Gaze down on the exhibit floor at the trade show formerly known as PC Expo and you'll see large swaths of curtained-off empty space.
"You used to be able to go all the way back," recalled exhibitor Gregory Myers, gesturing at the nearby curtains. "It's smaller this year. There's fewer vendors."
Myers, a marketing manager for Intel's mobile products group, was staffing Intel's splashy booth. Despite the shrunken crowd, he said he's happy with the traffic Intel was getting. "It's been fantastic," he said. Myers said the crowd he'd seen was mostly made up of consumers, with few corporate IT users circulating the exhibit floor.
PC Expo's numbers have dwindled over the years. In 2000, 80,000 people attended the show. This year, organisers said they're expecting 50,000.
Not everyone mourns the absence of swarms of gadget fans. "It's more concentrated on the right people (this year) and a lot of the fluff is out of the show," said Richard Brill, publisher of TCF.net, a computer forum for computer hobbyists. "Fewer are here for the freebies. They're here to see the latest and greatest products."
But both freebies and compelling products are in short supply this year, said one repeat attendee. Last year, Intel caught her attention with its product demos, particularly of its forthcoming Pentium 4 chip. "But this year I'm looking around and there's not anything catching my eye and making me say 'wow,'" she said. "And they're giving out less free stuff."
In a back corner of the show floor labeled "Start-Up City," every other booth is empty -- and some denizens of the sparse area didn't intend to be there.
"I think they totally misplaced the sign," said a representative of Datec Group, a 13-year-old organisation of component traders.
Another Start-Up City resident disagreed, and said he's happy with PC Expo's turnout and the traffic his booth is attracting. Nine-month-old Zframe Inc. is making its first trade show appearance at PC Expo, said Chief Technology Officer (CTO) and co-founder Charlie Johnson.
"We came to announce we exist," Johnson said. Zframe is about to launch a beta version of its wireless browser software, aimed at both corporate and consumer users. Johnson said the company picked PC Expo for its debut because it expected the show to be well-attended and attract the sorts of users Zframe hopes to woo to its service.
"We've gotten a fair bit of traffic," Johnson said. "It's been great."
With fewer freebies on offer, companies offering offbeat activities at their booths were drawing crowds. Cingular Wireless Inc. was backing up its "see the power of self-expression" marketing message by letting attendees pick up squeeze-bottles of paint and create swirl art. Booth rep Maura Middleton estimated that nearly 1,000 attendees created pictures on Tuesday.
"We didn't think it was going to be this popular, but it's definitely a grabber," Middleton said.
At Microsoft's Mobile Experience Tour tent, the line for admission wrapped around the exhibit. While waiting in line, four-time PC Expo attendee Robert Dey discussed the products on display that had piqued his interest. An array of networking tools from Fluke Networks Inc. caught his eye, along with some of the wireless cards being demonstrated.
There's fewer attendees and less vendors at this year's show, Dey agreed, but he still plans to keep returning to PC Expo. It's "absolutely" worth making a trip to the show, Dey said. "It's where you have to be to see the new products."