The Macworld Expo Eulogy: Remember the Lessons of History

December 18th, 2008

All right, Paul Kent, head of the Macworld Expo, is doing his level best to put a positive spin on the loss of Apple Inc. He promises that the event will continue regardless, and that they are already promising great things for 2010.

That’s just fine and dandy, and you have to expect that sort of response. It’s not as if the Expo sponsors, IDG World Expo, are going to admit it’s all over and it’s time to get on with our lives. Instead, I fully expect them to attempt to fulfill their promise to keep the event going.

But let’s not forget what happened in 2002, when IDG decided to move the east coast event back from New York to Boston. Now I understand their reasoning, since dealing with the Big Apple, severe union-related restrictions and high costs, really made staging the affair a messy, irritating process. Unfortunately, Apple was evidently not evidently given final approval on the new location, since they opposed the move.

And so Apple pulled out of that event. In fact, the 2003 keynote was relegated to second stringer Greg Joswiak, rather than Jobs. Does all this sound all-too-familiar?

Now I don’t pretend to know what really went on behind the scenes between Apple and the Expo people this time out. There are published reports, not confirmed, that Apple was prepared to pull the plug as well on the west coast trade show back in 2002. It may even be true that they gave their notice then and there, and IDG made a last-ditch effort to salvage the deal.

Regardless of what really happened, not having Steve Jobs around to deliver the keynote in 2009 is just a strong message from Apple that they don’t regard trade shows as terribly significant to their marketing strategy. It quite likely has nothing whatever to do with the state of his health, and, actually, putting marketing VP Phil Schiller in charge isn’t a bad move. Phil is smart, and has a nice sense of humor. He can definitely be depended on to do a credible job with whatever material he is presented.

The other story is that another reason for giving Macworld Expo second rate status is that Apple really doesn’t have a whole lot of new stuff to introduce in January. The whole rigid scheduling of the event clearly put Apple in a bind, as they had to tailor their product release schedule at times to get the news out in accordance with IDG’s timetable and not their own.

Certainly, that wasn’t a bad idea with the iPhone 3G, where six months of solid coverage really helped that snazzy new smartphone hit the ground running. But it may have also forced Apple to release some products prematurely. Consider the 2006 release of the first Intel-based Mac note-books. While most of you had great experiences with those products, swollen batteries, hot surfaces and other issues might be blamed on the fact that Apple should have waited a month or two longer to iron out the kinks.

But they had to have something big to talk about at Macworld Expo, so there you go, and it seems clear to me that they chafed over being forced to accede to someone else’s schedule and not their own.

When they go it alone, Apple can have the press announcements at the appropriate time and be assured of fast, worldwide coverage from mainstream media. Some new products may simply be announced with a press release and a handful of briefings. It all depends on where they fit in with the company’s marketing strategy. But regardless, they call the shots.

As far as the Expo is concerned, remember what happened in Boston after Apple’s departure. Tbey tried for two years to sustain themselves, but, with declining vendor participation and sharply reduced attendance, they threw in the towel.

Now Macworld San Francisco might be a little different. For one thing, it’s the last Expo on the planet, and it’s also a great place to network and attend those important conferences from major developers that help you become more productive with their products. Or, perhaps, you’ll also discover new tools to explore further.

However, Adobe is now off the radar, and I expect other big companies will join them. Even though 2010 might be the year for the next Office for the Mac, would Microsoft bother to exhibit at the Expo if Apple wasn’t there? Food for thought, definitely.

Now I am going to really miss the Expo. I’m not a party person, but I enjoyed meeting friends and business contacts that with whom I had experienced long distance associations other than that singular event. The keynote was always enjoyable, but I also had a great time walking the exhibit floors, talking with people and sometimes just hanging out.

All that is going to soon come to an end, however hard IDG tries to put a positive spin on the situation. Without Steve Jobs, I’m not inclined to attend the 2009 Expo, and you can be assured I won’t be back after that either, however long it lasts.

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5 Responses to “The Macworld Expo Eulogy: Remember the Lessons of History”

  1. Lawrence Rhodes says:

    I will be attending the 2009 Macworld Expo — if it’s the swan song, I want to be there. Also, since I’ve never ponied up for the Stevenote, or purchased an Adobe application, these omissions don’t directly affect me. I do agree that the cultural aspects of Expo will be hard to replace; I’ve been attending for almost 20 years and I’ve met some great developers at the booths, found out many useful details, personally requested new features, and discovered quite a number of applications I hadn’t previously imagined. The Web does a good job but I’ll miss the personal interaction. It would be nice if enough people would still attend to continue that aspect of the show.

  2. Paul Kent says:

    Hi Gene – appreciate your coverage of the happenings of this week. I can tell you that the lessons of the east coast event are not lost on me and my team. Building something new and interesting that is worth all participants time and money, and not simply dropping the same event format down are our guiding principles moving forward. With regards to the post by Mr. Rhodes above – it’s the precisely the cultural aspects of the event that I feel are our strongest asset moving forward. Those cultural aspects are largely created by a 25 year base of community and added to by the new developers and attendees that have been flocking to the show with the market’s resurgence in the past several years. In fact, you could argue that Apple was the least significant bit with regards to cultural aspects at the show. A small minority of total attendees could attend the keynote; there are nearly 500 total exhibitors at the show – incredible hardware and software innovations abound and those companies are looking for mindshare from the community and international press. And as has been covered by many commentators on this matter, our conferences are world class educational affairs that provide incredible professional development opportunities. Our role going forward is to showcase the amazing things people are doing with Apple products, and bring to life the joyful creativity of expression going on when using Mac tools for things like music, photography, videography, personal productivity and entertainment. The tools are made by Apple – sharing how they can best be used is something that a well designed, imaginative event can bring to life in a unique way. We have a great opportunity here to go to new places and create something that really resonates with Apple product users (Mac, iPhone and iPod) in new, cool ways. We’ll have a lot more to say about this starting at Expo this year. Stay tuned.

  3. I’ve always enjoyed my Expo experiences. I’d like to see you and the crew make it happen successfully after Apple’s exit. You understand my skepticism, but certainly I’ll be watching and hoping.


  4. Mike Kaufmann says:

    Let’s have David Pogue do the keynote!

  5. Mike Kaufmann wrote:

    Let’s have David Pogue do the keynote!

    Fascinating idea, but he doesn’t work for Apple and is an independent journalist. The keynote has to be delivered by a company spokesperson according to tradition.


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