Macworld Sf 2004: Snooze-a-Thon or GarageBand Bash?

by Derrick Story

Some of us were talking last night about the lukewarm reviews that this Macworld has received. The whole conversation reminded me of some things I learned in art criticism back in college.



The difficult thing about judging art is that by definition it's usually different than anything else you've seen. So what I was taught to do is try to figure out the intention of the artist then evaluate how effectively he or she communicated that intention in the work. Of course you can add your personal views on the matter, but those views shouldn't be the only criteria in judging the art.



One of the reasons why I rarely lay heavy-handed criticism on a technology event is because I apply this same method to my reporting. (Good thing I'm not a political reporter, because I believe that those intentions are often misguided to begin with.) The other thing I try to bring to my reporting is experience from other recent events.



For example, if you want to talk about a conference that was a miserable failure, forget about Macworld and take a look at the recent Seybold in SF. The expo floor of past Seybolds once rivaled Macworld in size and intensity. This year's Seybold in SF sported a tiny, miserable expo, uninspiring sessions, and I can't even remember who spoke at the keynote. The intention was to redefine the conference into a different type of event from past Seybolds, but still retain the energy of the publishing industry. Those intentions did not manifest into a good performance. I couldn't stand being there.



This Macworld is a completely different animal. My belief is that much of the heavy-handed criticism stems from peoples' personal expectations not being met. For example, Apple or IDG never intended to unveil a $99 iPod. Those expectations were set by the rumor sites, not by the mother ship.



Plus, it's clear that Apple doesn't want to be constrained by tradeshow schedules for all of its announcements. I'm pretty sure Steve wants to roll out products in 2004 on his terms, not those of others. This should be an interesting year that way with surprise releases greeting us when we least expect it.



When you look at Macworld SF 04 and Apple for the coming year, consider taking a look at what their plan is, not our individual hopes or expectations. And then, at the end of this year we can evaluate how well Apple managed its resources and how well it satisfied its customers. If the plan doesn't work, surely there will be plenty of commentary articulating why.



One last note. I can tell you that it is very difficult right now to persuade technology companies to purchase expo space at tradeshows. Many are still tight-fisted with their expenditures and are not willing to spring for big booths with lavish giveaways. The companies that showed up and supported Mac platform this year deserve your attention. It's easy to ride the wave in good times. But the companies that made the commitment this year are serious about providing the products that we want and need.


26 Comments

anonymous2
2004-01-09 09:47:21
Less heard criticisms
I went to the expo and walked through it for four or five hours on Wednesday. I saw some cool stuff and was amazed at how much faster the new iPhoto is. I hope that you have an article telling us how Apple did it, Derrick. I'm really curious.


What struck me, though, was the absence of 20th anniversary celebrations. The modified 1984 ad concentrates on the iPod not on commemorating the Macintosh. It was left to Miscrosoft(!) to have a retrospective of Macs through the ages (running contemporaneous versions of Word and Excel, of course). Bigger events and announcements are probably due later in the year, I hope.


Also, one of the friends I went with is in education (K-12) and a long-time Apple fan. He was shocked at how little there was at this Macworld for the education market, and he even commented that Apple is no longer in that market.

derrick
2004-01-09 10:12:24
RE: Less heard criticisms
Good comments indeed.


I think it remains to be seen about the 20th anniversary celebrations. We very well could see more over the course of 2004. BTW: I thought the Microsoft display was cool and well done. I even photographed it.


As for education, I wouldn't go so far as to say that Apple is out of that market, but they seem to be approaching it differently than in the 90s. Lack of education vendors on the Expo floor is a different matter, and one that might be influenced by current economics.

anonymous2
2004-01-09 10:21:44
Major Opening
I hope that 2004 is the year that Mac re-invades the corporate and business markets. It has been a long. lonely haul to this point, but with the connectivity, WiFi advantages, speed, servers, reduced susceptibility to security issues and base acceptability in the continued commitment by MSFT, Steve and company have a real opportunity to pick up a few percentage points. I hope they turn just 10% of their attention in that direction.
anonymous2
2004-01-09 10:21:57
GarageBand - See It Before
I honestly can't understand why so many people are so excited by a low-end sequencer and arranger like GarageBand. Windows has had thse for years in the shape of Acid or MusicMaker, and while they have a niche they are not world-changing software. In fact, you can trace this software genre back to the old MOD trackers on the ancient Atari STs and Amigas of the 1980s.
anonymous2
2004-01-09 10:51:31
GarageBand - See It Before
The thing that makes Garageband exciting and potentially a huge hit is precisely because it's not just another one of those low end sequencers. Consider it the iTunes or iMovie of music creation. Those products already entered a populated market, it was how they worked that made the difference. Current offerings in this space still require quite a bit of knowledge of how to use a sequencer or how to use musical gear in general, the idea of Garageband is that you don't need any prior knowledge of recording/sequencing, and anyone can jump in and enjoy. This attitude of "jump in and compare a list of features" just shows that you don't really understand what the software is meant to be.
anonymous2
2004-01-09 10:52:02
Snake needs time to digest the pig
Last year was remarkable for the amount of new stuff from Apple-- I suspect that this year will be more 'snake digesting the pig' types of stuff where the concern is to make it all work better and refocus to where the market wants to go.
anonymous2
2004-01-09 10:59:51
Here, here!
Nicely said. That should teach rumor mongers to remember what a rumor really is.
derrick
2004-01-09 11:45:42
RE: Snake needs time to digest the pig
I think you're correct in that there will be lots of refinement in 2004. But, we are going to see some big announcements too. Count on it.
anonymous2
2004-01-09 13:32:08
Aye, Aye!
I couldn't agree more.


