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Why worry about the death of Apple Expo?

If past UK shows are anything to go by, it's good news

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Opinion The hoo-hah over Apple's decision to abandon the UK's Apple Expo 2000 to focus all its attention on the Paris-hosted show is understandable but ignores one key issue: for the last five years Britain's premier (because it's the only one) Mac event has been decidedly lacklustre. Shows have their good times and their bad -- last year's MacWorld Expo in New York is perhaps a case in point -- but the London event has almost always failed to ignite the excitement of the island's many Mac fans. Even in its better years, Apple Expo UK lacked the buzz that visitors get from, say, each January's MacWorld Expo in San Francisco. Reading through former Apple Expo sales manager Faye Moss' open letter to Steve Jobs, you could be forgiven for thinking that everything has changed. In particular, Ms Moss frequently champions just how exciting, successful and well-attended the show is set (my italics) to be. Well, call me a cynic, but while she may be right, that's no recommendation -- indeed, after last year's dismal effort, it couldn't be any worse. Ms Moss apparently worked on the last four Apple Expos. I've attended all of those and plenty of others besides, and I find it very hard to share her optimism. I do share some of her sympathy for the shows exhibitors, and to be fair, there has been some improvement here. Previous shows have seen some big names drop their support for Apple Expo, most notably Microsoft and Quark, and the absence of some lesser known names (to US readers at any rate) too. This time round, they have renewed their support for the show, and at this level at least, Apple UK has blundered. While Apple's withdrawal from AppleExpo 2000 isn't as precipitous as its decision to pull out of last year's Total Design Show, which attempted to go cross-platform and appeal to the Windows NT brigade, with disastrous results, it will still have hit some of the British Mac market's resellers and distributors hard. Claims that marketing plans will have to be torn up and started afresh should perhaps be taken with a pinch of salt, but they will require some major modification. But then that's often been the case in the past, even with Apple's presence confirmed. The shifting tides of the Mac market have often left exhibitions and exhibitors stranded, largely as the shows' organisers have failed to keep up with wider events. AppleExpo 2000's organisers are new to the show (with the exception of Ms Moss, of course) so shouldn't be included here, but their predecessors have had problems getting the focus of the show right. So, some years back, 12 months after AppleExpo became a broad church, aimed at consumer and professional alike, we got a show that was focused almost exclusively on the latter, with suppliers of leisure and educational products squeezed out by the pre-press, design and DTP specialists. AppleExpo has always attracted Mac resellers keen to set up stalls and sell hardware and software to attendees, but they too were larhely frozen out as 'too consumer-oriented', the organisers apparently forgetting that even professional users like to pick up a bargain or two. The following year, Apple refocused on the consumer and education markets with the Performa range, and suddenly all the games and dealers were welcome once more. Kids were allowed back in. It started to become a little more fun. We were back to square one, but at least it gave the show more of a buzz. To be fair to the organisers, much of the pressure to focus the show more on the professional markets has come from the big distributors and vendors who also focus on those areas. Their desire to turn AppleExpo into a serious, somber trade show is understandable, but frankly misguided. The Mac isn't a serious, somber system and neither, although the pre-press guys might like to think otherwise, are the vast majority of its users. Thank God. But it's that inability to cater for the needs of all types of Mac user that has doomed AppleExpo if not to failure -- it's rarely been truly unsuccessful -- then to blandness. That spread is what makes the US shows work so well. It's easy to cite British diffidence and American exuberance for the difference in the two shows, but supposedly calm, collected Brits love the US shows as much as the natives do. No, it's the fact that you can wander from the Adobe stand over to the Bungie stand and not feel like your commiting professional suicide that makes the difference. Which is, of course, why a focus on Paris makes real sense. By bringing the whole of Europe together in one show, Apple should finally be able to get not only sufficient numbers of attendees but a wide diversity of exhibitors to ensure the show is big enough to cater for ever taste, to give it the scale of a US event. Ms Moss is probably right to complain about last September's AppleExpo Paris being too French, but since at that point it was a show aimed at the French that's not surprising. Still, the test will be how well the organisers respond to the presence of a wider constituency. The increased cost to British exhibitors and attendees will be an issue, it's true, but the advantages that a truly broad, cosmopolitan show offers over a more parochial, pros-only event will, I hope, persuade them that the extra expense is worthwhile. However, the Euro show's real success depends on Apple. Having pulled out of AppleExpo 2000 and similar shows elsewhere in Europe, it's up to the company to prove that it was right, and give us something special. Earlier this year, I criticised Jobs for simply rehashing his previous keynotes from US shows -- this time, he's going to have to offer something unique. ®

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