Apple won't be missed at Macworld Expo

Here's to future Macworld Expos featuring keynote speakers who don't have to walk eggshells to avoid alienating Apple

Vendors rarely issue public statements announcing what they won't be doing, but Apple, which loves to set trends, sent out a press release praising Macworld Expo before ditching it. No kidding; Apple is blowing off the world's only trade show devoted to celebrating that computer which is not a PC, along with the businesses whose success is tied to Apple's own, and, incidentally, vice versa. It's a bit like not attending an expensive and love-laden birthday party thrown by your best friend.

(By way of full disclosure, Macworld Expo and InfoWorld share a parent company, IDG. I'm not involved in Macworld Expo except as an attendee, and my opinions are rooted in this perspective.)

[ For more news from the show floor, see InfoWorld's special report: Macworld 2009 ]

I'm reminded of the protests that raged after Apple's withdrawal from the National Association of Broadcasters trade show, the must-attend for creative professionals in the video and film production industries. Apple's competitors are all there, with massive booths that are primarily frequented by existing customers. Booth staffers sometimes slam-sell against Apple's absence, as though that's a tacit snub to attendees or indicative of Apple's reluctance to be seen next to putatively superior alternatives.

In truth, Apple doesn't lose a single sale of Final Cut Pro to its lack of presence at NAB or any other crowded gathering. If I were on the fence about a choice between Final Cut and Avid, I'd rather snag an appointment on the prestigious upper floor of a metropolitan Apple Store and get a quiet, unhurried private demo of tools from someone who knows how to drive them. That's also where you can see OS X Server in action and get answers to IT questions, and from a seated position.

Trade shows do serve businesses that don't enjoy Apple's high profile, but if you're a show-going vendor, sharing a thinly carpeted exhibit floor with Apple isn't much of a selling point. All it takes to signal that you sell Mac-compatible products is the presence of a Mac in your booth, and booths with one Samsonite folding table can get more swamped than the big ones with hanging banners. That's the magic of a Mac: Stand one in your booth and buyers will come. Any third party that wants it has a spot under Apple's halo, and they don't need to forge a partnership deal with Apple to get it.

The future of Macworld Expo doesn't hinge on Apple's presence. It needs some change, starting with a date that doesn't overlap with the massive Consumer Electronics Show. I'd like to see a name change to something more inclusive than "Mac" so that iPhone and cross-platform products can get appropriate billing. I wonder who might be featured in future keynotes, but I expect the show overall will be more exciting due to the lack of need to avoid making its headliner angry. Just imagine the draw if a pre-show press release touted the appearance of a prominent iPhone hacker or, failing that, a couple of guys from Mythbusters blasting coupons for a year's worth of AT&T iPhone coverage into the crowd with an air-powered cannon.

Apple's not out of the trade show biz. It still has its Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC), a lavish shindig that fetes and attracts Mac and iPhone developers but which has also become the main stage for major hardware and software announcements. I predict that Apple will rely more heavily on its Town Hall gatherings, periodic invite-only events that draw a media crowd equivalent in size to the reserved front rows at WWDC and Macworld Expo, and which feature an executive Q&A. It takes far longer to fly in and out than it does to get the meat of new product news, and we get to handle and photograph the products without the fidgety guys behind us waiting their turn.

Incidentally, Apple did show new products during its final bow at Macworld Expo. A 6.6-pound, aluminum unibody 17-inch MacBook Pro with an LED backlight and a new battery formulation that delivers a promised eight hours of running time and 1,000 charge cycles took the spotlight. The new battery has a budget-friendly replacement cost of $179, lowering the long-term operating expense of the machine. The machine starts at $2,799.

Apple also rolled out iLife '09 and iWork '09, the pinnacle of bundled consumer and affordable business productivity suites, respectively. These are products I have yet to see, but it's an advantage that the products come to me. I won't get the mattress-thick carpet, the kiosks abandoned by booth staffers who sneak off to grab a Dove Bar, or the notebooks locked to the table with a four inch cable, but honestly, I won't miss them. Other vendors will get the deserved attention that only trade shows can offer. Apple gets all the attention it needs.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.