Why Steve Jobs isn’t speaking at Macworld

Wed, Dec 17, 2008

Analysis, Featured, Finance, News

Though seemingly coming out of left field, Steve Jobs’ decision not to speak at the Macworld keynote this January makes a lot of sense for a number of reasons.  First of all, Macworld expectations got out of control and put too much pressure on Apple to deliver amazing products at arbitrary times. Second, it’s the most recent step by Apple to introduce other Apple personalities, and to let people know that Steve Jobs is not the only person responsible for Apple’s success.  This is significant because the health of Steve Jobs was starting to overshadow what Jobs was actually announcing.  Leaving Macworld and giving Keynote duties over to Phil Schiller was Apple’s way of taking back control of an event that simply got too big and hyped up for its own good.

1.  Macworld expectations got out of control

The introduction of the iPhone at Macworld in 2007 was not only a monumental event in Apple history, but also changed the cellphone industry to the core.  But ever since the iPhone was introduced, pundits have been looking at subsequent Macworld and Apple events with the expectation that Apple would release another game-changing device.  The reality, however, is that a product like the iPhone simply doesn’t come along every year, or even every 3 years.  The fact of the matter is that some Macworld Keynotes of the past were somewhat boring and uneventful.

Nevertheless, the media started to hype up Apple events to the extent that anything Apple introduced was bound to be considered a failure or a disappointment – and Macworld in particular bore the brunt of those expectations.

The Macworld Expo in San Francisco takes place every January, and the success of the iPhone put Apple in a position where it was expected to unveil, every January, exciting and groundbreaking products, and deliver mind-shattering announcements.  The problem is that that’s not how technology works.  You don’t design a product line around an arbitrary date.  Great products need to grow organically, and the time from conception to production might take anywhere from 6 months to 2 years.  Apple was fast becoming a slave to expectations, and every time Steve Jobs would speak, people would expect the second coming of the iPhone.  But that’s just not realistic.  Apple puts out high-quality products that it believes in.  It doesn’t rush to produce the latest fads in technology (netbooks anyone?) without thinking things through first.  That said, one of the best ways to squash the Steve Jobs/Macworld hype was to have Jobs hand over the Macworld reigns to someone else.

In addition, Apple can better control its own hype by deciding internally when a product announcement should be made, and in what capacity.  It’s worth pointing out that Apple has increasingly relied on its own events to announce major new products such as new iPods and new laptops.  And keep in mind that the most successful Apple product of all-time, the iPod, wasn’t introduced at a Macworld event.

2. Apple is bigger than Steve Jobs

Despite what many pundits and stock analysts would lead you to believe, Apple would not start floundering as a company if Steve Jobs left his position as CEO of the company.  For a variety of reasons, people associate Steve Jobs as being the embodiment of Apple, a man who by himself was able to resurrect Apple from the prospect of financial ruin into one of the most well-respected and successful companies in Silicon Valley.  Though Jobs’ influence in Apple’s success is obvious and can’t be denied, Steve Jobs himself, is not Apple.  The success of Apple is the result of hard work on the part of thousands of skilled Apple engineers, designers, and other employees.

But as Apple has grown over the past few years, the perception that Steve Jobs is Apple has grown to a point beyond control.  It was a perception so palpable that Steve Jobs started to exclaim at every opportunity that Apple’s success was due to the many devoted employees that work for Apple.

But why is this important?  It’s important because the idea that Steve Jobs is Apple is what prompted all those questions and concerns about his health once he started looking thinner in June of 08.  Ever since then, every public appearance by Steve Jobs is tangled up with stories over “How thin is Steve?”, “Is Steve Jobs in poor health?”  It soon got to a point where Steve Jobs was more of a focus than the announcements he was making.  It got to a point where Apple’s stock price would take a huge hit on the slightest rumor of a Jobs ailment.  It got to a point where someone even hoaxed a fake news report about Steve Jobs having a heart attack.

Over the past few Apple events, Steve Jobs has increasingly handed over the reigns to other executives to handle certain topics.  This appears to be part of a concerted effort on Apple’s part to change the public face of Apple, and to let people know that Apple is more than Steve Jobs.  By not delivering the keynote, Jobs is instead implying that Apple is bigger than just one person.  This will inevitably take the focus off of Jobs and back onto the products Apple is actually selling.

3.  Apple outgrew Macworld

Apple’s recent success has created other avenues for users to hear about and experience Apple products.  Apple no longer needs to make a huge announcement at Macworld, initiate a lot of buzz, and then pray that a product does well.  Instead, it can set up an event on its own terms, announce a new product, and then have it in a myriad of Apple retail stores the next day, ready for thousands of potential customers to try out for themselves.  What better form of advertising is there than to actually let customers use and try out your products before they buy it?  Macworld was becoming less integral for Apple, and there was therefore no reason for Jobs to speak at the keynote.  As Apple noted in its press release:

Apple is reaching more people in more ways than ever before, so like many companies, trade shows have become a very minor part of how Apple reaches its customers. The increasing popularity of Apple’s Retail Stores, which more than 3.5 million people visit every week, and the Apple.com website enable Apple to directly reach more than a hundred million customers around the world in innovative new ways.

