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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Apple pulls out of Macworld! And floppy disks are gone too!

The blogosphere is aflutter with the news that this year will be Apple's last Macworld event and that Phil Schiller rather than Steve Jobs will be doing the keynote. What could have gone wrong? Is Steve ill? Does this mean the end of Apple?

Get a grip people. The real reasons behind this move are exactly what the press release says (gasp! can you do that in PR?). Macworld, like most other trade shows, wasn't really working as part of Apple's marketing strategy, so they gave notice that they aren't going to do it any more. The reasons? It's actually pretty simple. Apple's annual Macworld extravaganza was:

  • Expensive. Macworld Conference and Expo may be a cultural icon to some, but it is actually just a trade show organized by IDG. While that is a great business for IDG, it's a multi-million dollar expense for Apple, all to reach around 50,000 attendees. While that may be nice, it's about the same number of people Apple reaches at its Fifth Avenue Store in New York in a few days. Not exactly the best return on investment.
  • Inconvenient. Let's see, what's the best way to annoy employees? I know, we'll make them work through the holidays to prepare for a big trade show on the first week of the new year. While all of the consumer electronics industry seems to honor this tradition for the January Consumer Electronics Show, that doesn't mean it's a good practice. Apple and its employees don't need the hassle.
  • Way too predictable. There's no better way to ruin surprise and excitement than to schedule it months in advance (proof point: Microsoft OS launches). Pundits everywhere (myself included) now plan stories and research around the first week in January knowing that Apple must have something new to talk about. That doesn't fit with the amazingly great marketing Apple likes to produce. And yet the downsides of this predictability are huge: if the unthinkable should happen -- some technology is late, there's a new product production glitch -- Apple has to jump through hoops to deliver regardless or be painted as having "failed" because they didn't deliver in time for Macworld.
Despite the end of Apple's participation in Macworld, no one should think that this is the end of the Apple, new Apple products, or even Steve Jobs' famed keynotes. Instead, these will now be surprises, undoubtedly announced using Apple's now famous special event invitations emailed to attendees. And while Apple won't have the throngs of every day fans at those events, special store events will offer venues to reach that audience. People often forget that Steve Jobs shows up occasionally at non-Macworld events such as the opening of the Regent Street store in London; not doing Macworld will undoubtedly create new opportunities for other appearances. And no matter where he goes or what he does, he will still draw a crowd. And those who need a structured schedule and their annual fix of Jobsian presentation mastery, they can always attend Apple's World Wide Developer's Conference in the summer, where he will undoubtedly be doing keynotes and cameos there for years to come.

The bottom line: Apple has again figured out yet another way to "think different" by leaving something out, just as it did with the floppy disk. And just as with floppies, the rest of the industry will go through denial, rejection, and finally acceptance that it was the obvious thing to do. 2009 is already shaping up to be a very interesting year.