How does Apple's Macworld decision affect the faithful?

Macworld has been a place for Apple fans from around the world to come together in one place. Without Apple's participation, the event could wither. What then for the fanboys?

At Macworld 2008, Apple fans got their first hands-on look at the MacBook Air. Without participation by Apple at Macworld after 2009, scenes like this will be a thing of the past. Corinne Schulze/CNET Networks

Apple's decision to make January's Macworld its last offers fodder for endless speculation. But another big question is how this will go down with the Mac faithful who have flocked to this annual event through good times and bad.

To be sure, there will be official Apple events in the future, like the Worldwide Developers Conference. But most fans--the civilians--likely won't be able to gain access to such events, which are usually reserved for press, analysts, VIPs, and developers.

So, as one colleague of mine put it, Macworld has long been the public carnival for Mac fans, and Apple's decision to get out after the 2009 version doesn't bode well for Macworld's future or for the future of a single, mass event for the hardcore Mac community.

"It's a big disappointment," said Leander Kahney, the author of The Cult of Mac and Inside Steve's Brain . "A lot of Mac fans will be royally bummed. It's a huge part of being an Apple fan--looking forward to what Steve (Jobs) will unveil at Macworld. It's like Christmas for grownups."

For Mike Leeds, a Mac technician at a Portland, Ore., college, one of the biggest losses of an Apple-free Macworld will be the chance to hobnob with the company employees who staff the event.

"I got to wander around and talk to the Apple employees that are on duty manning the show," Leeds said. "With luck, you manage to find a particular employee that actually knows the particular issue that you might have, and can give you some background on a) what their plans are for addressing the issue or b) other ways of dealing with it. Half of the time I'm down there...I'm walking around and talking to Apple employees, and that's going to be gone."

For Leeds, then, not having Apple participate in Macworld means he likely won't make the annual trip to San Francisco for the event. And he's not alone.

"It matters a lot that people get to see Jobs," said Kahney. "This is the big show for Jobs' fans. People look forward to this all year. They camp out overnight and take a vacation to go to Macworld and travel from all over the world. It's the big gathering of the tribe."

Further, Kahney pointed out that for many Apple fans, Jobs' keynote speeches have provided a regular sense of spectacle, something worth traveling to San Francisco for, and which will be sorely missing both next month--when Phil Schiller, senior vice president of worldwide marketing, gives the keynote speech--and in the future, when Apple doesn't participate.

"Jobs is hugely entertaining," Kahney noted. "There's nothing like it, in tech or anywhere else. It's marketing theater at its best. And with concerns about Jobs' health , people want to see him in the flesh--see if he's OK."

For its part, Apple had no comment related to Jobs' health.

Of course, Mac fans aren't the only ones who would be disappointed by an Apple-less Macworld.

"What a bummer for everyone," Kevin Mathieu, a Bay Area artist who has been going to Macworld for 17 years, said about the news. "From Mac fans to local union workers and local bars," which will undoubtedly lose business.

Still, Kahney pointed out that the faithful will still have places to congregate.

"Luckily, there's the local Apple stores," said Kahney, "which have a ton of community events. They're not just stores. They really are community gathering places, especially the flagship ones in New York and Los Angeles."

But to some, the end of Apple's involvement in Macworld spells trouble for the continuity of the cohesiveness of the Mac faithful community.

At Macworld, Kobi and Ron Shely, two Israeli filmmakers, will be debuting their documentary, MacHeads , which is about the Mac and Apple community. Kobi Shely said a big part of the movie is an exploration of just the issues raised by Apple's Tuesday announcement.

"Apple is on an ongoing process that started back in 1998 when the Internet started to take over," Shely said. "The Mac community was based on in-person meeting places such as the Mac users groups. What's holding it all together is the hundreds, if not thousands, of communities across the world spreading the passion and creating the myths. Their meeting place is Macworld."

But Shely added that while making MacHeads, he found that Apple and its community, while deeply connected, are indeed separate.

"And today I think...is the most significant sign (of) that relationship," Shely said. "The Internet has changed the community. Today the young generation doesn't need to get together in groups. They can get online. But at least they had Macworld. In my view, the Mac faithful will have difficulties continuing the fandom without that direct contact. I hope Macworld will continue to be the gathering place of 'Mac heads' and the shelter for Mac users all over the world."

 

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