And to add a thought, in the past year or two Apple has found itself having to release things (that WE expect) at MacWorld because WE have come to expect it, not because it may, or may not be, best for Apple. For all us Mac faithful to exist and thrive, we need for Apple to grow and thrive, so Apple needs to be able to make releases when THEY want, to charge what THEY want for those products, and charge US for items we may have once received for free. That my friends is called "Business" - and why Apple exists, though I know WE think they exist to provide US with freebies!!

anonymous2
2004-01-09 13:46:49
GarageBand - See It Before
You nailed it! Success in business is often defined by the statement "Find a need and fill it." Apple has done that again and again. This time they're grabbing the need to be able to put all your digital life 'things' in one place and then access then immediately when you need them, and if you need then to look different for some reason, the ability to change them on the fly - no training or experience needed in most cases. Now add to that the facts Steve stated about there being a current musician in most households and you quickly see there's another need to be filled - since no-one I know is using the music creation software the prior author refers to, Apple is there with GarageBand - again, no training or experience needed. Translation? It WILL get used by a LOT of budding (and even professional) musicians who need it, but aren't finding it in the present marketplace...
anonymous2
2004-01-09 13:50:56
RE: Less heard criticisms

Yes, I believe Apple still has great presence at education-oriented conferences. For getting to education customers, it's more effective than to try to put on a major display at a general conference like MacWorld
jonblock
2004-01-09 16:10:34
RE: Less heard criticisms
Regarding the 20th anniversary celebrations, as well as any deferred product announcements: It strikes me that Apple is in a very different position now than they were two years ago, certainly as far as technology introductions go.


Back then, concentrating product announcements at major conferences were important, because the largest number of Mac faithful were gathered together at those times. This only happened a few times a year, and on a very predictable sechedule. The attendees needed an opportunity to see, touch and use the products right then, so they could take home some buzz and get others interested by strength of recommendations alone.


Now, most of us have Apple Stores within 15 minutes of our homes. Well, most Americans, anyway. All Apple has to do now is put out a press invitation, let the buzz grow, webcast Steve's presentation, and put early demonstration models of the products into the stores for everyone to go play with. With only some exaggeration, this turns the entire country into an Expo show floor with less than a week's notice.


I, for one, would be much happier with some significant in-store parties honoring the anniversary than I would with a bigger party at a trade show I couldn't attend because it was half a continent away.


Hmmmm... Product Introductions for The Rest Of Us?

anonymous2
2004-01-10 06:16:55
Less heard criticisms
Well, I am bit proud that Apple despite having their major large show, still spend quite some marketing muscle at BETT in England at the same time.
joshuawait
2004-01-10 07:34:53
Expectations and disappointments
Derrick makes a great observation. It's difficult to grasp the creative efforts of another person or group by simply using one's own aesthetic preferences.


I also think he made a great observation about the companies and the staff who attended MacWorld. I met a lot of well informed, incredibly helpful people at the show--including the O'Reilly staff.


I think Steve Jobs and the staff at Apple have made some creative moves in positioning their various products for their target audiences. Perhaps the disappointment with MacWorld outlines the kind people who attend an Apple technology event. Perhaps attendees wanted new tricked out G5s or an inexpensive iPod--not a cute new iPod that works as a fashion accessory.


On a different but related note, I spoke with an Apple rep about the pricing for the iPod mini. He made the observation that it's expensive to produce such a small unit as I'm sure we're all aware. While his observation is true, it's not what I wanted. I simply won't pay more than $100-$150 for an iPod. I guess I will have to wait another year for the iPod to hit that sweet spot.

anonymous2
2004-01-10 13:08:49
RE: Less heard criticisms
I forgot to take a picture of that! Damn, do you think you could send me your picture? Or if seombody else have a good picture of that. High resolution, not a web picture
conny@mac.com
derrick
2004-01-10 22:19:48
RE: Expectations and disappointments
Yes, definitely the iPod mini will drift toward a sweeter spot during 2004. Plus, if Apple can cut more deals like the recent one with HP, then we all might be enjoying the fruits of increased production numbers.
derrick
2004-01-10 22:28:09
RE: Major Opening
I think serving business better on both sides of the firewall is part of the current Apple plan. The parts of Steve's keynote that addressed this area -- MS Office 2004, Xserve G5, Xserve RAID, Mac OS X Server, Virginia Tech Supercluster -- were the very things that many commented on as boring. But to me it's not boring to watch a solid business plan come together.


