The Mystique of the Mac, MacWorld Expo, and Evolution.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs addresses the crowd
Apple CEO Steve Jobs addresses the crowd

This week marks the last MacWorld Expo that will be attended by Apple. Steve Jobs did not deliver the keynote address. For many people, this signals the end of an era, and for them, I guess it is. I would propose, however, that it is merely the end of one chapter and the beginning of another in the ongoing arena of personal computer use.

Apple has evolved. It attracts more people to its stores on a daily basis than dozens of MacWorld Expos. As professionals that rely on the tools that we use to help our clients, isn’t this an opportunity for the MacWorld Expo to evolve as well?

Paul Kent, the GM at IDG who runs the MacWorld Expo is a pretty smart person. Although we haven’t spent any time together during the past two years, I’ve known Paul for more than a decade and he has always been about education, evolution and guitars. In my book, that’s a winning combination! Prior to running the overall show for IDG, he was responsible, via his own company, for the conference and seminars. I would guess that Paul might have a clue about what comes next, and something likely will, even if it is completely remade – new name, new place, etc.

There is a place in the world for a Mac-specific trade show. In fact, there are probably several of them, but in today’s world, the niche value is what’s important to those of us who use the tools. For example, we use Mac technology for our video post production work. So, a show that is specific to the Mac relative to video would be of interest. And even more so because of the Mac itself.

The Mac represents more than a tool, which is why some people don’t care for it. It represents style. Class. Elegance. And, Apple has been smart – they’ve moved away from direct PC comparisons, such as processor performance, to keep the mystique of the Mac in the forefront. And, I think it works.

I was an exhibitor at the very first Macworld, in 1984. It was not at Moscone, as it has been for more than a decade, but at a smaller venue near city hall – and it was underground. Literally. The booths were mostly pipe and drape, with some carpet thrown in. Most were ten by ten or ten by twenty. And the innovations that were being shown were all about things like “desktop publishing.” So, the people who were attending were interested in low-cost productivity tools that related to printing, design, newsletters, etc. Today, my mother-in-law is snapping photos with her digital camera, ingesting them into iPhoto, making books, slideshows, etc. It’s just part of how she communicates with her children and grandchildren.

The last MacWorld I attended was two years ago. In between, I didn’t miss one. As an Apple vendor and developer, we often had software before the public did. We often had the hardware prior to public release, or knew about it. And, in many cases, our input, along with many other Apple vendors, developers, and designers was important to the product that was being created.

So, why go to the show? There was no way I’d stay away, particularly after Steve Jobs came back to the company. In 1996, Apple was on the verge of dying. Wired put out an issue (I still have it) of an Apple logo (the old multi-colored one) with a thorns around it and the title, “Pray!” The media had written Apple off. Many of my peers as well.

Steve Jobs knew the potential that existed within the company. He was extremely shrewd about it – and that’s something many people forget. And he recognized the evolution of our social environment from an analog world to a digital one. And so, every year, he would propel Apple forward, using MacWorld and special events to generate mystique, hype, and energy around a product line that had been given up for dead. Equally important, he made certain that the products offered worked. They had to work. And, after a bit, they were not only competitive again, they began to chew away and absorb big chuncks of the markets they were sold into.

Each MacWorld Expo was a chance to see Jobs speak, and many of us thought each speech would be the last one. After all, when he returned, he coined the “iCEO” term, meaning he was at that time the interim CEO. He wasn’t planning on staying. In those days, he used to end his presentations with, “oh, and one last thing…” and it would be the show’s bombshell. The big deal. I’ll never forget the 2000 Macworld, when he said, “oh, and one last thing… I like what I’m doing, so I’m going to stay.” There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. And all of this for the CEO of a computer company. By the way, his salary was $1 per year. That wasn’t his total compensation, but it was his salary.

Imagine taking that type of enthusiasm and energy and applying it to the auto industry. Does any automotive CEO have that panache? Perhaps Dieter Zetsche of Mercedes Benz, but only to the industry – his TV ads never really helped the company move forward, at least in the USA. And it’s a lesson we can all learn from. In these times, we all need to focus on what is possible. What can be done? What will people react to?

We use Macs because they help us get our work done faster, more efficiently, and with better collaboration. We also use PCs for various things, but not for our personal workstations. Hey, I use an iPhone instead of a Mac for a lot of things these days. But, I do enjoy the mystique of the Mac. I hope that sticks around for a bit.

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