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Macworld event caters to die-hard Apple fans

Attendees' faith in all things Apple remains unshaken, even as anxiety about the company's future grows on Wall Street.

February 01, 2013|By Chris O'Brien, Los Angeles Times
  • Apple fans walk around the Macworld exhibition at Moscone Center in San Francisco to check out the newest gadgets.
Apple fans walk around the Macworld exhibition at Moscone Center in San… (Monica M. Davey, European…)

SAN FRANCISCO — Apple Inc. has discovered in recent months just how fleeting Wall Street's love can be. But if Apple needs a big hug or a shoulder to cry on after watching its stock fall 35% since September, all the company has to do is stop by Macworld.

Here are gathered thousands of the most loyal of Apple fans, the die-hard's die-hards. In what may be the least shocking news to come out of the conference, their faith in all things Apple remains unshaken and steady, even as anxiety about the Cupertino, Calif., company's future grows on Wall Street.

"I think the people on Wall Street are living in a different world," said Michael Van De Vanter, a researcher at Oracle Labs, as he strolled around the trade show floor at the Moscone Center on Friday.

He's been attending Macworld for more than 10 years, and at both home and work he's surrounded by Apple products: iPhones, iPads, Macs and Macbooks.

"Its current products are incredible. What's not to like?" Van De Vanter said. "The stock market is silly."

The people attending the three-day conference still pay as much as $1,250 for a pass to be at Macworld despite being spurned by their beloved Apple several years ago, when the company said it would no longer participate. They are the ones who bought Apple products even when it seemed that the company was about to wheeze its last breath in the mid-1990s, those darkest moments before the dawn of the almighty Steve Jobs' return.

Apple last appeared at the show in 2009. The show peaked in 2008, when more than 50,000 people attended along with 475 exhibitors. This year organizers said the show, which ends Saturday, attracted 300 exhibitors and a projected 25,000 attendees.

Unlike in years past, such as when Jobs created a sensation by showing the first iPhone at Macworld in 2007, this show has not had splashy product launches. Still, the trade show floor is packed with companies offering apps for iPhones or iPads; endless choices of stylized cases for Apple's mobile devices; speakers and microphones.

At the more exotic end, there is BowBlade, a bow-and-arrow accessory that costs $185, that lets users clip an iPhone onto a bow to play archery games. And there is the $2,000 Double, a robotic stand on wheels. You place your iPad on top, activate the Double app to begin live-streaming video, and control it remotely from miles away through another Apple device or Web browser.

These gizmos are a reminder that Apple loyalists don't just pay big money to be at Macworld. So deep is their passion that they spend years building companies and devices aimed at other people who share their love of the company's products.

That includes people like Patrick O'Neill, chief executive of Huntington Beach-based Olloclip. The olloclip is a 3-in-1 lens that attaches to an iPhone camera to take pictures in fisheye and wide-angle settings. O'Neil is a longtime Apple fan who self-financed much of the development of the olloclip before seeking money through online funding site Kickstarter.

The company now has 40 employees and is looking for new space to expand. Although some analysts fret about Apple's slowing growth, O'Neill sees a company that sells more and more iPhones each quarter, giving him a bigger market for his product.

"I don't really think there is a cloud over Apple," O'Neill said. "I think some people want there to be a cloud. The quarter they just reported was amazing. But I guess not amazing enough."

Claudia Lesser of Concord, Calif., has been coming to Macworld for as long as she can remember. She was working at Genentech in the 1990s and recalls how the PCs in the office were always crashing while the Macs just hummed along, elegant and simple to use. And so began her love affair with Apple.

Watching Apple's stock plunge in recent months has been baffling, but she blames heartless investment fund managers who simply wanted to drive the stock down below $500 a share for technical reasons. And she fumes at the injustice of Apple's stock getting hammered recently when its earnings disappointed investors while the stock of rival soared the day after it announced that it had barely eked out a profit last quarter.

Apple shares fell $1.87, or 0.4%, to $453.62 on Friday.

Her advice to Apple: Ignore critics who say the company desperately needs some new product to jump-start growth.

"Apple doesn't need to do anything," said Lesser, who recently dumped her TV and bought a 27-inch Mac to watch her favorite shows and movies online. "They've got great products."

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