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Thursday, January 8, 2009

Rabbits' ears, dragons' eyes, and more from Macworld

SAN FRANCISCO -- The mood at Macworld this week is upbeat and professional. While it's clear that Macworld-without-Apple will be a different event in 2010, it's now seeming likely that "different" may be quite good.

The conference organizers, IDG, have definitely set the tone by putting on a 2009 Macworld that is possibly the best run Expo in years. For the first time, AT&T phone reception for iPhones, and WiFi for a variety of devices, is available throughout the facility. (Phone reception and WiFi not just a frill -- I wasted far too much time at last year's Macworld traipsing upstairs and outside of Moscone several times a day to leave/get voicemail messages for/from people I was trying to connect with inside the hall.)

This year's registration (online and onsite) was quick and smooth, and the food offerings, while pricey as usual, offered quality and variety (including Peets coffee). Paul Kent, one of the IDG honchos, made great use of Twitter to provide Macworld news (and, likely, to monitor conferees' reactions). (How this guy also had energy to perform with his rock band at Macworld parties at night is beyond me.)

This year's silliness quotient was filled by Peachpit Press, which gave out full-size pink and white bunny ears to advertise their Moxie series. It's truly amazing how idiotic people look in business casual and bunny ears, and how many people were willing to wear the headgear. It became clear that either the geek crowd has no fashion sense, or the Moscone Convention Center has too few mirrors.

It seems as though the creation of the iPhone apps store has revitalized the third-party developer scene, opening the door to the low-budget creative developers who once made the Mac platform so exciting. The iPhone and iPod accessories vendors are out in force, and so are the major manufacturers of cameras and high-quality printers.

My "must have" discovery at Macworld this year is something called the Dragon Eye webcam, from the folks at S&D, who offered the futuristic and whimsical Dragon i video and music stations for the iPod. The Dragon Eye is a flexible, rotating USB webcam for a laptop that is, as far as I can tell, the only webcam of its type with adjustable LED lighting. I'd do quite a bit more video casting if my office webcam didn't have me looking like a shadowy burgler caught on bank security camera. Unfortunately, the Dragon Eye is not yet distributed in the U.S.

Which brings me to the story of the videocast that put me on the other side of the camera. About 40 minutes after arriving at Macworld Tuesday morning, I ran into Steve Sande, author of Take Control of iWeb. He was doing coverage of the Expo Hall for AOL weblogs, which is apparently part of The Unofficial Apple Weblog, better know as TUAW. A friend and I yakked with Steve at some length, and were rather surprised to find a few hours later that the whole interview, which had some decidely zany moments, was up on the TUAW site.

In the next 48 hours, I heard from half a dozen folks I hadn't talked with in years, some of whom I'd had no idea were even interested in Apple coverage.

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