The Steve Jobs keynotes were great, but its implications grew beyond what Apple could control.  It used to be a forum for Jobs to introduce new Apple products and initiatives, but over the past few years it morphed into an event hobbled by unrealistic expectations.  The lack of a Steve Jobs keynote will help curb those expectations, and further let people know that Apple is a company, not an individual.


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11 Comments For This Post

  1. secretmrx Says:

    I totally agree. However, I do think that Apple are very brave in making such a move, as doing this without stating a valid reason themselves is going to majorly upset the stock market, and give birth to rumors regarding Steve’s health and retirement.

    On Wikipedia it says Steve is 53. That’s no where near retirement age… I hope he has a good 5 years left (though I doubt that he will stay this long, as money is not a determining factor 🙂 )

  2. Neim Says:

    If/When he dies I bet they’ll cover it up to save the value at least temporarily.

  3. Urs Says:

    Your article is spot on. I noticed the pre-Macworld speculation fest being used more and more by self-proclaimed “tech experts” and “tech journalists” to first gear up expectations and help Apple with “what Apple should / must do …” advice, to have some basis after the show for some decent lamenting / Apple bashing.

    I think it’s a good move, and will focus on WHAT Apple produces. Also, it may give a little more credit to those hundreds of engineers who actually do the work.

  4. MacComedy Says:

    He’s not speaking at MacWorld due to a trip to his home planet to increase the power of his Reality Distortion Field….


  5. Sigma902 Says:

    I disagree with points 3 and 2. As VP of Marketing, Phil Schiller should know better. Apple get’s extraordinary marketing value from Steve’s keynotes. Press coverage that is the envy of any other company. It’s fine for Apple not to have a booth, but they should not be giving up Steve presenting the keynote. Steve draws people to Macworld. This in turn, helps the 3rd party Apple developers to get exposure which ultimately helps Apple.

  6. TP Says:

    Thoughtful article. Many people are saying the sky is falling on other blogs today but this presents convincing arguments about why they’re moving in this direction.

    Jobs himself has said at many of his keynotes that the success goes to those in the company, often asking for applause for the folks who put in the long hours and exhaustive effort to make things happen. In the press, he’s said that his philosophy when returning to Apple was to surround himself with talent. Achieved. I think it’s the right move, too, but I wish it had come at much earlier time. I can only imagine what this will do to the conference’s attendance register, not to mention those who have bought tickets and now the conference itself will fall a little flat…

  7. Dwayne from Probably Sucks Blog Says:

    Its kind of funny, you know. Considering Steve Jobs has Apple over a barrel here. If he tried to leave, they’d pay him any amount of money just to keep him there.

    No doubt when Steve Jobs dies, they’ll put all of their funds into resurrecting Steve from the dead.

    Spending money on Steve will inevitably make Apple more money in the end, right.


  8. r Says:

    Exactly so!

  9. reinharden Says:

    You mention that the iPod wasn’t introduced at Macworld. And obviously the Macintosh, the computer that changed it all, wasn’t introduced at Macworld. Nor was the iMac, the computer that “saved” Apple. All three were Apple special events.

    But I think one of the more important points, that almost everyone is overlooking, is that the timing of Macworld has become increasingly problematic.

    Apple has morphed essentially into a consumer electronics company. And Macworld has long been considered the forum for Apple’s consumer products. This put Apple in the position of having to hold back its coolest new toys until a couple of weeks *after* Christmas. Christmas the single greatest consumer spending frenzy of the year!

    By stepping away from Macworld, Apple can unveil new products whenever they choose — which is great. However, they can also now tweak their schedules so that the latest and the greatest is always announced in September/October and available for Christmas.


  10. KenC Says:

    The author is right. The media hype was above and beyond reality. The PR benefit was not always positive. Look at the MBA, it was the star of last year’s show. It got lots of press, but not all of it good, especially in comparison to the iPhone. People weren’t wowed, and that’s due to all the media hype and expectation.

    This cancellation is just as the author posits, a way to bring expectations back in line with reality. A way to reduce the emphasis on Steve’s thinness and back on Apple products. I mean, Steve is never going to be chubby again, not after losing most of his digestive system, so this was always going to be a problem going forward.

    Apple is smart, way smarter than your average press. They’ll take a little hit today, but in the long foreseeable future, they’ll have the message back in their control, and focussed on their products.

  11. montex Says:

    Um…yeah. Well some of us remember the years at Apple that were Steve-less, and there is no comparison to Apple as it is now. I’m afraid that without Steve, Apple will start churning out Performas and sell them at Sears again.

    There are thousands of fine people at Apple, but without a leader they can easily become mediocre or worse. I hope Steve is with us for a long, long time.

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