Apple Expo France 2004 Show Report

Apple is holding their European Expo and nowadays being a Mac owner thought I'd go along. If Apple has such a pitiful market share then you'd expect it to be a small show with little software and few visitors. Er No, this was the complete opposite.

Apple's European Expo was held in Port de Versailles, Paris 31st August - 4th September. I went along on Wednesday 1st September, the day after the announcement of the Mk 3 iMac.

Unfortunately I registered at the last minute so was too late to see the really interesting talks like the keynote or Jean-Michel Jarre's talk on Saturday. That said registering online meant I just showed someone a bit of paper and I got a badge to enter, I don't know if there was an entry fee but I wasn't asked to pay anything.

The show itself fills a large hall, there was a ton of software on show and dozens of stands from different companies (something in the region of 200).

Macs have historically been used in the creative area and this is very apparent at the show with the vast majority been taken up by either professional or consumer creative applications.

There was of course business applications but it wasn't really a "business" show, that said you had Oracle, Sybase and various others there.

Microsoft had a stand showing off Office X but the Microsoft logo was conspicuous by the fact it was so small, I'd expect a huge logo somewhere but all you had was the office X component logos and Microsoft written in fairly small writing at the edge, it's as if they were embarrassed to say their name!

One thing I noticed they went in for a lot was to have various training areas dotted around where various Apple and other apps would be demoed and shown to a class of users who then did as instructed, these included iLife (iPhoto, iMovie), GarageBand and a couple of Graphics apps. There was also an Education area complete with their own classroom as well.

Another thing they did was to give individual applications and disciplines their own areas with a "Solution Pro" on hand to show you the applications in question and what they could do for you. There was a whole caboodle of different areas covered but some I remember were: SMS, encryption, CAD, architecture and medical imaging.

This is an interesting and good idea as it means everything is shown in an organised manner rather than having random stands with different products as is normally the case. It also leaves the rest of the show for other exhibitors to have normal stands.

To go along with this there were plenty of other goodies, Scanners, printers and digital cameras were shown off by several big name vendors. Canon, Nikon, HP, Pentax and others showed off their Cameras, some had consumer digital models whereas Nikon had some of their pro gear, including some very nice big lenses most likely with equally big prices.

Apple has a big chunk of the professional printing market so there were companies from that field present showing their wares, the most obvious of these were the printer makers some of whom had gigantic printers churning out huge photo quality images. I seen one HP printer which had printed a picture which size I can only guess at, bigger than A0 that's for sure. Just the ticket if you've ever wanted a life size picture of well, anyone. Hmm, you could set up a business printing funky wallpaper with one of those...

A sound business
Pro Audio is another area Apple has a major chunk of and this had it's own area at the show. There was a ton of different virtual synthesisers, effects, controllers, cables and other audio goodies all on show. Seemingly every stand in the audio section had a battery of different music apps all clamouring for your ears' business.

I got my first computer for audio and spent 5 years writing audio software so it's an area I have quite an interest in despite being incapable of playing anything properly - but if you want a weird noise...

I went to one of the talks on GarageBand, the surprisingly powerful (compared to anything I've played with) beginner audio app Apple supply with the Mac. Having played around with it a little I know it's pretty powerful but apparently you can do a lot more than I thought. The speaker recorded in some keyboard, drum and guitar tracks then showed what you can do with them. You can also rig up other virtual instruments and programs and get them to work with GarageBand, I wasn't aware you could do this and the results can be pretty impressive. He had a few virtual CS80 and Minimoogs going, that probably means nothing to anyone other than analogue synth geeks but take it from me - it sounds good! There was also a brief demo of the more powerful Logic and Logic pro which are Apple's pro audio apps which have more synth types, better control possibilities and a million more features.

Mac's aren't really a gamers computer but there are plenty of games out there if you want them. Games also had their own area with a row of G5s set up all with different games. There was also a games tournament going on which was constantly surrounded by a crowd of people. I don't know what the game was but it looked pretty impressive.

There plenty of other stands with everything from second hand Macs, iPod covers, laptop bags and who knows what else on show or for sale, some in very colourful stands (one was bright pink, ug).

