The annual gathering of the Mac faithful will take place in San Francisco without Apple Inc.'s charismatic leader, Steve Jobs.
Breaking with a long tradition, Apple said Tuesday that Jobs would not deliver the keynote address at January’s Macworld Conference & Expo, the venue the company has used for more than a decade to unveil products.
The decision renewed questions about his health and sent the computer maker’s shares tumbling.
The opening address Jan. 6 will be delivered instead by Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide product marketing. The event also marks the final year of the company’s participation in the trade show, Apple spokesman Steve Dowling said.
“We have lots of ways to reach customers,” Dowling said.
“Trade shows are a minor part of that.”
The increasing popularity of Apple’s retail stores, which more than 3.5 million people visit every week, and the Apple.com website enable the company direct contact with more than 100 million customers around the world.
Trade shows in general have suffered as companies scale back plans in response to the deepening recession.
In November, General Motors Corp. canceled its only news conference at the L.A. Auto Show and Ferrari, Rolls-Royce, Land Rover and Suzuki Motor Corp. withdrew from the industry’s premier show in Detroit. The Riyadh Motor Show, scheduled this week in the Saudi capital, was scrapped, according to Tradeshow Week.
In recent years, Apple has downplayed the importance of Macworld and scaled back its participation at other venues, such as the National Assn. of Broadcasters, Macworld New York, Macworld Tokyo and Apple Expo Paris.
The notoriously secretive company, which tightly controls information and the timing of product releases to build anticipation, prefers to make news on its own terms.
“Their pulling out of Macworld is not a surprise,” said Tim Bajarin, principal analyst at Creative Strategies. “They’ve been talking about it for two years. Trade shows do not deliver the same return on investment that they did in the past. And Apple is finding that their stores are much better at driving sales than a once-a-year shot at Macworld.”
Mike McGuire, an analyst at research firm Gartner Inc., said trade shows were a vestige of the 1980s and ‘90s before the Internet made it possible for companies to disseminate information around the world, simultaneously.
“With the Web, blogs, company-controlled blogs and podcasts, what is the value of having this centralized thing?” McGuire said.
Nonetheless, the news triggered fresh speculation about Jobs’ health. In 2003, the chief executive was found to have pancreatic cancer, a rare form that he said had been cured with surgery. Appearances over the summer, in which Jobs looked unusually thin and drawn, renewed questions about his health. He had another surgical procedure and had digestive problems, but has not had a relapse, according to a New York Times report.
Apple would not comment on Jobs’ health, saying only that his participation at Macworld “doesn’t make sense” given the company’s decision about the trade show. Analysts and acquaintances who have met with him recently said health was not a factor.
“Apple has said Steve’s health was fine less than two months ago,” Bajarin said. “This is purely a marketing decision. A regional show like Macworld just doesn’t justify the millions of dollars in investment that Apple has to put into it.”
Apple’s news came after the markets closed. Its shares, which had gained 68 cents to $95.43, dropped as much as $2.49 in after-hours trading.
Apple’s withdrawal also sparked concern over the fate of Macworld, a show that attracted about 48,000 attendees in January.
“It’s going to make it much more difficult for Macworld to thrive without Apple as the anchor exhibition,” Bajarin said.
Other companies also have scaled back plans for the show because of the bad economy.
For example, Belkin International Inc., the Compton maker of Apple accessories and cables, will not be at Macworld in January after participating in previous years, said Belkin spokeswoman Melody Chalaban. Instead, executives will hold private meetings in hotel suites during the show.
Adobe also has “decided to shift its focus” at Macworld this year, scuttling its exhibit for a full day of demo sessions with Adobe evangelists, according to a company spokesperson.
Macworld organizers sought to minimize the blow of Apple’s announcement.
“We’re on track for a terrific show this year with strong attendance numbers and nearly 500 exhibitors showcasing their products,” said Paul Kent, general manager of Macworld Conference & Expo. Kent had told Business Week on Monday that he had no reason to believe Jobs would not be speaking at the conference.
Macworld will continue in San Francisco in 2010, Kent said, and will include “quality education, dynamic product viewing and will additionally focus on the amazing ways people are putting Apple products to work across all endeavors.”
Times staff writer Alana Semuels contributed to this report.