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Goodbye Macworld
CTO "Maniac" 01.12.2009

I've been going to the Macworld San Francisco trade show every year for quite a while now. But in recent years, the same thing kept happening to me each time I went. I'd be walking through all the booths, trying out the latest products, avoiding getting on too many mailing lists and all that good stuff. Then, usually within 10 minutes of arriving, I'd think "I could have seen all this in an Apple store in a few days." And I'd have a pang of regret. I didn't really need to deal with the transportation hassle, the noise, and the crowds.

That regret was much stronger this year. Some historic products have been announced by Steve himself at previous MWSF keynotes. Not so in 2009. Steve didn't show. Apparently he's got a hormonal imbalance, which requires some kind of dietary therapy. That alone overshadowed the MacBook Pro, iLife, and iWork announcements that Phil Schiller made during this year's keynote. But the biggest news from MWSF09, the real shocker, was that MWSF09 would be Apple's final appearance at Macworld.

I would be surprised if MWSF lasts much longer. Trade shows in general are so 20th century, and my guess is that Macworld had become more of a burden for Apple than a benefit. I bought a MWSF09 cap as a souvenir since I probably won't be coming back.

iPods on display

MWSF Then and Now
Sure, the Macworld events in SF and NY were relevant and successful in their day. But things are different now. Apple has become extremely successful in consumer electronics, Apple's mindshare in popular culture has increased drastically, and the Apple retail stores are a smash hit. Apple needed the Macworld conventions in the 20th century but not so much in the 21st.

20th Century 21st Century
Macworld SF and NY attracted thousands of attendees Apple Stores attract 3.4 million visitors every week
Macworld provided the media with major Apple news Macworld forces Apple to announce products post-holiday
Macworld showed that Macs were a viable alternative "I'm a Mac" TV ads hype Mac coolness and relevance
Keynote delivered state-of-the-company message "Stevenote" disappoints without a major new product
Yearly Macworld workshops trained users for a fee Daily Apple store training and Genius Bar are free

Premiere Showcase? Not any more.
The Apple stores have been a resounding success. The average Apple store generates as much revenue as the average Best Buy store. The average Apple store generages more revenue per square foot than Tiffany's. I've been to many Apple stores, and sure, they can be unbearably crowded and noisy, especially on weekends. But I don't need to drive or BART to SF, then park and/or walk to Moscone Center. And I won't be blasted by the demo droids on their PA systems or shilled by the marketing interns ever so eager to scan my badge.

But more importantly, Apple stores are in every state and in many countries around the world. Consumers don't need to travel to SF once a year to get hands-on with the latest products. And from a revenue standpoint, the Apple retail project is vastly more profitable and creates more public awareness than any yearly convention.

Poor Timing
January might be the worst possible time to introduce new consumer products. It's just weeks after the biggest buying season of the year and months before the weather improves and people have recovered from holiday spending. It's also near the middle of the school year, so educational purchases are months away. If Apple schedules their product development to give Steve something important to crow about in January, Apple is forced to release that product at an inopportune time.

Not so long ago, Apple was desperate for any kind of press, positive or negative, at any time of year. Now there's no need to gather all the 3rd party vendors under the Apple umbrella to generate a newsworthy critical mass. Apple already stages their own press events to suit their development and marketing schedules. And each of those events is scrutinized with laser-like intensity by the media.

The new 17" MacBook Pro

No Mindshare Boost
In years past, Macworld helped to establish Macs as alternatives to Wintel PCs at work and at home. This was critical in keeping people interested in Apple's computing hardware and software. But Apple is far more than a computer company now. The iPod and iPhone are deeply embedded in world-wide popular culture. The "I'm a Mac" ad campaign has been very successful and is instantly recognizable. Millions of pairs of eyeballs and eardrums are treated to Apple ads every day. The Apple logo is one of the most recognized brand logos in the world. And the "iPod halo" has helped to dramatically boost Mac sales. So how much more mindshare can a yearly trade show generate? Precious little, I expect.

The Stevenote Problem
Steve just can't win. If he doesn't make any major announcements in his MWSF keynote, he gets negative press. (E.g. MWSF04 when the biggest news was the iPod mini announcement.) If he does make a major product announcement, it's at a very awkward time of year. (E.g. MWSF08 with the MacBook Air announcement.) If Apple schedules their product development to their best advantage, they might not have an announceable new product early in the year. This forces Steve to give a "disappointing" keynote (and possibly yet another extended iLife demo).

And we've all seen how Apple stock usually rises before MWSF and drops immediately after the keynote. It's the old "buy on the rumor, sell on the news" mantra that the utterly predictable lemming-like stock brokers and analysts fall victim to. Almost always, no matter what Steve has said in past years' MWSF keynotes, AAPL drops right after he's surprised us with his "one last thing." Why?