There was even a few cars on show, BMWs of course (Apple recently did a deal with them involving the iPod). Other companies have caught on to this and one was showing off a car stereo with iPod connection.

Apple
In the centre of the show with a positively huge stand was of course Apple. They had a presentation area with what looked like a couple of hundred seats doing shows on their various products they were pretty fully attended anytime I was there.

Surrounding the presentation area were three walls and along both sides were various products and a veritable army of demonstrators to show them off.

At the front of course was the nice shiny new iMac which look like iPodified LCD screens. They really look nothing like traditional computers. I didn't play around with them very long though they seemed somewhat faster than my PowerBook as you would expect, in fact if this was a few months ago I'd of had a hard time choosing between the two! That said the performance of the PowerBook is fine for my needs so it'd probably have won on portability.

Typical for Apple there is incredible attention to detail, the new iSight camera attaches to a magnetic strip at the top of the iMac, all the cables can go through a hole in the back of the stand so they don't hang there and look ugly, get the bluetooth and WiFi add-in cards and you won't need anything other than a power cable. When you're done the keyboard fits underneath the display (a trick I haven't seen since the Amiga 1000, 19 years ago!).

There have been gripes about the graphics chip and memory but unless you're a hardcore gamer I doubt anyone really cares about the graphics (actually the chip may have been chosen for low heat output). As for memory I have 768 MB in this machine and for the most part most of it is free, and that's with several apps running. OS X is improving with each release and is not quite as bloated as some other OSs!

For the hardware geeks there were a couple of the iMacs at the side with the backs removed so you can see how they've crammed it all into the case.

A couple of years back Macs were expensive and under powered, these days OS X is considerably faster as are the newer G5 CPUs, you can get cheaper PCs but the price seems pretty much in line with other A list computer vendors who are the real competition. Of course they don't include the iLife suite. Mac Works OS X is also included.

All in all I think the new iMac will sell like hot chocolate muffins at a chocoholics meeting, for the market it is being aimed at it's got everything it needs and more, Apple needs to grow their market share and this could be the machine to do it, especially once they've got a version down to eMac level prices.

Of course if you really want power you'll go for the PowerMac G5s. There were plenty of these on show each showing a specific application, from the Pro video stuff, Logic and even specific new 10.4 features, I nearly asked the Spotlight demonstrator about BeOS queries but decided against it ;-)

The best system I seen was Logic Pro running on a G5 with dual 30 inch monitors, I think I could live with a set up like that! The new LCD screens and G5s are apparently quite popular, at least at Apple Expos as there were loads of them all over the show.

On the third wall were iPods and iPod minis, it was the first time I'd even seen the mini and it looked pretty good, pity you can't hook it up to a camera - you could use it as a portable backup drive when the Flash card runs out of space.

Nearly a year ago I wrote a report on LinuxTag which is the biggest Linux show in Europe but it has quite some way to go to catch up with Apple Expo. This show was at lease twice the physical size and with some 70,000 visitors (3X that which visited LinuxTag) was busy even mid week when I went. However, the shows are wildly different in both content and audience and demonstrate just how different the Linux and Mac markets are. LinuxTag was for business and developers, there was some creative stuff there but very little. Apple Expo was the other way around, it was mainly for creative businesses and consumers. Apple may have lost a lot of ground in the PC market (actually they were growing market share last time I heard) but I doubt much if any has gone to Linux, Linux has been gaining against traditional Unix and now Windows. If Apple can can claw back their previous market share it too will be against Windows.

Apple may only have a tiny share of the global PC market but it's a pretty misleading statistic given Apple don't compete in all the sub-markets the total is made from, in their own areas they seem to be doing very nicely and seem to be looking to expand it with their new machines. Also, with the PC market stagnating Apple have cleverly picked areas to specialise in where there can never be enough computing power, something which will keep customers coming back for years.

All in all a good show with plenty to see, do and lots of software and other goodies to look at. I went home a MIDI interface richer and an intention to play with GarageBand...

To the Pictures (3 pages).

© Nicholas Blachford, September 2004

Nicholas Blachford lives in Paris. He is currently not working but for something to do is designing a GUI for advanced consumer entertainment systems.