The news that Apple CEO Steve Jobs would forgo giving the keynote address at January's Macworld Conference in San Francisco, and that the company would not attend future iterations of the trade show came as a shock to most of the tech world – but not a surprise.
The trade show tango
As Apple reminded in its press release, the company has been "steadily scaling back on trade shows in recent years, including NAB, Macworld New York, Macworld Tokyo and Apple Expo in Paris," choosing instead to introduce products at special events of its own choosing. As Macworld.com editor Jason Snell puts it in discussing Apple's past pullouts: "It was clear to me that Apple was tired of announcing products on someone else’s schedule."
ZDNet's Sam Diaz looks at Apple's Macworld abandonment and wonders about the future of technology trade shows. His conclusion: With the web, who needs them?
Think about the outreach tools that companies have at their disposal these days. Webcasts have become online events where people from around the globe can attend without booking a flight, hotel room or restaurant reservations. Viral videos are being produced by companies to showcase their products and technologies in real-world environments. Brand names are creating loyal followings via “fan memberships” on social networking sites such as Facebook. And, increasingly, there are smaller intimate shows that cater to crowds with specific interest.
Apple goes one further, pointing to its network of successful retail stores that draw, collectively, 3.5 million visitors each week. With that type of foot traffic, who would expend all the resources to attend a trade show that reaches just a fraction of those people?
'Politics, not pancreas'
That's the message from CNBC's Jim Goldman, who claims that sources within the company have told him that Steve Jobs's absence from the traditional keynote address have nothing to do with the CEO's health. Instead of the man in the black mock-turtleneck, conference attendees will get an address from Apple senior vice president of product marketing Phil Schiller.
Fortune's Philip Elmer-DeWitt doesn't buy it, though. He points out the announcement's late arrival (just three weeks before the address) and past friction between Apple and the event's organizer, publisher IDG, as reasons to remain skeptical.
All the same, the Jobs no-show announcement has lead to a sort of keynote retrospective on the web. The Guardian and Businessweek both compiled "best-of" posts that chronicle the bright spots in the relationship between Jobs and Macworld. There was the unveiling of the original Macintosh, the announcement of the iPhone, and the ill-fated heralding of the beautiful – but bust-bound – G4 Cube. If anything, each makes for great corporate theater.