Apple rethinks trade show circuit

Another problem with making major announcements on a fixed schedule is that the products often aren't ready to ship. In those cases, products may be rushed out the door before they're ready -- meaning they have serious bugs -- or they won't be available for weeks after the announcement.

The 17-inch PowerBook G4 announced in Jobs' Jan. 7 keynote, for instance, didn't start shipping until two weeks ago.

Nevertheless, Apple has made progress in recent years in breaking its habit of saving major announcements for the two U.S. shows.

For example, the introductions of both the eMac -- April 2002 -- and the revamped iBook -- May 2001 -- were timed to coincide with the period when educators do most of their buying. Apple introduced its popular iPod MP3 player in October 2001, well-timed for the holiday buying season.

Indeed, Apple has been criticized over the years for announcing major products in January -- after the holiday season.

But Bajarin said he thinks January announcements suit Apple. "They build up the market over the course of the year," he said.

One aspect of the shows Apple would be loathe to lose is the vast amount of free publicity the Jobs keynotes invariably generate. Besides the expected coverage by Mac magazines and Web sites, the presentations receive extensive coverage from mainstream media, particularly newspapers.

That's one reason why Apple probably will stick with a splashy Jobs keynote at the San Francisco show, but Gartenberg said Apple could use other trade shows as vehicles for announcing new products the rest of the year.

"At any trade show Apple decides to attend," Gartenberg said, "if they want a keynote for Steve, they'll get one. He can have his pick of keynotes."

Apple's growing national chain of retail stores in high-visibility shopping malls have supplanted yet another traditional Macworld function: a means for the Mac community to see Apple's new wares up close.

In his January keynote Jobs said that the 1.4 million people who visited the 51 Apple Stores -- including the outlet in Towson -- in December was "equivalent to 20 Macworlds."

Bajarin said Apple actually has been surprised at how many people the stores have reached, and "the stores are a more cost-effective way to promote Apple aggressively" than the trade shows.

Scaling back its presence at the Mac shows would save the money spent on transporting staff and equipment to venues far from Apple headquarters in Cupertino, Calif.

Although it may be in Apple's best interest to de-emphasize the July show, Mac users on the East Coast face the end of a tradition. About 58,000 attended last year's Macworld New York, down from 64,000 in 2001. Macworld San Francisco usually draws the larger crowds, with the January show pulling about 90,000.

"Personally, I am very disappointed there will be no keynote and am having second thoughts about going," said Dave Ottalini, vice president of publicity for the Washington Apple Pi Mac users group.

The Washington group usually sends several busloads of Mac users to New York.

However, the change could spawn an increase in regional events sponsored by Mac user groups on the East Coast, which would be more accessible to a larger number of people.

Ottalini said his group already is contemplating working with other Mac user groups in the region, including the Maryland Apple Corps, to create a such an event in the Baltimore-Washington area.

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