giveaways too. Rare were the attendees who didn't totter home or back to the office with bags swollen with cheap gear, software and tchochkes.

But beside the great stuff you could get at Macworld Expo, the event was always about the people. It was a place for user groups to get re-energized and reinvigorated. It was a place where I could rub shoulders with people who lived, breathed and ate this technology like I did. People whose bylines I'd read in magazines. People I treated as celebrities: The developers and creators of technology that I used or wanted to use, people who made the things that made my life so much better.

And there were legendary parties. Vendors spared no expense to impress buyers and industry VIPs. Apple spent huge amounts of money at its Macworld Expo developer parties, with free-flowing booze and headline entertainment featuring popular rock bands.

The show evolved a lot and changed over the years. Through Apple's darkest days, before Steve Jobs turned it around, Macworld Expo was a light in the darkness for many of us who supported the Mac in our jobs and depended on the technology, despite the growing sense outside the industry that Apple's best days were behind it forever.

Boy, were they wrong.

Steve Jobs ended up using his time on the keynote stages at Macworld Expo to roll out many of Apple's most influential, beloved products. The iBook made its debut on a Macworld stage. iTunes. The PowerBook G4. The Mac mini. The MacBook Air. The iPhone.

Eventually that east coast show that introduced me to Macworld Expo ended — it moved from Boston to New York, and when IDG World Expo moved it back again several years later, Apple decided to pull up stakes. Many other vendors did too. In 2009, Apple decided to pull out of future Macworld Expo events too.

That might have killed the show right there, but Macworld Expo stayed alive, though the expo hall itself shrank and the focus became less on vendor participation and more on conferences and events.

Over the past few years, as the show itself shrunk, there was one bright area: the MacIT conference track, which attracted great luminaries to discuss technology and best practices from the standpoint of working in IT with Apple technology - supporting it, using it, and getting the most out of it.

It's little wonder, then, that IDG World Expo announced that MacIT will continue, separate from Macworld/iWorld. I wish it success, and I hope it continues long into the future.

I attended this year's Macworld/iWorld show (Rene and I were both there, if the photographic evidence above doesn't prove it), and it was still a lot of fun, though it had changed. The scale had ratcheted down dramatically. But what hadn't changed is that it was a gathering of the tribe — a place where many of us went just to see each other in the flesh, to chat about the things that made this technology special, to be part of a community.

I hope that IDG World Expo finds a way to make Macworld/iWorld happen again. But if it doesn't, that's the part that I'll miss the most: The community. Not the parties, not the swag, not the vendors hawking their wares.

For many of us, Macworld/iWorld was a homecoming. And things won't be the same without it.

  • A dram in its honor. Expo was where I met most of my friends and colleagues in this arena, and I'm sad to see it go.
  • Great article, Peter.
  • good read
  • The last "real" MWSF, for me, was in 2009.
    That was Apple's last appearance at the show. And speaking of farewells, Cingleton ended up being just a Tripleton.
  • Great story Peter. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • I had the opportunity to go iWorld only once and hoped to go back again. I'm really sorry to hear it's being shelved. I hope it can happen again. As others have stated above, thanks Peter.
  • Peter, great article, it was always about the people. I attended 2 Boston shows and more than 10 SF. I saw keynotes with Steve Jobs. I saw presentations with users, developers and luminaries. I especially remember a panel about technology and use with Sir Douglas Adams, Kai Kruse, Herbie Hancock and others. This was followed by a "Mac Masters" group that included Muhammad Ali. Wow. I will miss it.
  • Really well written, Peter - you summed it up! I feel fortunate I was able to experience that fun and community you mention, if only a couple of times. It was a blast to be surrounded by so many like-minded souls. Sent from the iMore App
  • This comment is pretty late but I still feel the need to post. In a lot of areas--and I live in the San Francisco Bay Area--we have virtually no access to the products we want or salespeople that know anything about the products. Best Buy and Fry’s are virtually worthless and even the Apple Stores provide only limited information. It’s not necessarily the Apple products themselves but products by others for Macheads like us that we’re interested in learning more about. Printers, cameras, hard drives, cables, software--how are we supposed to learn about these products, how are we supposed to ask the questions we need answered and how are we to even learn that these products exist without trade shows like MacWorld? In recent years the MacWorld Expos stopped being about Macs and were really just iPhone and iPad accessory shows. Some of us still use our Macs as computers and we want to know more. We want to speak to the Microsoft people to either ask questions or to tell them that they’re going in the wrong direction. We want to speak to the Adobe people, the printer and scanner people and those quirky vendors that come up with the really cool stuff. One of the things that helped bring the Expo down--aside from Apple making the monumentally stupid decision to disassociate themselves from the opportunity to showcase their wares--was the failure of the tech people from the vendors to actually talk to their potential customers. All too frequently we’d see them ignoring the customers so they could talk to fellow techies from other companies. And all too often I’d go by a booth and have zero idea what their product was supposed to do. Their marketing people just assumed that everyone knew about their company, what their products were and what they did--WRONG. When the Expo first came around back in the 80’s I would often spend all day at the Expo and even return a second day. Near the end I would spend maybe an hour and only because it was so difficult to get around some of the people blocking the aisles, the crowds at a booth were too heavy or it was too difficult to get the attention of the company rep. Nonetheless, many of us will miss the Expo. I always learned a lot and often found products totally unknown to me before.