The End of Macworld Expo

Macworld Expo is over. At least as we know it. Yesterday, Apple announced that 2009 would be "the last year the company will exhibit at Macworld Expo." Further, Philip Schiller will be delivering the keynote at the upcoming Macworld Expo -- not Steve Jobs. And this will be "Apple’s last keynote at the show." Oh yes. Macworld Expo is so over.

I know some of you may accuse me of being alarmist or overreactive here. So be it. I firmly believe I am correct.

In theory, Macworld Expo could continue to thrive without an Apple booth in the Exhibit Hall and without an Apple keynote address. In theory, yes. In reality, it will not. It will not do so anymore than the Macworld Expo in Boston survived the loss of Apple back in 2005.

For one thing, it isn't just Apple that is pulling up stakes. Several other big companies, including Adobe and Belkin, had already announced their departure for this year. With Apple now going, others are sure to follow by next year. Blame it on the bad economy or the fading role of trade shows or whatever else you want. But these companies are going away and will almost certainly never be coming back. I predict that next year, the Exhibit Hall will be, at best, a shadow of its former self.

In theory, Macworld Expo could survive without an Exhibit Hall at all. Instead, it could focus entirely on conferences and workshops. It could transform itself into something more like Apple's WWDC. In theory, yes. In reality, this too won't happen. I don't know the exact percentage, but I estimate that at least 75% of the people attending Macworld Expo only go to the Exhibit Hall. Without the exhibits, the show would devolve down to a much smaller event. Because of its favorable location, it might barely survive in this reduced state (even though an attempt to do the same thing in Boston failed altogether). But it would no longer be the Macworld Expo we now know.

More likely, Macworld Expo 2010 will be the final one.

There are still a couple of mysteries that surround this news.

The biggest one is: Why now? Why did Apple decide to make the announcement of its termination just a few weeks before the 2009 Expo? They could have waited until after the event was over. It seems almost unnecessarily cruel to have dropped this bombshell at this juncture.

The obvious answer is because Steve Jobs is no longer going to deliver the keynote. Once that was a given, it made sense to reveal the rest of the news as well. But that just bumps the question up a level: Why is Steve not giving the keynote this year? Why not do it this one last time and then announce Apple's departure?

No one outside of Apple knows the certain answer to this question. Some have speculated that it is related to problems with Steve's health. I suspect something more mundane. This is all consistent with Steve's personality and general mode of operation. Once he decided that Apple's relationship with Macworld Expo was going to be over, he wanted nothing to do with the event anymore. Not even to show up for the Expo keynote next month.

Indeed, I suspect that Apple's decision to pull out of the Expo is about more than just economics. It's about control. Macworld Expo was the last non-Apple-sponsored event where Steve Jobs and friends had a big presence. Now all of their interactions with the public can be shaped and controlled by Apple itself -- from their retail stores to the WWDC to special invitation-only media events. For better or worse, Apple is like a politician who wants to limit his public apperances to staged rallies rather than holding a press conference. It's all about control.

I expect Steve Jobs to be at the WWDC and other Apple events over the coming year. At these events, it has been common to bring out a well-known singer to close the keynote. For this year's Macworld Expo, if there is a guest at all, it will almost certainly be an overweight female opera singer.