The show took a major hit last year when the biggest news coming out of the event was that its largest supporter, Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL), was dropping out. Amid health problems, CEO Steve Jobs did not give his usual keynote and his fill-in, marketing executive Phil Schiller, made no major announcements.
Apple, by far the show's biggest exhibitor, also said it would no longer participate in the event for various reasons, including the success of its retail stores and a general decision not to participate in big trade shows.
If that wasn't enough, last January's Macworld happened against the backdrop of a failing economy and questions about whether enough exhibitors could support such an event. But tech publisher IDG, owners of both of the Macworld magazine and conference, promised to carry on without its bigger backer. Next month's event, starting Feb. 9, will be a critical test of whether the 25 year-old event still has legs.
"In the absence of Apple, there's an opportunity for other companies to get more mindshare," Macworld General Manager Paul Kent told InternetNews.com. "The glass-half-full way to look at this is that it becomes more of a fanfest environment. Also, big companies are still supporting Macworld. We'll have an interesting cross-section with companies like Microsoft, HP and VMware all exhibiting."
It's not just for consumers either. Kent notes Macworld's professional development sessions include a "Mac IT" conference within the show for learning more about Macs in a corporate setting. A mobile application showcase will feature a variety of iPhone apps in an informal setting that lets users talk directly with the developers.
Kent acknowledged that the show has been taken criticism for the increasing focus on iPod and iPhone accessory makers. "We're a mirror to the industry and those products were very much in demand," he said. "You'll still see lots of cool Mac stuff and now also for the iPhone.
Macworld may no longer be "a show where agenda-setting technologies make their debut," Kent admitted, though he said users can experience a kind of real world social network in a setting that lets them exchange ideas and meet those with similar interests in music, photography, multimedia and other areas.
"There are rumors of an Apple announcement later in January," Kent said, noting the expected debut of Apple's tablet computer. "We're prepared to provide an attendee perspective if that happens."
As for registrations, Kent doesn't want to compare this year's show to last year's or prior events, given the economic downturn and Apple's exit. "My answer on attendance is we're starting new," he said.
Macworld isn't charging as much as past shows, and has added a free exhibit pass to those who pre-register (the deadline has already ended). That strategy appears to have helped early sign-ups, as there already 30,000 pre-registrations, the same number that attended last year. Macworld expects more than 300 exhibitors.
Feature presenters will include New York Times personal technology columnist David Pogue, tech pundit Leo Laporte, and Hollywood actor/producer/director Kevin Smith.