For example, did you know that the rights for the name "GarageBand" were attained a couple years ago before the Apple music thing became a big deal? These guys are planning ahead in a big way. And there's lots more to come.

dsteinberg
2004-01-11 06:35:10
Education
I strongly disagree that Education was ignored at this MacWorld.


- I think GarageBand is a great app for education. The old music minus one recordings where a violinist would play along with a recording that had everything but the violin can come alive in future versions of this app. There are much potential for third parties to use GarageBand as the foundation for an app to teach an instrument.


There was a keynote iDVD announcement that was directly responsive to education. In a classroom where not every computer has a DVD burner you will be able to build your DVDs on any of the machines and move it to the burning machine. This also allows education customers to plan their buying this way and to buy lower priced machines and only one with a super drive.


In general, the iApps are all about education. Granted you need districts that can afford new machines - but Steve made it clear that iLife comes with all new Macs. I think this is a big differentiator when you are trying to sell a school system on Macs vs PCs. That's a big Education announcement. Just because these markets aren't called out explicitly when announcements are made, doesn't mean that they aren't important to that community. For example, for Higher Ed, the much ignored XGrid beta release is a very nice Science offering.


As a former (and now occasional) educator, I saw a lot of news for education.


D

javester
2004-01-11 07:05:23
Wait until the 24th...
I'm surprised there is no coverage on this. Its right there on the revamped 1984 commercial!
A 20th anniversary Mac? A FlashPod?
derrick
2004-01-11 08:56:03
Re: Wait until the 24th...
You've raised a good point. And I agree, I'm surprised that more people aren't writing about what they think Apple is going to do for the Superbowl. Obviously, if they have something cool planned, that's a much bigger audience than Macworld. We'll find out soon!
anonymous2
2004-01-12 06:29:29
RE: Major Opening
GarageBand was registered (trademark-wise) in August 2003:


http://www.macrumors.com/pages/2003/09/20030914034831.shtml


The deal with Garageband.com was inked in April 2003:


anonymous2
2004-01-12 15:43:02
Adobe presence?
Derrick, was there any Adobe presence at MacWorld Expo at all?
Thanks.
derrick
2004-01-12 23:56:32
RE: Adobe presence?
Yes, Adobe had a solid presence and was packing them in for its onfloor demos. The booth itself wasn't as gigantic as in years past, but nobody's was this year except for Apple. There was a lot of energy around the Adobe area, as well as FileMaker, Canon, and many of the other majors.
anonymous2
2004-01-13 03:19:08
Not disappointed at all
Derrick, thanks for a great and balanced commentary, as usual. While we all like to see more revolutionary products from Apple, let's not forget things like Xserve G5 / iPod Mini / GarageBand / Xgrid are pretty exciting by any standard, and I am sure there will be some nice surprises in the coming weeks.


The idea of $99 iPod is absurd, when 256 MB MP3 players cost $199 on the market. For some strange reason, it has become fashionable lately to expect Apple delivering superior products for lower cost than lesser brand. For instance, there was a third party announced a 4 GB jukebox for $249 just a day before Macworld Expo, and the new Sony 1 GB MiniDisc player starts at $199, but nobody in the media complained about the cost.


Apple has the best HD based MP3 player on the market, and all top 3 jukebox best sellers are iPod models on Amazon, so obviously consumers don't think iPod is too expensive. The iPod Mini is better than the regular iPod in many ways except the capacity, but it's not shipped until February. The Mini price will probably drop below $200 within 6 months or so and sell like crazy, but it just doesn't make any business sense to have the low price now, which would harm the current iPod sale.

anonymous2
2004-01-13 03:37:07
Not disappointed at all
Personally, I would like to see iPod models with 1GB / $99, 2 GB / $149, 4 GB / $199, 8 GB / $249, 15 GB / $299, 20 GB / $349, 30 GB / $399, 40GB / $449, 60 GB / $499, all with colors and the Mini style. That could kick all the competition out of the top 10 best sellers all together.
anonymous2
2004-01-19 11:54:42
RE: Less heard criticisms
I don't think that Apple will actually have anything earth-shattering for the 20th anniversary of the Macintosh. For the 20th anniversary of the company, they had a few articles and interviews with early employees and users about the company and their products.


That, of course, would start a whole new list of nay-sayers taking turns beating the dead horse of Apple bashing.