Macworld: Trade show? Nah. Apple 'lifestyle' event.

Macworld is coming into its own after Apple pulled out three years ago. The new Macworld is smaller, consumer oriented, and inspirational.

Ben Margot/AP
Attendees of the Macworld iWorld expo congregate on the convention floor on Thursday in San Francisco.

Macworld Expo, a once powerful Mac tradeshow, is getting new life as smaller event for Apple consumers and fans. The revamped three-day event, now called Macworld | iWorld, is taking place this week in San Francisco.

“We took a little Comic Con, we took a little South by Southwest, and then added our own kind of special flavors,” said general manager Paul Kent. “It’s product discovery on the show floor, learning in our tech talks, and then there’s this concept of inspiration. People come here to see what cool stuff people are doing with this technology.”

There are two floors of product booths, classes, art installations, and various “infotainment” options that attempt to appeal to casual Apple fans. The main show floor is filled with lively demos, such as a skier and a snowboarder on a trampoline promoting sports headphones. There’s a greater-than-usual amount of booth babes mingling with Apple fans of all ages and backgrounds. And upstairs in the “Macworld Midway” area, a DJ spins music that can only be heard on headphones.

To stay relevant, the show is aiming younger: hipster band Modest Mouse played the opening party and South Park Studios (the cartoon guys, not the San Francisco startup zone) has a big presence. In order to draw in the geek-on-the-street, Macworld/iWorld dropped the price of advance tickets from $300 to $75.

Official numbers won’t be released until after the event, but Kent says attendance is up, 20 percent of pre-registrations were first-timers, and there are 10 percent more exhibitors than last year. Presenters say the classes and panels have had better attendance than in years past.

Of the 300 exhibitors, nearly half are Mac and mobile app developers. As the addition of “iWorld” to the name indicates, organizers recognized mobile is taking over and sought out independent mobile developers. iPhone and iPad apps and accessories dominate the show floor.

The shift in focus to what Kent calls a “hardcore consumer lifestyle event” wasn’t a choice, but an attempt to recover from Apple’s not-so-amicable departure. The company pulled out of the show completely three years ago, after unveiling the first iPhone at Macworld Expo in 2007. The IDG World Expo group, owned by IDG, immediately lost a lot of other big name companies and had to scramble for a plan B.

Macworld Expo’s first year without Apple felt like it would be the last — the space was too big for the small number of booths and attendees, every-other exhibitor was slinging cheap iPhone cases, and the biggest topic of conversation was Apple’s departure. The next year was slightly better, helped by a great schedule of classes and talks. But as with any break-up, it seems time was needed to heal, and this year it seems like the show is doing all right, all by itself.

See also:

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Why we need to put the “run” back into Java

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