We weren't quite sure what to expect for this year's major European Mac show. In the weeks leading up to the event, when we asked industry insiders whether they would be attending, the response was usually along the lines of "nah, not bothering this year". It's not hard, at least on the surface, to see why.
We've known for months that Apple itself wouldn't be attending. This is something of an irony when this is the only one of the major shows including Mac Live Expo in London and Macworld Conference & Expo in San Fancisco – that actually carries the technology company's name.
While Apple's attendance isn't the be-all and end-all, it's a big draw for punters who want to see the latest Apple kit such as the recently-released iPod nano and iPod touch. And besides, Apple's presence at a show is at least as much about Apple endorsing the efforts of the vast ecosystem of developers and hardware manufacturers as it is about a chance for folks to stroke its latest kit.
Despite this, however, there was lots to see at the show. Apple may be conspicuous by its absence, but the rest of the big hitters – Adobe, Quark, Microsoft – are all here. Quark, ironically, has a teeny little stand at this year's show despite being the only one of those companies to have an especially new product to demo.
The mix, though, is good. Where past shows have been too easily swayed towards the iPod or iPhone at the expense of the core Mac business, this year we were delighted to note a good mix of the practical, the wacky, and the lifestyle.
Griffin steals show?
Our favourite stuff from the show came from Griffin. The folks there showed us two products, the first of which was a case for the iPhone, but it has a twist. The lens cover adds a basic macro functionality to the iPhone's (pretty dreadful) fixed focus camera, allowing you to shoot stuff close up.
The results weren't worthy of Carl Zeiss, but anything that adds value to an iPhone case is all right by us.
Best of all, though, was a stand for the iPhone. Stick with us, we know it sounds dull. Actually, it 'sounds' great.
Drop your iPhone onto the clear plastic block with some audio playing through the iPhone's built-in speaker, and a gramophone-style horn built into the plastic base amplifies the sound completely passively.
There's no power or extra speakers involved, and even on the noisy show floor you could hear a tremendous difference in volume between having the iPhone out of the stand, and dropping it in. It's a lovely technical trick, and had us endlessly amused. That you can thread in a cable and have your iPhone charging at the same time is just the icing on the cake.
Ultimate iPhone accessory
Moving on from Griffin, one stand dominates the show floor, and it's for what some might call the ultimate iPhone accessory: a Mini. There are Minis slung from the ceiling, sat on plinths, and shamelessly exploited in merchandising that sails dangerously close to tacky.
The link may be tenuous – in-car iPhone integration – but it's heartening to see such a major lifestyle brand put so much investment into this market.
Apple Expo has never traditionally been a venue at which new hardware and software is launched, but a few things caught our eye as we wandered round the show floor.
Macally had a few nice trinkets, including a retro-styled mic to plug into an iPod, a mirrored case for a nano that allowed the screen to shine through when it was on with only a little dimming, and, our favourite, a three-in-one gadget slightly smaller than a matchbox with a Dock connector on one end, and a standard USB port at the other.
It has some flash storage so you can use it as a sneakernet, a built-in battery that lets you juice up your iPod or iPhone in a pinch – and Jobs knows the iPhone needs it – or you can just connect your iPhone or other iPod to your Mac or PC.
Iomega was showing off the MacBook Air-styled hard disk that it unveiled a couple of days ago, and in a market where the only visible differentiating factor for hard disk is the enclosure, it may well sell like hotcakes.
Some of the familiar laptop bag manufacturers had some new wares – including a rather lovely leather line-up from Crumpler and some very pretty bags from Tucano – but the one we want to highlight is from a French company called Sweetcover.
The bag's little more than a flat surface folded in half with handles, but the styling – and this may just be the Gitanes smoke going to our head in Paris – just about pulled off 'chic', and there are sizes for everything from EeePC-style netbooks upwards.
Software-wise, there wasn't much happening, though the two releases we did pick up on look really exciting. VMware has launched version two of its Windows-on-a-Mac virtualisation solution, Fusion, and for us at least the must-have feature is support for multiple monitors. It looks like a cracking product, and we can't wait to put it through its paces.
We also caught up with the boys from Realmac Software in Brighton to see their new project, a screenshot-taking and -cataloguing application called Little Snapper; it shows that company's commitment to polished, beautifully-executed applications.
It's difficult to know how to characterise this year's show. Though the queue before it opened wasn't as long or formed as early as we've seen in years past, it certainly wasn't dead on the floor.
And while the venue itself is relatively small - and is dwarfed by shows such as IFA and CES - it's filled with some interesting stuff. Apple may not have been there, but everyone else was, and there was the same feeling of bullish optimism among industry and public alike that has been the hallmark of the last few years.
Apple's star shows no sign of waning, which makes it all the more puzzling that it itself was a no-show.