MacWorld impressions

12 Jan 2009|Lee Shupp

I spent a couple of afternoons exploring MacWorld this past week, immersing myself in All Things Apple. Here are my impressions, and why I think it makes sense for Apple to pull out of MacWorld to participate in CES instead.

MacWorld was a bit peculiar this year, with Steve Jobs pulling out of the keynote for health reasons and Apple announcing that it would not participate in the conference after this year. It was like going to a party to find out that the host is sick and that he didn’t want to throw the party anyway. But all of the people already there say go ahead and have fun, it’s really not a problem. Um, yeah…

The audience was smaller than in years past for many reasons, including the imploding economy, no Steve Jobs, no big new product announcements, and no more Apple after this year. That actually made is much easier to walk around and really get a good look at all of the products and services on display. The Apple ecosystem is bigger, more diverse, and more robust than ever, anchored by the Holy Trinity of Apple products: Mac, iPhone and iPod. Where Apple used to struggle as a computer maker with 4% market share, it’s now a diversified consumer electronics company with three very hot product lines, each with its own surrounding ecosystem. The company has made some very big bets, delivered really great products, and is in a much better competitive position than it’s been in for a long time.

The biggest thing missing was any mention of Apple’s new operating system, code named Snow Leopard. With Microsoft announcing Windows 7 beta at CES, Apple had a big opportunity to steal some thunder from Microsoft, which it missed. If Apple is smart, it will try to release its new OS this fall, ahead of Windows 7. To not do so would be a big blunder, as we can expect Microsoft to come roaring back with a great OS experience with much fanfare this time, after learning hard lessons from Vista.

MacWorld had its usual emphasis on the creative arts, and more enterprise applications than I’ve seen previously. There was a digital photography track, with great digital photos on display all over the convention. There was a digital music track, with demos conducted by students and faculty of the Berklee school of music. And there were accessories all over the place, as people enthusiastically looked for ways to dress up and accessorize their Apple products. This near fetishism of Apple hardware is a great compliment to Apple products. You just don’t see this kind of effort put into dressing up Dell or HP hardware.

The crowd was the usual diverse San Francisco crowd, with a stronger international presence than I’ve seen at MacWorld in years past. There were old hippies promoting Mac User groups, and young hipsters buying the latest trendy Japanese accessories for their iPods, and just about everything in between. About 5% of the crowd was wearing bunny ears, and I never did find out why.

Why Apple is smart to pull out of MacWorld:
With Steve Jobs health in question (not everyone is buying the “hormonal imbalance” line), it’s time to move from the Cult of Steve to a grown up consumer electronics company that can survive, and thrive, after he’s gone.
Apple has correctly deduced that its strong retail presence gives it direct access to its customers all of the time, so it no longer needs MacWorld as a customer touch point.
It makes no sense to do product announcements in January; Apple is doing product launches when they make sense, rather than waiting until the holiday shopping season has just ended.

Why Apple should do CES:
There are rumors that Apple may do CES, and I think it should. Apple is big and successful now, and it should go play with the big boys in Vegas. The Apple experience is unique enough to stand out from everything else there, and it will be good for Apple to stand up and be counted with all of the other consumer electronics companies there. Apple products can stand up to anything at CES.

The difference between MacWorld and CES…
Is the difference between a San Francisco Whole Foods and a Las Vegas mega-Costco.

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