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The Macworld Expo Eulogy: Remember the Lessons of History

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.