In a move that is sure to light up both the Mac rumor sites and the punditry like few press-releases in recent history, Apple today announced that 1) Phil Schiller will be standing-in for Steve Jobs during the Macworld Keynote in January, 2009 and that 2) nobody will be standing in for Apple at any future Macworld event, ever.
Oh, snap. Bitch got dumped!
Why? The official reason, given as part of today's press-release, is direct ... and plausible:
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. SOURCE
In short: "Why pour millions of dollars every year into an event which we don't need to attend?"
Still, is that the whole answer, or merely the answer that will be enough to satisfy bloggers and journalists?
This is, of course, wild speculation, but I'd suggest that there are two other possibilities and that all three may add up to a more complete explanation:
- Macworld poses problems when it comes to product announcements.
Apple is obsessively secretive. That's the way it's always been, and that's the way it'll always be. Over the last ten years, bloggers and other outlets have been hit or usually miss when it comes to speculation and scoops about soon-to-be-unveiled products, speculation which often resulted in take down notices and sometimes even legal action against sites like (the now-defunct) Think Secret and Appleinsider.
The problem is two-fold: When they're right, they completely rob Apple of a chance to deliver a surprise by stealing Jobs' thunder. When they're wrong, they're usually spectacularly wrong, driving up expectations, and subsequently driving down stock value, after absurd expectations aren't met.
Macworld happens every January and Apple generally unveils something new - something big - every January at Macworld. Short of sending out an email inviting curious fans and journalists to pry into Apple's secret bidness, there's no surer sign that it's time to start spreading and/or reporting ridiculous rumors than the two months leading up to a Macworld Keynote.
What if there is no annual event? Apple is suddenly able to play with the calendar a little bit, they're able to send out invitations with less advance notice, resulting in expectations which build over a period of weeks, rather than months, and with no advance warning. The cycle can be broken.
Take away the roadmap, and Apple gets to navigate.
- Steve Jobs' role at Apple.
The only thing Steve Jobs' seems to value more than company secrecy, is personal privacy. The ongoing saga regarding his health (Is he sick? Is he well?) is the most recent reminder that Steve Jobs wants to unveil really great products, yes, but that he has no interest in pandering to analysts, shareholders or a concerned fan base when it comes to his personal life.
A Macworld keynote, without Steve Jobs, is regarded by many as evidence to bolster the notion that Steve Jobs may, in fact, be dying. Rumors that Steve Jobs "may be dying" have been known to cause massive drops in stock value. A massive drop in stock value is known to cause paranoia amongst Apple's excitable fan base. Paranoia amongst Apple's fan base is known to be annoying as hell.
You can see the dilemma.
More seriously, if there is no annual Macworld, Apple can more easily transition other senior members of the Apple team onto the stage when announcing or unveiling new products in more intimate settings, and the public can be weened off of the necessity of seeing Steve Jobs every ten days or risking a panic attack.
Sources tell me that if Jobs for some reason was unable to perform any of his responsibilities as CEO because of health reasons, which would include the Macworld keynote, I should "rest assured that the board would let me know." SOURCE
Perhaps leaving Macworld has more to do with avoiding the ongoing speculative questions about his health (and his importance to Apple, in general) than any real concerns regarding his health?
What does this mean for Macworld Conference and Expo, in general?
It's over, or nearly over.
The conference and expo will probably linger on for a few years, but attendees will drop off quickly, as vendors pull out. (It doesn't bode well that many vendors [Adobe, Belkin] pulled out this year, due to the economy, and may see that as a clean enough break to explain away an absence at next year's Expo, as well.) Compounding the situation, as massive as CES has become, and given that it nearly overlaps Macworld, it may be seen as more of a draw for vendors, as interest in an Apple-less Macworld Expo dissipates.
The last time Apple abandoned a Macworld conference, they dropped out of the bi-annual New York City/Boston event in 2003, and by the end of 2005, there was no New York City/Boston event.