What Do I Care? Why Apple and Macworld No Longer Need Each Other

As a journalist specializing in the Mac web, I strive to remain -- above all things -- an observer. (Puns involving the name of the website on which you are reading this are understandable.)

So when I get asked things like “don’t you support Macworld Expo?” or “Don’t you think Apple has an obligation to exhibit at Macworld?” I get a little uncomfortable.

No, I don’t “support” Macworld Expo. If that event has enough value to its audience, it will survive. If it doesn’t, it will not. It’s not for me to provide it with support; I am an observer, and my job is to report on whether it succeeds at its goals or doesn’t.

And no, I don’t think Apple has an “obligation” to support the Expo. Apple has an obligation to its stockholders and its employees. That’s pretty much it. Is it smart for Apple to support the community on which it relies for its success? I’d say sure. But again: I’m just an observer -- that’s not my call. So -- if Apple decides its best interests are met by skipping Macworld Expo in favor of special events, working on its own calendar and relying on the traffic it sees in its retail stores to get its message out, I can understand that.

What complicates things is the implications and consequences of Apple’s decisions on the rest of the Mac universe. Because they don’t just impact the company’s own fortunes, they have the potential to impact an entire industry built around Apple and its products -- a whole infrastructure of software developers, hardware manufacturers and service providers.

And so, larger questions come to the fore: not “does Apple need Macworld,” but “does Macworld need Apple?” More specifically, “do the companies that rely on Apple need Apple to be at Macworld?”

In my mind, the answer is simple: not unless they think they do.

It is a classic case of the self-fulfilling prophecy: Exhibitors and attendees believe that without Apple, there is no reason to attend Macworld. Without exhibitors and attendees, Macworld cannot succeed.

Macworld dies. Prophecy fulfilled.

Imagine a different reality for a minute, though. Apple doesn’t attend, so exhibitors, no longer competing with the company, get more exposure than ever. Attendees, who have already seen Apple’s latest offerings, get to focus on the other companies plying their wares. They get to attend conference sessions where instructors have already seen and perhaps have been able to examine those new offerings -- in addition to the subjects they’ve long been preparing to explore. The giant spotlight of attention that previously belonged almost exclusively to Apple can now shine brightly on the periphery of the Mac universe.

Macworld thrives. Prophecy of doom averted.

There’s a very simple fact in play at a Macworld Expo that does not include Apple’s presence: more attention can be given to the rest of the Macintosh market (and that includes the iPod/iPhone/iPad marketplace as well.) But it all hinges on whether or not the exhibitors and attendees are willing to keep participating in a Macworld without Apple.

The benefits are enormous, and the payoff is there for the taking for those who are willing to take the risk. The key is separating what is better for Apple (at least in its view) from what is better for the larger Mac marketplace and community.

Do I care? Yes, I do. Not so much from a standpoint of whether or not the Macworld Conference and Expo itself survives. Or whether the exhibitors profit from the extra exposure that has essentially been handed to them on a silver platter. Or even whether the Mac community benefits from the opportunity to learn more about companies they might not have otherwise had the chance to learn about, or what extra insights they might garner from the extra information the conference faculty might be able to provide.

No, I care because a Macworld that has these advantages is far more interesting to cover and has infinitely more stories to tell.

Call me selfish, but a Mac universe without Macworld would be a much less interesting place to observe -- and report.