Wrapping up Macworld/iWorld 2013, and looking ahead to 2014

Sections: Apple News, Conferences, Macworld

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Another Macworld/iWorld has come and gone (be sure to check out our photo gallery which includes, no joke, a picture of a monkey on the show floor), complete with the drum circle that seems to be the new official end ceremony. Throughout the expo there were several companies with some incredible products—be sure to check out our full coverage from the show—but there were also some very interesting overarching themes.

Changin’ with the Times

Apple officially exited Macworld after 2009, and with them lots of the big name exhibitors and their corresponding new product launches. At repeated booth interviews we heard, “We just launched this at CES.” Given that Apple is now a consumer electronics company first, the target audiences of both shows overlap to a great degree. Both shows are also in January, so it’s unlikely Macworld could draw a big enough audience to justify the expense of a big booth for many vendors.

In addition to the dearth of big new announcements, there were numerous accessory vendors featuring products for both iOS devices and Android devices (mainly Samsung), as well as developers showing off apps that are also available for Android. Given that Apple has taken a 20% market share for shipping computers (counting Macs and iPads) in the post-PC world, perhaps a name change to just iWorld Expo for next year is in order, representing the truly diminished status of the Mac?

Many have opined that the show had an air like a flea market or bazaar; there was kvetching about the focus on sales at the show rather than big product announcements, and an oft-repeated refrain was, “There are too many iPhone cases!” This is unfair for two reasons:

  1. It really doen’t make sense for companies to chain themselves to a release cycle dictated by an external show (even Microsoft exited CES).
  2. What has filled in the gap left by the lack of a Stevenote (nothing could ever truly replace it) is a spectacular array of entrepreneurial ideas. So many of the products on the show floor were either launched as Kickstarter campaigns (like the Slope stand, this year’s greatly-expanded ōlloclip presence, or the Mauz sensor that turns your iPhone into a mouse, control panel, and Kinect device), or come from small garage-tinkerers like the Bowblade and Square Jellyfish.

Yes the expo has changed, and yes there certainly were lots of iPhone cases present, but it’s changing to reflect a new reality: Apple’s iDevice ecosystem is maturing into a massive startup hotspot, and that’s an incredible thing! It’s inconsistent to be an Apple fan and decry the forces of creative destruction.

Internet of Things

There was a consistent theme among the non case-related products being shown at Macworld, and that was a consistent focus on embedding intelligence in a greater array of devices. Apple really paved the way for sensors in everyday devices (they certainly didn’t invent the gyroscope or ambient light sensor), while smartphone platforms have finally reached a critical mass for integrating things like home automation with existing devices. Prior to the iPhone, home automation was usually clunky, always expensive, and required massive disruption to run cables/wire everything in the house into a control panel. Now, small WiFi chipsets/sensors/cameras embedded into everyday objects like lightbulbs, thermostats, and iPhone accessories are transforming the way we control our homes.

Want to turn on all the lights or cool down the AC? Why run around flipping switches when Crestron was showing an app that gives you a single control panel for lighting, climate, and other systems  in your whole house? Belkin was showing off their WeMo line of WiFi-enabled plugs and motion sensors, that let you easily control any electronic device in your house from an app or make them motion-activated, with no extra wires required. You can even be in two places at once, as the app-enabled Double Robotics folks showed us with their iPad telepresence robot.

Productive, Not Sexy

Many of the products at this year’s expo were less about sex appeal and more about truly useful solutions, like the Fujitsu iX500. More services are offering app-enabled or online experiences, like banking or insurance, but let’s face it; everybody still gets some paper with important information. Going paperless may not be as hot a topic as the move to gestural computing, but it solves a very basic need, and the iX500 combined with Fujitsu’s ScanSnap Connect app certainly made for an impressive demo. Unlike scanning in the past, which involved tedious settings and lots of work, the app+scanner combo provides a simple two-step operation: insert documents (up to 25 at a time), and press scan. From there, scanned documents are stored on your mobile devices and can be sent to cloud storage like Evernote or SugarSync—and best of all, they’re automatically searchable!

Once your whole life is digital, the issue of data backup and retrieval becomes much more important. Again, not a particularly sexy topic, but there were several backup solution exhibitors including Crashplan (who had an inanely cool booth), as well as cloud service provider SugarSync. For those with security or privacy concerns, there were even exhibitors showing products designed to let you create your own personal cloud, like Connected Data’s Transporter, which uses your own storage and internet connection to let you share files on your network or across the internet without using a third party’s storage infrastructure.

Overall, Macworld/iWorld 2013 had an incredible vibe, and the show floor was definitely packed. The show is certainly changing from what it was, so nostalgia is inevitable. Next year the show will include two weekend days, further emphasizing the role of consumer electronics and the consumer focus the show now has (more everyday folks can attend on a weekend rather than taking a day off from work/school).

Stay tuned to Appletell for additional coverage of everything we saw and picked up for review at this year’s expo, and be sure to check out more Macworld/iWorld news at AppleTell.

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