“Boring?” Maybe Apple Really Has Outgrown Macworld Expo

Disappointed? Not me!

I thought Apple’s farewell Macworld Expo keynote had plenty of substance, notwithstanding that Phil Schiller lacks Steve Jobs’ on-stage presence and charisma. Phil had an unenviable assignment, and I think he carried it off well. I’ve been astonished and saddened by a quite large proportion of reaction and commentary declaring the keynote “disappointing,” “boring,” “a failure,” “going out with a whimper,” and so on and so forth.

Not everyone of course. Motley Fool’s Anders Bylund called it “brilliant,” chiding the nattering nabobs of negativism to “open your eyes, guys and gals. It doesn’t get any better than this.” That may be a bit over-enthusiastically effusive, but I too would rate it one of the better Expo keynotes.

Of course, I’m a laptop devotee, so any keynote with a major portable Mac announcement is a good one in my books, but there were also substantial iWork and iLife suite upgrades, the removal of DRM from iTunes downloads is arguably revolutionary and there were significant adjustments to the iTunes song price structure. All in all not too shabby.

Widespread Negative Reception

Those declaring the Macworld Expo 2009 keynote the dullest ever seem to have forgotten that there were no Mac hardware announcements at all in Steve Jobs’ Macworld keynote two years ago (although there was a little gizmo called the iPhone that was previewed), leaving it up to indie Axiotron to hold up the computer end of things with the unveiling of their MacBook based Modbook tablet computer. Actually, Axiotron came through again this year with their new Modbook Pro announcement.

I was saddened to hear that this will be the last Macworld Expo in which Apple will participate, but the widespread negative reception this year’s keynote got is helping convince me that bailing from the show may have been the right decision.

The annual Expo hoopla has become in some ways a no-win equation for Apple. If they introduce something at the show, it’s never enough, eliciting “is that all?” reactions, while not rolling out some game-changing “one more thing” leads to accusations that Apple has lost its innovative groove.

Apple At CES In 2010?

With Macs continuing to sell reasonably briskly despite the miserable economy, the iPhone storming (er… sorry RIM) the smartphone space, and Mac OS X (including the iPhone version) cresting more than of 10 percent of the OS market and indeed approaching half of Vista’s penetration, Apple is becoming part of the computing and communications mainstream, no longer a niche player, and perhaps it has simply outgrown the MUG on steroids ambience of the annual January love-in.

Apple’s Macworld Expo pullout poses several questions going forward, including, obviously, whether the show can survive more than a year or two (and indeed begs the question of whether there will really be a Macworld Expo 2010 at all). Another line of speculation is whether Apple will be a participant in the Consumer Electronics Show at Las Vegas next year as just an ordinary exhibitor rather than having to lay on a keynote extravaganza.

Apple is More Than Steve Jobs

Apple is more than Steve Jobs, and someday Jobs will step down as CEO of the company.

I actually became a Mac-head in about the middle of Jobs’ exile from the company, while Michael Spindler headed the company. I had a vague consciousness of who Jobs was, but having been pretty much oblivious to the computer world until the early ’90s I missed Apple’s early development years and the first Jobsian epoch and I still found much to delight in the Mac computer orbit.

Now, I’m not trying to minimize Steve Jobs’ instrumental contributions to that orbit in the slightest. I’m highly doubtful that Apple would still be around in anything like its present form, and would more likely be a niche division of some other corporate entity had it not been for Steve Jobs’ return to the helm in 1997. And OS X, which has been such a monster success for Apple is based on Jobs’ NextStep operating system that he developed as founder and CEO of NeXT Computer, the purchase of which brought Jobs back into the fold in 1996.

Jobs saved Apple and OS X played a pivotal role in how he did it, but with the solid foundations he’s laid, I’m confident prospects will continue to be bright for Apple in the post-Jobs era, whenever that becomes a reality. I hope it will be a good long time yet until we fond out for sure, but in the meantime, making moves like dialing back Jobs’ prominence as figurehead, spokesman, and public persona for the company is a sensible and logical strategy, and bidding farewell to the Macworld Expo circus is probably healthy as well.

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