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Thoughts on Apple's last Macworld Expo keynote


Late yesterday, Apple surprised pundits, fans and presumably IDG by announcing that Macworld Expo 2009 would be their last as an official exhibitor. Along with that news came the announcement that Phil Schiller will deliver the keynote address in place of Steve Jobs. People will speculate about the reasons for Apple's move for some time. Here are my thoughts.

There must be a financial component. Sure, Apple announced $25 billion in cash reserves and no debt at the end of Q4 in October, but it's very expensive to attend these events, even for Apple. Consider the extent of Apple's presence at Macworld Expo, between machines, people, displays, etc. Even software giant Adobe has dropped out.

Of course, it goes beyond the cost of the show. Nearly every year, Apple's stock dips after the keynote presentation when rumored products or services aren't introduced. It's a silly, unfortunate and routine drop... which brings me to point number two.

The rumors themselves. The current iPod nano model was all but revealed prematurely when photos of a case produced by a 3rd party manufacturer appeared online. When Steve Jobs mentioned it at the official press event a few days later, some attendees laughed. Steve responded by saying, "It's not funny" in a stern tone of voice. He was clearly pissed.

That wasn't the first time Apple had been scooped by the media. In 2002, the Canadian edition of Time Magazine leaked a cover photo of Steve and Jon Ive with the G4 iMac just prior to its introduction at Macworld Expo. You'll also remember that Apple aggressively pursued rumor site Thinksecret last year, and it's currently offline. Not only do rumors hurt the company financially, they take some of the excitement out of product updates, and in turn, the media's enthusiasm. When the media basically knows what's coming, their interest wanes just enough. Apple wants more control.

Control over product schedules outside the constraints of Expo keynotes. Once Apple steps away from the tick-tock of January showcases, it will be able to stage a press event and introduce a product or service when it's actually ready, not when a certain calendar date arrives.

Finally, I've always found the timing to be odd. The first week of January is right after all the major winter holidays. People are tapped out financially and enjoying the loot they picked up the in weeks before from family and friends. Asking them to spend another grand on a computer just then isn't ideal. Alternatively, Apple has consistently released iPod updates in September, just as kids are going back to school.

The inevitable question is one of Steve's health, but I think John Gruber got this one right. If Steve was ill, they'd send in a proxy like Phil but keep the rest of the game intact. The fact that they've abandoned the whole thing says to me that it's a political and financial move more than anything else.

Time Magazine asks the health question right away in their reaction article, quoting an Apple spokesperson as saying, "Phil is giving the keynote because this is Apple's last year in the show, and it doesn't make sense for us to make a major investment in a trade show we will no longer be attending." Even if Steve is as healthy as a horse but still looks thin, his appearance could have an affect on the company's stock. I don't think I've ever seen a company whose financial well being is so closely tied to the health of its CEO.

For now, at least, IDG plans to put on Macworld Expo 2010, with or without Apple. I say more power to them, but as a person who attended two Macworld Expos in Boston without Apple, my faith is waning.

It is a bit sad that Steve won't wrap up the final Macworld Expo; we can hope that he'll make a special appearance as Phil Schiller's One More Thing.

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