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Macworld Expo renamed Create as Apple touts WWDC

Time to ship more desirable Macs, not fight over show locations

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Analysis Macworld Expo organiser IDG World Expo has announced that this summer's show won't carry its traditional name, but be re-titled Create - just as our colleagues over at Think Secret revealed earlier this week.

The move - jointly announced with Apple - comes at the end of a long-running wrangle between the two companies over the future of the show.

Originally held in Boston, the summer Macworld was moved to New York in 1998, in order to attract a bigger, broader audience. "Staging the show in New York will provide our exhibitors a greater reach to those core Mac markets and, at the same time, serve as a significant draw for potential attendees from other East Coast cities and international markets," said IDG's then chief, David Egan, in September 1997, announcing the move.

Apple, later fresh from the successful launch of the iMac in May 1998, preferred the more prestigious location, which it undoubtedly felt would give the gig a more cosmopolitan, less in-crowd atmosphere. The Boston show had always had more of the feel of a fan convention than did its winter counterpart in San Francisco.

IDG's attempt to bring the show back to Boston - much to the delight of many a Mac buff fed up with New York hotel room rates, and exhibitors who are increasingly finding the city too expensive, particularly given post-September 11 insurance coverage - was certain to upset Apple, and it did. Announced last October, IDG's move was immediately followed up by a communication from Apple saying it won't support a show in Boston.

Renaming the show is presumably all about providing IDG with a way out if Apple stays away from Boston - after all, there's no way it can call the exhibition Macworld if Apple isn't present.

The new name will also help the show reach out to the broader creative community - PC users in other words. And we wonder whether this, rather than arguments over location, is really what lies at the heart of the conflict.

In the UK in 1998, Apple pulled out of the main (indeed, only) Mac show, after the organiser, Emap Exhibitions, wanted to give the show just such a broader appeal. Back then, Apple's market share was falling, and once Mac-specific ISVs and others were wondering whether they should shift their focus to another, potentially more viable platform, Windows NT. So Emap changed the Mac show's name to the Total Design Show (TDS) to reach out to PC vendors and Windows software developers keen to target creative types. TDS proved to be indeed tedious, and it was canned the following year.

In January 1999, in the US, the main Mac news weekly, MacWeek (owner: IDG) changed its name to eMedia Weekly (and not, eWeek, as I wrote before, ahem) the better to attract for all those NT users. The MacWeek name lived on as a now long gone but fondly remembered Web site. No one remembers the now defunct eMedia Weekly.

Create sounds like the same kind of gig. Apple may have proved the doomsayers of 1999 wrong, but today's harsh economic climate and low professional IT spending means that IDG has to look further afield if it's to attract sufficient exhibitors and a commercially viable audience.

Apple, on the other hand, wants to keep its existing Mac user base loyal, and doesn't want them distracted with ugly but powerful and cheap Windows machines running at 3GHz plus.

Of course, Apple has only itself to blame by failing to deliver pro machines capable of trouncing Windows boxes in performance tests. Adobe and Quark - both key Mac developers - have suggested over the last 12 months or so that they think the PC is a better creative platform than the Mac. Adobe has done so because of the performance gap, as per its PC Preferred web page. It's also concerned that Apple's pro-video editing and DVD mastering tools compete with products of its own.

Update There's a rather good rebuttal of the Digital Video Editing site's conclusions - repeated by Adobe on its PC Preferred web page - at Creative Mac.com, here. The bottom line: blame Adobe's code.

And after Apple complained that Quark was taking too long to port XPress to Mac OS X, Quark CEO Fred Ebrahimi made the rash statement that "the Macintosh platform is dying". Quark later back-pedalled and reaffirmed its commitment to the Mac (though we're still waiting for XPress X), and Adobe has since said the above page is for folk using a PC already - though why these users need the reassurance that some PCs out-perform Macs, we're not sure.

Both companies still sell a lot of product to Mac die-hards, so they can't afford to promote the wholesale adoption of Windows just yet. If they could, they'd have done it by now - developing and providing customer support for one platform is a lot easier and less expensive than supporting two.

That they can't make such a move is a sign of Apple's strength, but its failure to ship significantly faster professional machines erodes its position, and risks encouraging buyers to turn to Dell and co. Given this weakness in its pro-oriented hardware line-up, Apple must believe it really can't afford to have Macworld become a multi-platform show.

Which may explain its attempt at brinkmanship with WWDC. Delaying the conference and shifting to a new, smarter location - San Francisco's Moscone Centre, home of Macworld San Francisco - is certainly partly an attempt to front it out with IDG.

Apple is presumably too committed to Create to pull out now, and while it has said Steve Jobs won't be giving a keynote, it will be present and has ensured Create has a strong Mac agenda.

But what it needs to remember is that it's good products that win customers, not shows or Steve Jobs keynotes. Macworld or Create, it doesn't matter what the show is called - provided Apple has killer kit to announce. Some observers hope a Power Mac based on IBM's 64-bit PowerPC 970 will be announced at WWDC. Maybe it will be previewed at Create. Apple should really worry about getting such a system out of the door, not what shows are called and where they're held. ®

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