In its return to Boston after a six-year absence, the East Coast version of the 2004 Macworld Conference & Expo largely resembled the U.S. economy in 2003: no Jobs, and a scaling back of corporate spending. But that didn’t seem to dampen the enthusiasm of the thousands of people–many of them educators or students–who made the trek to the brand-new Boston Convention and Exhibition Center July 13-15 to view some of the latest in products and services for the Macintosh platform.

Noticeably absent from the show were Apple Computer and its chief executive, Steve Jobs, who traditionally delivers the keynote speech. Jobs had declared his company’s intention not to participate after the show’s organizer, Framingham, Mass.-based IDG World Expo, announced plans to shift the event from New York back to Boston. (The East Coast version of Macworld had been held in Boston with Apple’s support until moving to New York in 1998.)

A West Coast version of Macworld also is held in San Francisco each year, and Jobs was at the 2004 California conference in January to launch several new Apple products, including new multimedia software and an update to Microsoft’s Office suite for the Mac. His absence in Boston–and Apple’s lack of participation as a sponsor–likely contributed to the smaller-than-usual turnout of exhibitors: Only 60 were present at the Boston show in July, and hardly any were what you might call household names.

Still, the undersized exhibit hall was abuzz with activity as a steady stream of attendees poured through. And though attendance also was down from previous years–IDG expected some 10,000 people in Boston, far fewer than the near-60,000 who attended the New York show just two years ago–a few education-focused companies in particular reported strong traffic at their booths.

Despite a decline in attendance, this year’s Macworld was an impressive show. (eSchool News photo by Dennis Pierce)

One of these companies, iScienceProject.com (a division of Bourne, Mass.-based Onset Computer Corp.), was giving out its HOBO data loggers for any K-12 teacher at Macworld to use for up to two months in their classrooms free of charge. The battery-powered devices, about the size of a matchbox, contain built-in sensors that can measure and record temperature, relative humidity, wind speed and direction, light, vibration, voltage, and more.

The devices plug into a PC or Macintosh computer via a USB connection, enabling students to download the data they collect with the loggers for viewing and analyzing in an Excel spreadsheet. Onset also demonstrated new software at the conference for plotting and displaying these data in graph format. In addition, the iScienceProject.com web site contains more than 100 ideas for lab projects that teachers can use free of charge, the company says.

Software MacKiev of Cupertino, Calif., also reported a fairly strong user turnout. The company made the cross-country trip to Boston to display two new educational software programs for the Macintosh OS X operating system: “Dr. Seuss’s ABC” and “2005 World Book Multimedia Encyclopedia.”

The encyclopedia program includes a three-dimensional atlas that shows the earth’s cloud cover in real time, as well as time zones and the weather in any city, and it allows you to zoom in toward the surface. The program also takes advantage of OS X’s stunning visual capabilities to make images of sea creatures and other animals shimmer across the screen. By clicking on a creature, students can learn more about it.

Software MacKiev also demonstrated its Kid Pix Deluxe software for OS X. Tightly integrated with Apple’s iLife suite of software tools, the program makes it easy for students to put together animated projects with music imported from their iTunes playlists and backgrounds imported from their iPhoto albums.

Another school-focused company, LEGO Education (a division of Pitsco Inc.), demonstrated its Robo Technology Vision Mac Pack, which includes LEGO gear for building a variety of robotic devices, as well as ROBOLAB programming software for the Mac OS X. The kits sell for $219 apiece.

Sound investment

Thanks largely to its iPod portable music player, as well as its iTunes software and online music store, Apple has positioned itself as a leader in digital music software and solutions. That focus was evident at the Macworld Expo in Boston, too, as several vendors were on hand to display their own music solutions that take advantage of Apple technology.

For instance, Palo Alto, Calif.-based Roku demonstrated its SoundBridge music player, which can stream digital music from a Mac or PC to any room via an Ethernet or WiFi network. The Berklee College of Music trumpeted its online music education program for full- or part-time students. And GuitarCentral.com occupied a large booth that featured Macintosh-based products from a variety of companies, including BIAS Deck 3.5 SE, a program from Lexicon Pro that can turn any Macintosh computer into a full-fledged recording studio; Cubase, a high-end music composition program from Steinberg Media Technologies; and BIAS Inc.’s Peak 4.1, described as “the [Adobe] Photoshop of audio” by one composer.

No longer just for storing and playing MP3 music files, the iPod is now finding its way into classrooms, too. Apple recently gave Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville, Ga., about 50 iPods as part of a pilot project to find innovative uses for the technology in education.

In one example, instructors of a course titled “War, Politics, and Shakespeare” had students record speeches from one of Shakespeare’s plays, then transfer the speeches of the entire class to their iPods for review. The course reportedly proved so popular that several students had to be turned away the next time it was offered.

A few exhibitors at the Boston Macworld Expo showcased products designed to complement or enhance an iPod user’s experience. Belkin Corp. of Compton, Calif., unveiled its Universal Microphone Adapter, which enables users to make high-quality recordings of conversations, lectures, interviews, or memos directly onto their iPod players, simply by connecting an external microphone to their iPod via the Universal Adapter. And Battery Technology Inc. displayed its rechargeable iPod Battery, which reportedly provides up to 40 hours of play per charge.

Other Mac solutions on display:

  • @Last Software introduced SketchUp 4.0, the tenth release of its 3D design software for both Windows and OS X machines. The software features new capabilities for intersecting complex shapes, pushing or pulling a surface along a path, stretching and manipulating photos and textures, and much more.
  • Avail Solutions demonstrated Integrity, a data backup and recovery solution for the Mac OS X platform that enables Macintosh servers to become the complete backup and recovery foundation for all-Mac environments or heterogeneous computer networks.
  • GeeThree showcased Volumes 7 and 8 of its Slick Transitions & Effects plug-ins for Apple’s iMovie software. The plug-ins offer new features and capabilities for editing digital video using iMovie, including an image-morphing effect and other eye-popping graphics.
  • Parliant Corp. unveiled its PhoneValet Message Center, which transforms an OS X computer into a telephone communications hub complete with voice mail, conversation recording, call logs, talking caller ID, fax switching, voice dialing, and more.
  • Redstone Software displayed Eggplant, a test automation tool that runs on a Mac OS X server and allows organizations of all sizes to test new or existing products on Macintosh, Windows, Linux, or Unix machines.
  • Links:

    Macworld Conference & Expo
    http://www.macworldexpo.com

    iScienceProject.com
    http://www.iscienceproject.com

    Software MacKiev
    http://www.mackiev.com

    LEGO Education
    http://www.legoeducation.com

    Roku LLC
    http://www.rokulabs.com

    Berklee College of Music Online
    http://www.berkleemusic.com

    GuitarCentral.com
    http://www.guitarcentral.com

    Georgia College and State University’s iPod Project
    http://ipod.gcsu.edu

    Battery Technology Inc.
    http://www.batterytech.com

    @Last Software
    http://www.sketchup.com

    Avail Solutions
    http://www.availsolutions.com

    GeeThree
    http://www.geethree.com

    Parliant Corp.
    http://www.parliant.com

    Redstone Software
    http://www.redstonesoftware.com