Much is being made of Apple’s decision to leave the Macworld show. You can look at this from several angles:
New Product Announcements
From Apple’s point of view, leaving Macworld is a major win. This unbinds them from the need to pull out all the stops in order to have new products ready for an arbitrary deadline. It also will improve Apple’s holiday sales. No person knowledgeable about Apple would buy anything (unless it was freshly announced) in the 2-3 months before Macworld. You’d be nuts to. Now consumers won’t be able to count on an event to in order to help guide their buying decisions.
My guess is that it has become harder and harder to for Apple to time their announcements for the show. On the computer side, the Macintosh hardware cycle is now irrevocably linked to Intel’s hardware roadmap. Intel has their own schedule about when they ship products, and it overlaps badly with Macworld. Take the Nehalem release as an example. If Apple stays true to form and uses server Nehalem’s in the Mac Pro and laptop Nehalems in the iMac, then there is no reason to believe that there will be significant (non clock speed bump) release of either the Mac Pro or the iMac this January. As far as Intel has said, the Nehalem launch dates simply won’t allow it. On the other hand, Intel is reasonably good about telegraphing the direction of their hardware, so you might be able use these dates as a guide for new computer product launches.
As an individual purchaser of Apple products, I’m not excited about this, because it increases the risk that I’m going to buy something and then be unhappily surprised. But as an Apple stockholder, I think that this will actually be a better move for Apple’s business in the long run.
The Macintosh community
Some people are lamenting the end of the Macworld show (not a forgone conclusion) as a blow to the Macintosh community. I’m not sure that I agree with this. Macworld doesn’t have to die just because Apple is pulling out, and even if Macworld did die, then maybe there would be another event to spring up in it’s place. For me personally, I’m getting more than my fill of Macintosh news, commentary, and other interaction via the Internet. Back when I lived in Boston, I used to attend Macworld, but my attendance was mostly walking the exhibit floor, occasionally talking to a vendor, and then taking off. I actually have much better relationships with Mac developers now. All I have to do is drop them e-mail. Personally, I think it’s pretty clear that there’s something wrong with the traditional trade show / conference model — and I don’t just mean Macworld, here. I’d like to see something different emerge, and I hope that the problems with the economy will force that different thing into existence.
Apple’s succession plan / Steve Jobs is sick
This is perhaps the most troubling angle. People (rightly or wrongly) attribute a large amount of Apple’s success to Steve Jobs. I’ve personally experienced the Steve Jobs effect – he returned to Apple when I was working there. Many of us also remember the train of ineffective CEO’s that preceded Steve’s return. Could Apple continue on its path of success if Jobs were to leave the company? With the right leadership, it could, but it is hard to know if the rest of the team is up to the job. I hope they are.