Los Altos, California

After a day off to meet with friends (and setup a Mac system for them) and lunch with a SiteRev.com client, we returned today to San Francisco’s Moscone Center for another go-round on the MacWorld merry-go-round. Here, in no particular order, are some notes on various items and impressions:

• The number of vendors hawking iPod-only gear is amazing. Dave and I joked early on about how if this keeps up they’ll have to change the name of the show to iPodWorld. So long as the iPod shifts customers onto the Mac platform I’m thrilled. As its own product line and cottage industry apart from the Macintosh universe, the iPod begins to concern me. It’s a great leisure product with marginal business application, and while digital and online music sales may float Apple’s revenue boat, it’s the Mac that makes Apple essential.

• The show this year took place in only the North Moscone hall, leaving the South hall vacant for the first time in memory. In truth, the number of exhibitors and the size of the exhibits has dropped every year since I’ve began attending some five or so years ago, but this is a worrisome trend.

• Apple’s quarterly financial results from yesterday make me optimistic that next year’s show will be larger, though perhaps even more iPod-centric.

• After a couple days reflection, my ardor toward the Mac mini and the iPod shuffle remains. Both should sell like crazy, though I am personally unlikely to buy either. (No reflection on the merits or quality of the products. I don’t presently need another Mac in the house, and I’m in the market for an iPod Photo.)

• iLife ’05 and especially iWork ’05 fair less well. The iPhoto component of iLife is certainly improved what with its new built-in photo editing tools, but I don’t know that it’s sufficient to prompt an upgrade from iLife ’04. I was hoping that GarageBand had added multiple takes per track, but I was misinformed by several Apple employees on that account before finally talking with an actual GarageBand programmer who told me unequivocally that it was not there. I spoke with an iWorks programmer as well who could only offer up that iWorks word processor was “more stylish” when I asked for the advantages over AppleWorks. It apparently integrates some iLife stuff more easily as well, but just how useful that is in a word processor is anybody’s guess.

• If you attend MacWorld, always ask the job of the Apple people around the Mac displays and products. They all work for Apple in one capacity or another, and you can learn many behind the scenes tidbits by asking questions in their area of expertise. You can also make product suggestions to the people who make a difference. (An example: I talked with the iChat product lead and begged them to add support for more instant messenger protocols. May not make any difference, but at least the right fellow knows what one iChat-using guy thinks.)

• Aspyr’s James Bond 007: Nightfire retails for $40 at the Apple retail stores and at Fry’s Electronics. I picked it up at the show for $5. Indeed, one of the best deals to be had at MacWorld is in the games area where virtually every game is discounted at least $10-$15 off retail. In some cases, like with 007: Nightfire, the discounts border on ridiculous. (Why the discount on this particular game? I suspect it has to do with the impossibly steep system requirements: Mac OS 10.3, G4/5 at 1-GHz or faster, 2.4 GB free hard drive space, 3D graphics acceleration required, 64 MB VRAM, and DVD drive to install and play. In other words, the new Mac mini can’t run it, along with most of the install Mac OS X user base. No wonder they’re blowing them out.)

• EuroTalk demoed what appeared to be a very effective set of language learning CDs that I was close to purchasing. Ultimately I was dissuaded only because I’d prefer to have Erin’s imprimatur on anything related to language acquisition. I will say, however, that the Italian woman I spoke with at the booth betrayed no hint of an Italian accent in her English when she spoke with me.

• If it had been available at the show (and if I could have somehow avoided California’s 8.25% sales tax) I might well have purchased a Brenthaven bag for my PowerBook. Widely regarded as the best bags available because of their protection, comfort, and craftsmanship, the Brenthavens are also relatively expensive. The bag I finally decided upon, the new Pro 15, should be available in a few weeks for somewhere in the $129-$149 price range.

• I did buy a $30 Keyspan laptop accessory kit which included a mini USB optical mouse (2-buttons plus clickable scroll wheel), a 4-port mini USB hub, a retractible USB cable for connecting to printers or digital cameras, and a retractible ethernet cable.

More to follow….