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Originally published January 28, 2011 at 6:37 PM | Page modified January 28, 2011 at 6:37 PM

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Macworld without Apple focuses on add-ons and enhances for its products

Now that Apple no longer attends Macworld, the once-huge event focuses on add-ons and enhancers for iPads, iPhones and iPods as well as the venerable Mac, and still features great sessions taught by the top experts on everything Apple.

Special to The Seattle Times

SAN FRANCISCO — Apple is enjoying its greatest levels of success, and customers are buying record numbers of products in almost all of its major categories.

So why isn't Macworld 2011 — more commonly known as Macworld Expo — commensurably larger and more successful than the fairly small show that ran this week in San Francisco?

Where once the show occupied both massive underground chambers of Moscone Convention Center, this year everything was housed in the smaller (but in my opinion, much nicer) Moscone West building.

One reason, of course, is Apple's decision in 2009 to stop exhibiting at Macworld. Although the company was never the only attraction at the show, it was always the bright star that drew people in and provided the gravity around which the rest of the Mac ecosystem twirls.

People came to see the latest hardware and software they couldn't see elsewhere: The original iPhone, announced in 2007 and not due to ship until six months later, sat in a guarded, elevated glass cylinder for people to crowd around. There wasn't a similar main attraction this year.

But perhaps the biggest difference was in the tone and content of the show. It more accurately reflected the current Apple customer, who is no longer Mac-focused, or perhaps has come to the Mac by way of the iPhone, iPod touch or iPad. One of the most interesting statistics from Apple's quarterly earnings calls has been the fact that roughly half of the people buying Macs from Apple retails stores are new to the Mac.

This is reflected in the products that appeared on the show floor. There were a lot of iPad cases and iPad mounts on the expo floor this time around — rather impressive, considering the iPad had just been announced at this time last year. However, with nearly 15 million iPads sold since they became available in March, I suppose that shouldn't come as a surprise.

Among the array of iPad cases, one promising standout is the ModulR case. Made of plastic with a rubberized edge to hold the iPad securely, the ModulR also includes four attachment points that accept accessories such as a wall mount, hand strap (for more easily holding the iPad when reading, for example), shoulder strap, or even a strong magnetic bracket where you can mount the iPad onto your refrigerator or other metal surface. I also liked that the case doesn't bulk up the iPad. ($49 for the case, extra for mounts and accessories: (www.modulrcase.com/).

Another iPad and iPhone-focused product of interest was the iRig and AmpliTube software from IK Multimedia (www.ikmultimedia.com/irig), which turn the device into a portable guitar amplifier. With GarageBand on the Mac, I thought it was great to be able to use a laptop as a portable amplifier that could simulate all kinds of guitar sounds. But now a MacBook seems too large. Plug a guitar's cord into the iRig ($39.99), which also plugs into the headphone port on the iPhone or iPad. And then use AmpliTube ($19.99; free version also available) for either device to simulate amps, apply effects and record tunes.

Then there was the iGrill (www.igrillinc.com/), a $99 temperature sensor that communicates with an iOS device via Bluetooth to keep track of cooking temperatures and times. It's geared toward cooks who need precise measurements but who don't want to hang out next to the grill or oven the whole time food cooks.

Bluetooth is also a key component of the iFusion ($149, www.theifusionphone.com/), which gives you a telephone handset for your iPhone. When the iPhone is in range, you can set the iFusion as the audio source (just as you would with a Bluetooth in-ear headset) and talk on a handset, which many people find more comfortable than holding the iPhone up to their ear. The iFusion can also act as a speakerphone, or a speaker for listening to music. The iPhone mounts into a standard dock connector that can charge the phone or sync with a computer via USB.

For the Mac, one of the more interesting products I saw was SuperSync 4.0 ($29 for a 2-pack license, currently available for $20 as a Macworld show special; supersync.com/), an ambitious application that keeps multiple iTunes libraries in sync across computers on your network or even remotely. If you find yourself with multiple iTunes libraries in your house and want to make it easier for everyone to enjoy the same music and movies, it's definitely worth downloading the demo and trying it out.

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It's great to be able to see products like this in person, but now that so much information is readily available online — including user reviews and ratings, which partially supplant hands-on experience — the "expo" part of the show is decreasing in importance.

Frankly, this isn't a bad thing. What has often been overlooked is the "conference" side of the show, sessions taught by the top experts in the Mac and iOS (iPhone operating system) fields on everything from running a Mac lean and clean to supporting the influx of iPads into corporate environments. (In the interest of disclosure, I've spoken on topics at Macworld for several years, but believe me when I say that I'd praise the session content even if I wasn't involved.)

I can envision a future Macworld where content is the main draw, with vendors and products being an important ancillary portion of the show.

Jeff Carlson and Glenn Fleishman write the Practical Mac column for Personal Technology and about technology in general for The Seattle Times and other publications. Send questions to carlsoncolumn@mac.com. More Practical Mac columns at www.seattletimes.com/ columnists.

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