Speechless: An Open Letter to Apple

[updated 1/3/09]
[updated 1/5/09]
[updated 1/14/09]
“Et tu, Apple?”

Dear Apple,

This week you announced that this year’s Macworld Conference & Expo would be your last, and that Apple’s SVP of Worldwide Product Marketing Philip Schiller will stand in for boss Steve Jobs as the opening keynoter.

You defended your decision, stating:

“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.”

And to back that up, you cite an increasing popularity of Apple’s Retail Stores and Apple’s broad Web presence.

I want to believe you. I do. But other than to dissemble, I can’t fathom why you felt the need to throw the entire events industry under the bus.

First, you are not “like many companies.” You’re Apple, with a legion of adherents. Your fans are social beings. They thrive on sharing the experience of your brand, and they represent your most-committed and articulate advocates. In a recession, successful companies work to strengthen core relationships. They don’t bail.

Second, the business of live events is more critical than ever. As people connect and share online — whether for professional or personal pursuits — they aggregate around interests and create new communities that wouldn’t otherwise exist. As those communities coalesce, opportunities emerge for individuals and businesses to meet. Live events will continue to be strategic and will grow.

So I’m not buyin’ it. There’s something you’re not telling us. I’ve heard pundits speculate on three possible somethings.

The first is the most sensational, i.e., that you’re covering for Steve Jobs’ declining health. That makes good tabloid fodder, but seems too obvious to be true.

The second speculation is that you’ve decided you don’t like the rhythm of a product release cycle driven by tradeshow schedules. You fear that if you don’t introduce a boffo new product every time out that you’ll get hammered by the analysts and the customers. That sounds more likely.

The third conjecture is that you’ve had a falling out or dispute with your tradeshow partner IDG. Now that makes more sense, even if it doesn’t excuse the “Dear John letter” nature of your breakup.

Whatever the reason for nuking Macworld, your announcement was unnecessarily destructive to your customers and partners, and to event organizers everywhere. They deserve to know the real reason you’re dropping the show and they need your help in repairing the damage. They helped you become what you are today, and you stuck them in the ribs as a news cycle distraction.


Update #1 – 1/3/09

Speculation about Steve Jobs’ health continues to swirl around the Internet and the media. While I’m inclined to respect Jobs’ privacy, his health has to be considered a material factor in Apple’s financial outlook. Of course, this puts the company in precarious situation. If the company is less than candid about Jobs’ health and the stock tanks, investors will line up to sue. If the company reveals all and the stock tanks, investors will… line up to sue. In the meantime, Apple’s stock soared 6.33 percent yesterday amidst positive pre-Macworld buzz and a rare glimmer of optimism on Wall Street.

Update #2 – 1/5/09

Today Steve Jobs disclosed that his dramatic weight loss was caused by a “hormone imbalance,” not the pancreatic cancer he had battled. The stock market seemed to buy it, literally, as the stock surged another 4.22 percent from Friday’s close.

Update #3 – 1/14/09

Today the AP reported that Steve Jobs is taking a medical leave of absence from Apple. The report quoted Jobs as writing to Apple employees that his health problems turned out to be “more complex” than first thought. The cynical conclusion would be that Apple stonewalled the analysts on the issue of Mr. Jobs’ health just to get through Macworld. (Mission accomplished?) The more charitable conclusion would be that Apple and Mr. Jobs were in a state of denial without intending to mislead anyone. I’m not qualified to judge, and I offer my best wishes to Mr. Jobs for good health and many years ahead at Apple’s helm. – DMK