Apple bowing out of MacWorld after January 2009 comes as a shock to many. But, really, according to a source at Apple, they've been planning to get off MacWorld for a long, long time.
They are not lying in their press release. NAB, MacWorld Tokyo, AppleExpo in Paris, and Summer MacWorld at New York/Boston were the path to this not-really-that-shocking event. They almost quit in 2002, but about two years ago I was sharing some wine with a friend from Apple and he told me: "We are going to phase out all trade shows". "Even MacWorld?," I asked. "Yes," he said, "MacWorld will go too. I don't know when, but it will."
I was a bit shocked then, but I understood. The effectiveness of these events in terms of media impact is not as important as it used to be. In fact, the impact is no different from the smaller press- and analyst-only events. These generate the same amount of buzz as a big fair. The first time I went to the Apple campus was for the first truly specialized Apple event: They presented the Xserve to a group of trade journalists and analysts. They got exactly the impact they wanted in exactly the media they wanted. In addition to this, the special events dates are set by Apple. They don't have to depend on other people's schedules.
But none of these reasons explain why Steve Jobs is not giving the final keynote himself. If any other thing, Steve Jobs retiring from active duty at Apple sooner than expected is the factor that has precipitated this cancellation. The company is not going to have a showman like him, capable of keeping the crowd with their mouths open during a two-hour long MacWorld presentation, so why do it? And with smaller events centered on single product families-where Steve absence won't be so hard to cover- who cares?
On the other side, it could all just be that they don't have anything to announce this time and Steve has had enough of this stupid yearly big bang that crushes everyone at engineering and marketing.
However, all the signs point to Steve preparing to transfer the company to new hands. The simplest explanation, following previous events, is that canceling MacWorld and having Phil Schiller to present it is just another part of His Plan. This doesn't mean that he is leaving the company tomorrow, however. it is just one more step towards that goal, as I explained back in October.