Steve Jobs is not going to deliver this year's Macworld keynote. We suspected this was coming. But there's more: Apple has confirmed that this is their last Macworld ever.
Instead of Jobs, delivering this year's supposedly final Macworld keynote is Phil Schiller, Apple's senior VP of worldwide product marketing.
While we have confirmed this information with Apple, what this means for WWDC or town halls is unknown. We had predicted that Steve Jobs was preparing his farewell following his highly de-centered introduction of the new MacBooks. At the very, very best, this is another step in that direction, preparing the world for an Apple without Steve. We don't really want to think about the worst.
But we have to. This sudden, dramatic announcement says to some, loudly and unfortunately clearly, that Jobs' health has taken a significant dive since his appearance introducing the new MacBooks. One theory might be that Jobs had to step down one day, and while we noticed a transition towards other execs at Apple events, starting this fall, a true control freak would want to step down on his own terms before something like health required them to do it without any say in the matter. That's one theory. But there are far better ways to do this. The best way being Jobs finishing his long career of on stage presentations by giving the last and final Macworld Keynote presentation in person. There's not really any reason why they wouldn't have planned it this way. At least a brief, headlining appearance Jobs, followed by a team effort announcing new products—if for no other reason than to dispel the alarm that's already shaking the internet, but also to make the transition even smoother.
What's Wrong With Macworld?
There are other possibilities besides illness, we suppose. Is it a decline in the confidence and importance of Macworld? Also possible, but let's remember this is where Apple launched the iPhone, its most important product since the iPod, and this past year, the MacBook Air, which set the tone for its notebooks for the rest of the year. True, this year's rumored products—an updated Mac mini (plausible), iPhone nano (stupid) and tablet/netbook (dream on) aren't mind-blowing, but still. What we have seen happen in the last few years is Apple use the internet and their marketing dollars to reach the mainstream without the mainstream press. They probably don't need Macworld or that major expense, even if Apple can afford it. Apple's launched plenty of product at Cupertino HQ recently and they've all done well, and on Apple's own timetable. (Macworld is in January, at the slump of the retail world's cycle.)
Money, Money, Money
So why not announce a full retirement, if he is too ill to continue—a possibility if he's too ill to show up on stage? This opaque announcement is more mysterious, and uncertainties tend to be more troubling than truths, even hard ones. Apple stock hasn't quite felt the impact, only down 5 points in after hours trading, but if Steve really is worth $20 billion to Apple's market cap, once the news spreads, expect it to plummet further, faster. An iPhone delay rumor might knock off a few billion, but the suddenly realer than ever possibility Apple's wizard-in-chief really is about to fade into the night—something that spooked traders even when Jobs actually did make an appearance—is an even more drastic event. In the long run, Jobs handing over the reigns is a GOOD thing to start doing now, to reduce dependence of the stock price on one man alone. If Steve leaves the day to day entirely, the only way any one is going to have confidence in the company is if they see and feel other executives have been in place for awhile. Like Ballmer taking over for Gates, a transition that took years upon years, Apple would be dumb to start this process late. And incredibly dumb to do so on the leader's deathbed, as the world is now speculating.
And why Phil Schiller? Why not the man most likely to wear the crown, Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook, who resembles Jobs more than anyone else at Apple? If Steve Jobs was retiring, why wouldn't he announce his retirement himself? Or have his immediate successor do it? All questions we'll have to wait until Macworld to get answers to, unless Apple's iron secrecy dissolves in this apparent crisis moment. Another one: If a transition isn't what's happening here, but Steve is too ill to appear in public, how is he possibly well enough run Apple from behind the scenes? Why wouldn't he make the transition more smooth if at all possible, gradually transferring power to his chosen successor. An opaque announcement—that Apple had to have known would spark this speculative frenzy is NOT the optimal way to do this.
The timing of this whole thing is really off, too, in more ways than one. News that you want buried, you drop on Friday, not Tuesday, which is actually the optimal day for the MOST coverage. Also, if Steve Jobs is in fact retiring, the best, most controlling way to do announce this would be at Macworld, Apple's final Macworld, without this back-handed press release sending the press (us) into a frenzy before the fact. This seems like the worst way, but there are other paths that even crappier, which is likely why they're doing it this way: him appearing seriously ill on stage, or worst of worsts, dying before Macworld. Which if the latter were the tragic case, it's unlikely, given how (very rightly) guarded he is about his health, that Steve would announce its imminence. Maybe burying news would have seemed weak, and so Apple launched this on Tuesday in an unflinching message of bravado. Crazy, but this is a cult we're talking about.
The Next iThingies?
Even supposing the worst of all possible scenarios, we don't think this will change Apple's roadmap, at least not for the immediate future—products have to be designed and engineered way in advance, so 2009's slate is likely already completely mapped out, so even if Jobs does leave Apple soon, his direct hand will be felt in Apple products for at least the next year, if not longer. (That's even assuming too much; just because he's not presenting doesn't mean he's actually stepping down day to day.) And undoubtedly, his impact and legacy will endure far beyond that. Lack of product is a possible but unlikely thing to happen in the near future, specifically Macworld. Maybe the fact they have an uberproduct in the wings is a good counterbalance to losing Steve's presentation skills? But then again, one way to look at it is that the Macworld cycle is, again, broken, and Apple has nothing to present this year and Jobs won't get on stage for that. So, just as likely, if not more so than health issues, is that Apple simply has no amazing product to present at Macworld, so they're sending the B-team to present it, conveniently broadcasting the irrelevance of Macworld at the same time. The possibilities are endless.
Apple spokesman Steve Dowling reiterates the irrelevance of Macworld as the rationale for their pullout, saying that ""It doesn't make sense for us to make a major investment in a trade show we will no longer be attending." But it still doesn't address why Steve won't speak at the final big show.
The End of an Era
So maybe this is the real announcement at this year's Macworld, the one everyone knew would come one day, though it doesn't make any less shocking.
More on this very topic:
• Steve Jobs Skipping Final Macworld Apple Keynote
• How the News of a Job-less Keynote Was Forced Out
• Valleywag: Control freak Steve Jobs's chaotic Macworld no-show news
• Will Trade Shows Survive?
• On Steve Jobs-less Keynote: Sometimes I Hate It When I'm Right
• Do You Think Steve Jobs Is Retiring Very Soon?
• Is Steve Jobs Preparing His Farewell?
• The Quiet Man Who May Become Apple King
Apple Announces Its Last Year at Macworld
CUPERTINO, Calif., Dec. 16 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ — Apple(R) today announced that this year is the last year the company will exhibit at Macworld Expo. Philip Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of Worldwide Product Marketing, will deliver the opening keynote for this year's Macworld Conference & Expo, and it will be Apple's last keynote at the show. The keynote address will be held at Moscone West on Tuesday, January 6, 2009 at 9:00 a.m. Macworld will be held at San Francisco's Moscone Center January 5-9, 2009.
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.
Apple has been steadily scaling back on trade shows in recent years, including NAB, Macworld New York, Macworld Tokyo and Apple Expo in Paris.
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award-winning computers, OS X operating system and iLife and professional applications. Apple is also spearheading the digital media revolution with its iPod portable music and video players and iTunes online store, and has entered the mobile phone market with its revolutionary iPhone.
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