It's at shows such as London's MacExpo that newcomers buy their first Macs, and old hands upgrade to the latest Apple models… or at least look at them longingly. It's the excitement of actually seeing, touching and playing with the latest Macs that makes people give into temptation, and buy straight away. Ordering off the Web or through a mail-order dealer suffices for the rest of the year, but walking away from a show under the weight of a brightly boxed new Power Mac, U2 iPod, G5 iMac, 21-inch LCD display, or digital camera is a real thrill. Even if it's a webcam, high-capacity CompactFlash card, or bunch of RAM, that hands-on purchase of stuff for your Mac knocks the slippers off an online transaction or phone call. There's no hold-music for a start...
Many people don't live near an AppleCentre or PC World, so our hands-on purchase choices are limited. Apple has opened its own-branded shops in the US and Japan, and on Saturday November 20 a brand-spanking-new London Apple Store has its ribbon cut. More are planned for the UK in 2005.
At Apple's retail store, there's every type of Mac just sitting there waiting to be played with, alongside third-party digital cameras, printers, scanners, etc. There's a comfy demo theatre, iPod listening posts, games to play, and a Genius Bar where Apple know-it-alls will try to solve all your Mac problems - no matter how daft the question. Walk into even a Mac-friendly PC store, and you'd think the only usable software was a choice between a dusty copy of SimCity and a crumpled ClarisWorks 3.1 box. Each new Apple shop has acres of shelves covered in the latest Mac-compatible software.
A word of warning. On a recent trip to the swish San Francisco Apple store I had my credit-card rejected twice because the till assistant - or Register Genius, as I'm sure she styled herself - couldn't be bothered to check with my credit-card company. I had to pop down the road to a local branch of CompUSA instead, where proper procedures were carried out. An Apple store is undoubtedly a great place to ogle the latest goodies, but you're better off purchasing from a more established reseller.
But while we await the Apple store a big Apple show is the perfect place to get to grips with this stuff, and query the polo-shirted experts on all sorts of matters: RAM, video cards, USB, wireless networking, screen compatibility, storage solutions, and so on.
Follow Macworld's advice, and your visit to MacExpo will be a pleasure, as well as helping you buy the right hardware and software. Here's ten things to make sure it's not just your feet you're thinking about after visiting MacExpo:
1. Arrive early. You could rush around the whole show in 15 minutes - but why not just run round your back garden instead, and save yourself having to leave home. If your Mac is more than just stylish furniture, one of the exhibiting companies is sure to have something that could change the way your computer works for you - be it via hardware, software, consultancy, repair or training.
2. Wear comfortable shoes. When you're not walking a lot at MacExpo, you'll be standing up. Sitting down is really not an option - unless you want to spend a fortune on a coffee (see Point 3). Most of the Business Design Centre is carpeted, but it's not a beanbag showroom. See also Point 6.
3. Don't enter the Design Centre thirsty - the mineral water costs more than a monthly ISP account. Gulp! But beware over-filling - the toilets are often a five-to-ten-minute walk away, up and down more stairs than in an Escher drawing. There's still people wandering lost around the back stairs from MacExpo 2001, clutching a 5GB iPod and indigo clamshell iBook.
4. Plan ahead. Peruse the floorplan before venturing into the hall. There's plenty to see, and if you wander aimlessly, you may miss something you were really interested in. Pretend you're in a supermarket, and go up and down the aisles.
5. Don't pick up a bag, literature, or products until late in the day. If you grab a free, colourful bag the moment you walk in the door, you'll be tempted to put things in it. Why weigh yourself down for hours? Make a note of stuff you want
to take home, and pick it up towards the end of the day.
This doesn't count for genuinely tasty freebies.
6. Touring the show floor can be very tiring. Take a break every now and again, and find a place to sit down. Head for the main café on the upper level. Check-out the exorbitant prices, though - see Point 3.
7. The best break you can have is outside of the show. Plan on having lunch somewhere close-by. The food will be cheaper, and, believe me, you'll need the air. There's less oxygen in a show venue than there is in a breached mini-submarine.
After an hour, the air you're breathing has already gone through 100 strangers, the liquid-cooling system of three G5 Power Macs, and even a few Windows users.
8. You're taking a break for lunch in The Slug and Lettuce. Don't think that doing a show will be easier after five pints. Save the drinking for after the show - it's so much more fun. You've still got things to pick-up, and just because you're seeing double doesn't make that 1.8GHz Power Mac G5 a multiprocessor system. And don't forget about those leg-crossing, hard-to-find toilets back at the BDC (Point 3).
9. You've restricted yourself to half a shandy with your BLT, so it should be easy to remember not to leave your bags in the pub… or your show pass - you won't get back in without it, and you'll have to register all over again.
10. Don't leave the show with that nagging question still troubling your mind. There really will be someone at MacExpo who knows the answer, and will be more than happy to speak to you. They might try to sell you something - but, who knows, maybe you need it...
Check-out Macworld's very own show specials (including a free copy of the Encyclopeadia Britannica CD with every subscription) at stand numbers 750 and 302. Even better, enrol for the Macworld Conference. The cream of the world's Mac experts will be there to fill your head full of the latest Mac tips, as well as answer your questions - see Macworld Conference.
This article appears in Macworld's Expo issue - themed around 'The Cult of Mac' - which is available in shops tomorrow and also at the show. This issue contains Expo floorplans and advice, news and reviews of Apple's new iPod photo and U2 iPod products, news about London's forthcoming Apple Store on Regent Street. This issue also includes Macworld's Christmas gear guide, four-megapixel digital cameras reviewed, GarageBand glitches fixed, and advice on switching to InDesign. Subscription information is available here.