Because AAPL is one of the most heavily manipulated stocks out there. Analysts with long positions all hype new products before and after they are announced. Analysts with short positions all wring their hands over Steve's weight and the fact that iPod market share can never, ever exceed 100 percent. And both groups get exactly what they wanted: a small run-up before the keynote, and a small decline after it.

Apple Store Training
So what about all those training sessions and seminars? You know, the "How to Make Great Wedding iMovies" and "Best Practices with iPhoto" seminars? The ones you paid big bucks for? Yup. Free, in an Apple store near you.

There are over 240 Apple stores in seven countries around the world. Each with a Genius Bar, One to One (if you need some serious hand-holding), and of course the free workshops. The workshops can teach you everything from getting started on a Mac to Photoshop CS3 to running your business on a Mac. So do you really need to book a flight to SF to get up to speed on iLife? I doubt it.

iPhoto demo

Apple vs. IDG: And the Winner by Knockout is...
Apple withdrew from the summer Macworld convention years ago. This was most likely a retaliation against the organizer, IDG, arbitrarily moving Macworld to Boston for whatever reason. Steve didn't like the idea at all. IDG didn't care that he didn't like it. So summer Macworld is no more. I fear the same may happen to MWSF.

I wouldn't be surprised if Steve asked IDG if he could change the name of Macworld to something less Mac-specific. Like Apple World or something like that. Apple dropped "Computer" from its name to shift its image away from that of just a computer company. So why shouldn't they change the name of their big consumer-oriented convention to reflect that shift? Probably because IDG would need to change the name of its MacWorld magazine to match. Not looking good for IDG here. They own a trade show and a magazine, two media formats that are likely headed for extinction.

IDG is already promoting MWSF 2010, having started pre-registration for show floor passes. It sounds like they're trying to put a collaboration spin on the event. As though they think that they can apply Web 2.0 to the real world. Good luck with that.

WWDC: The Other Apple Convention
But wait! There's another Apple convention, and "Mac" isn't in its name. It's the World Wide Developers Conference, and I've been to my fair share of those as well. WWDC08 was a sell-out and I would be expect a sellout this year as well. Why? Well, for one thing, Mac sales are increasing. But iPhone sales are cracking, and the App Store has become a monster hit. All of this means that software development for Mac and iPhone is gaining momentum, which makes WWDC enormously important to Apple and their developer community. If apps like iFart can generate $15K a day, hey, why not learn Objective-C, Cocoa, and Xcode, mash up an app, and get rich quick?

Apple has already made WWDC an important venue for introducing new Apple products. And it's at a better time of year for product announcements as well. Since WWDC is geared toward professionals as opposed to consumers, products introduced at previous WWDC keynotes have tended to be the pro Macs and pro Mac OS apps. Recently it has been the venue for iPhone announcements, which should be a crystal clear indication of how important the Mac OS X Touch interface is to Apple's future.

Regardless, announcing products at WWDC in the summer leaves the latter half of the year for back-to-school product announcements and holiday season product announcements. The yearly iPod refresh has become a fall tradition. Just like in clothing fashions, Apple sets the trend with "this year's collection" every fall.

iMacs running iWork '09

Oh, and One More Thing
Are you ready? Here we go. Let's go out on a limb and predict that Steve will be retiring in the next few years. He's already transformed Apple from a mismanaged has-been circling the drain to a consumer electronics, media, and computing powerhouse. He's already a billionaire with his Disney and Apple stock. But he isn't getting any younger.

Phil Schiller has been on stage for many MWSF keynotes, and this year did it himself. This is a logical first step in easing Steve out of the public eye. And whether or not Phil is capable of succeeding Steve is open to debate. But the cold truth remains. If and when Steve fully recovers, he'll still be within shouting distance of retirement. So the Wall Street spin will shift from his health to his age. Apple's board members must be fully aware of this, and they're no fools. I'm certain that they're already developing a succession strategy, with input from Steve himself.

The Future
There was a time when Apple craved any kind of media attention. Now they get all the media attention they can handle, and they need to manage their image carefully. By simply having more events during the year, when and where they want them, Apple can reduce the amount of incoherent buzz around each one. More events means more media coverage. Less advance warning might reduce the number and intensity of bizarre rumors. Media-only events mean smaller, more professional crowds. Smaller crowds allow booking smaller venues, which in turn means more flexibility in scheduling. And Apple still has WWDC as their big-convention keynote venue if they wish to use it as such.

There are already rumors that Apple will attend CES next year. That's a different kind of show, full of industry professionals as opposed to MWSF's vast herd of consumers. Showing their wares at CES could take the fight to Microsoft and other competitors on their own turf. In 2007, all eyes at CES were on MWSF because of the iPhone announcement. In 2010, Apple could get right up in the clone makers' faces in Vegas instead of just phoning it in from SF.

So in the end, does Apple need MWSF? No. Does MWSF need Apple? Yes. So goodbye Macworld. I won't be going back next year. It was nice while it lasted.