The media and the public trickled onto the Macworld exhibit floor in the wake of Phil Schiller’s Keynote speech Tuesday in San Francisco with a collective yawn, casting a sad and listless pall over Apple’s final year at the seminal trade show dedicated to Mac and Macintosh innovation. Gone was the excitement generated in recent years by the introduction of revolutionary new products such as iPod and iPhone. Gone was the sense that Steve Jobs contagious’ enthusiasm and obsessive secrecy could somehow reward us with ever more new, beautiful, elegantly designed products that would change our relationship to technology and with each other.
Instead, Schiller left the Apple community pondering battery life and notebook aftermarket resale values, wondering how a little face paint and eye shadow applied to iWork and iLife is going to drive increasing revenue to One Infinite Loop between the end of Macworld on Thursday and the next Cupertino Town Hall event sometime later this year.
One the surface of things, a mood that I might liken to one in a household where the divorce has been agreed to but not yet finalized, is curiously appropriate to the uncertain economic horizon each and every one of the hundreds of Macworld exhibitors – as well as, of course, the show’s anchor tenant – is facing.
Sure it would have been exhilarating for Phil Schiller to have whipped out a thoroughbred upgrade to the Mac mini today, or a revamped Apple TV that might challenge the assumptions of what an interface between the office and the living room could look like. But I talked to several long time Mac addicts on the floor this afternoon, who confided they were relieved not to be tempted by any groundbreaking hardware innovations from Apple – because big ticket expenditures of every stripe are on hold until further notice.
In its way, then, Apple proved it still has the pulse of its audience well in hand – why offer revolutionary new products that would require hundreds or thousands of dollars in new investment (not to mention the huge investment in manufacturing required to roll out new hardware) when the company can let its legions of loyal consumers who have already bought Macs and iMacs over the years try on new software outfits at $50 – $80 a pop? Lean times may be coming for everyone but by golly you can spend your downtime learning how to play guitar with John Fogarty and marvel at the face recognition amazements of new iPhoto software.
Some of the busier booths on the exhibit floor this afternoon were ones hawking accessory items costing well under $100. Big gear manufacturers with shiny new products costing in the hundreds and thousands of dollars, not so much. And the reps of a couple of those exhibitors told me some of the newest stuff they have at the show are just prototypes, with no big production commitments coming into place until the economy and consumer spending shows signs of taking an upturn.
Compared to recent years, Day 1 attendance was significantly lower, something I could tell in the sparse lines at the concession stands and in the reliability of the WiFi connections available throughout the hall. But fewer people were here today because Steve Jobs was not here today. Tomorrow, when you’d expect the attendees interested in Macworld regardless of Steve Jobs’ presence, we’ll get a better idea of just how deflated the Mac community is over Apple’s final Macworld appearance and a sense of how much air has gone out of what was until pretty recently a high-flying market for computer technology.