Twelve Questions About the Apple-Macworld Expo Breakup

By  |  Tuesday, December 16, 2008 at 3:33 pm

philschillerWow. 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 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.)


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10 Comments For This Post

  1. Joel Says:

    Health. I’m with you on keeping it classy, but that’s got to be the answer.

  2. bud Says:

    Health Smealth. Or should I say Stealth. The only cure for the Steve’s Health equating with Apples Health problem, is to let someone else be the public figure, Did you buy a GE bulb without Jack Welch telling you about it? The company and its products have to be able, and should be able, to stand on their own. But they have to be given that chance.

    And Expo in January kills holiday sales, it always has.

  3. Allison Says:

    I felt the earth shake this afternoon up and down the 101. After checking, I realized the impossible had happened.

    This is catastrophic for the conference, but even more so it concerns me that Apple foresees an innovation lull. Like they won’t be able to wow us anytime in the next five years. Perhaps the spotlight was getting too hot to manage…

    But this smells more like an insult. Someone got mad, and walked away. In a tizzy. (Hence the press release announcing things that don’t need to be announced). Or hardball negotiation tactics, which will result in a public make-up six months hence.

    OR, it really is Steve’s health, and Apple thought this would be a way to divert at least a little speculation.

    Regardless, there is much more to this story than meets the eye…

  4. Dave Barnes Says:

    “so I hope it’s not devastating…or even fatal [for the show].”
    It is.

  5. Harry McCracken Says:

    @Dave Barnes Definitely hard to see how it wouldn’t be devastating, but it’s conceivable the show could still be worthwhile; I do hope that it doesn’t kill it off.

  6. Bill McMinn Says:

    How is Apple supposed to launch new products without the auditorium full of fanboys hooting and hollering?

  7. Harry McCracken Says:

    @Bill McMinn I’ve been to both Expo Stevenotes and the smaller ones Apple holds at its headquarters and elsewhere. From a purely selfish stance, I like the latter better–in part because they’re mostly media, and therefore there aren’t hooting, hollering fanboys. Which reduces the reality-distortion field, and makes it easier to cover the news objectively.


  8. pond Says:

    My speculations on the reasons why:

    1. Apple had a couple big products they were going to reveal. Then the market tanked. So Apple decided they would hold off on the announcements. Steve Jobs might’ve shown up for a ‘Farewell’ address, but without any big Boom! or ‘One More Thing…’ to offer, it would look worse than if he didn’t show up at all.

    2. It was this indecision that kept the announcement so late. This is like their ‘No new products this year’ announcement a couple months back. They tried to hold off on deciding until they were faced with a necessity. Announcing now gives the Apple engineers at those unrevealed products a chance to have some time off for the holidays instead of working overtime to make the keynote deadline. It also signals all us Apple fans that there’s no earth-shaking new product coming, so we can buy today’s products with some confidence they won’t be obsolete in 2 weeks.

    3. ‘Never coming back’ is indeed a strong statement, but it is in Steve Jobs’s style, in line with the ‘floppy is dead’ and ‘OS9 funeral’ announcements. The man likes to make bold statements and decisive breaks with the past. But it also deflects bloggers away from ‘Is Jobs healthy, will he retire now?’ towards Harry’s main theme here: ‘Will MacWorld survive, what function does a big convention serve, and why did Apple say Nevermore?’

    Whatever the reason, I’m sad to hear of it. Apple’s participation is the ‘anchor store’ of MacWorld, and MacWorld is a great time for small developers and Apple fans to get together and build excitement as well as community bonds. But this too is in line with Steve Jobs’s history: the man doesn’t seem to understand community and brother-love all that well. Maybe he does understand it very well at all, but his actions give the impression that he doesn’t, so he doesn’t seem to.

    I never went to any of the MacWorlds, but found it fun to follow the speculation and rumors building up to them, and the podcasts and columns showcasing ‘Best in Show’ applications and peripherals.

  9. vassar Says:

    You guys missed the major point; Steve Jobs HATES the Macworld Expo. There is really not much more to it. Time to move on…nothing interesting here…

  10. vassar Says:

    You guys missed the major point; Steve Jobs HATES the Macworld Expo. There is really not much more to it.

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