By Harry McCracken | Tuesday, December 16, 2008 at 3:33 pm
Wow. Wow. Wow. Over the last few days, folks noticed that the traditional announcement that Steve Jobs would kick off IDG’s Macworld Expo with a keynote speech hadn’t come yet, and began wondering if he might be a no-show–as unlikely as that seemed. Sometimes, the unlikely is nonetheless reality: Apple has announced that marketing head Phil Schiller will keynote, and that it’s pulling out of Macworld Expo altogether as of 2010.
To quote its release:
Apple is reaching more people in more ways than ever before, so like many companies, trade shows have become a very minor part of how Apple reaches its customers. The increasing popularity of Apple’s Retail Stores, which more than 3.5 million people visit every week, and the Apple.com website enable Apple to directly reach more than a hundred million customers around the world in innovative new ways.
Apple has been steadily scaling back on trade shows in recent years, including NAB, Macworld New York, Macworld Tokyo and Apple Expo in Paris.
All of which is true. And it’s conceivable that it’s the whole story about Apple’s decision. But the release doesn’t tippy-toe anywhere near any of the truly interesting questions raised by this bombshell. Such as the twelve that leap to my mind–which I’ll ask after the jump.
1. Does no Jobs mean no significant product announcements? You’d think that if something like a netbook or two was on the way, Jobs would be there, if only for one swansong of a Macworld keynote. Or, in his absence, an Apple exec who’s better at creating reality-distortion fields than the pleasant-but-not-exactly-electrifying Schiller.
2. If there aren’t any significant product announcements at Macworld, does that mean no big Apple news in early 2009? I’m guessing not–Apple has proven itself entirely capable of doing keynotes (ones by Steve Jobs, at least) on its own timetable that get huge attention despite not being attached to conferences. If it’s running a bit late or has simply lost interest in Macworld Expo, it could mount a press event extravaganza of its own later in January or in February, on its own schedule.
3. Why no Steve? I don’t like talking about the man’s health, which is why I didn’t lead with this question–he deserves his privacy, and I’m no doctor. But the question will be asked. Endlessly, unless he shows up at another event soon.
4. What does this mean for Macworld Expo? I enjoy the show and know, like, and respect many of the folks involved in running it, so I hope it’s not devastating…or even fatal. But it’s terrible news for the event–a Macworld Expo without a Jobs keynote will get dramatically less attention and therefore pull in fewer exhibitors and attendees.
5. What does it mean for the Apple market? The Apple release speaks the truth when it says that trade shows don’t matter as much as they used to. But IDG would tell you that Expo is an important marketing platform for the companies (most of them very small) that sell Apple-related software, accessories, and services. And I bet many of those companies would agree, and would like to see Expo prosper.
6. Might Apple compete directly with Macworld Expo? Probably not. But it certainly could–it does an entirely competent job of running the developer-oriented WWDC conference, which is also a key event for the Apple market, and a powerful venue for Jobs keynote addresses and product introductions.
7. Why did Apple announce it won’t be at Macworld next year? Telling the world about the decision now is arguably the fairest thing to do, but it’s also probably more damaging to Macworld Expo than if the news had come out later?
8. Why did it say it’s not exhibiting again, period? It’s not often you hear a company state any decision with such finality. It’s telling the world it’s parted way with Expo forever, not that it decided to take a pass this year.
9. Actually, why did it do a press release at all? It’s a bit like holding a press conference to announce you’re divorcing your spouse.
10. When did IDG know? Did Apple give it a heads up? Even a brief one? Or did it get the news when the rest of us did?
11. Is there a backstory we don’t know about? Macworld Expo Boston was once a powerhouse event of its own, but it withered and died after it moved to New York and then back to Boston; Apple pulled out. The Apple-IDG relationship is venerable–Macworld the magazine debuted on the same day as the Mac, with Apple’s full support–but you never know what might be going on behind the scenes.
12. Have we seen the last Jobs keynote? At Macworld, apparently. But for many reasons, I hope he strides onto a stage somewhere in the near future…
(Obligatory but unnecessary full disclosure: I spent 17 years at IDG, the owner of Macworld Expo.)