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Apple's blind-side hit on IDG

Longtime Macworld sponsor IDG was caught completely off-guard when Apple announced that Steve Jobs would not be attending January's Macworld conference.

Tom Krazit Former Staff writer, CNET News
Tom Krazit writes about the ever-expanding world of Google, as the most prominent company on the Internet defends its search juggernaut while expanding into nearly anything it thinks possible. He has previously written about Apple, the traditional PC industry, and chip companies. E-mail Tom.
Tom Krazit
3 min read
Apple threw Macworld organizer IDG off balance with its decision to keep Steve Jobs out of pocket. Corrine Schulze/CNET

After Apple informed IDG that CEO Steve Jobs would skip next month's Macworld, the news left the conference sponsor in a state of shock.

The announcement "completely blindsided" IDG, according to a source familiar with the negotiations, coming just weeks before the event was scheduled to take place. IDG World Expo, a division of tech publishing giant IDG, had no reason not to expect Jobs would make his customary appearance at Macworld. Then came the word from Cupertino.

What is not clear is when Apple decided Jobs would skip the keynote. The source indicated that Apple had strung IDG along for weeks, implying that it was business-as-usual concerning Jobs' pending appearance up until the moment that it wasn't.

An Apple representative did not return a call seeking comment. IDG World Expo declined to comment on Apple's decision beyond a statement from Paul Kent, vice president and general manager for Macworld Conference and Expo:

While we are obviously disappointed by Apple's decision not to participate in Macworld 2010, we are on track for a terrific show this year, with strong attendance numbers and nearly 500 exhibitors showcasing their products at the January event. Macworld Conference & Expo has thrived for 25 years due to the strong support of tens of thousands of members of the Mac community worldwide who use Macworld as way to find great products, partake in professional development training, and cultivate their personal and professional networks. We are committed to continuing to serve their interests at Moscone Center, January 4 - 8, 2010.

Apple's decision to end its association with Macworld is not a complete surprise. Gizmodo speculated that Apple was planning such an exit for quite some time. Ultimately, a company's participation in any massive technology trade show boils down to a risk-reward calculation. The experience is often more exhausting than rewarding. And if you must also pay millions of dollars for that experience, it's clear why Apple would conclude that Macworld needs Apple more than Apple needs Macworld.

But for the time being, the part of the story that concerns Jobs remains shrouded in speculation.

When did Apple make its decision to ditch Macworld? And once it had made that decision, when did it decide to have Phil Schiller pinch-hit for Jobs? Did a BusinessWeek report force Apple's hand? And why did Apple decide against billing Macworld 2009 as Jobs' final appearance at the show, which might have provided a lift to what was already expected to be a somewhat underwhelming keynote address?

The official explanation is that Apple didn't think it would be worth its time to invest in putting on The Steve Jobs Show if it was going to be the last time the company appeared at Macworld. Apple just doesn't throw one of Jobs' keynotes together in a couple of weeks; this sort of extravaganza requires months of preparation as product teams work to create demos or finish up projects, and weeks of practice from Jobs himself to ensure every last detail goes as planned.

So if skipping Macworld had been the plan all along, it's likely that Jobs has been focusing his attention elsewhere during the past several weeks. That leaves the question of why Apple would string IDG along for such an extended period of time; the latest IDG World Expo has announced Jobs' keynote speech during the last four years has been December 3, and it has made that announcement as early as October.

Perhaps Apple didn't make the decision to have Jobs skip the keynote until very recently. It's an understandably tough decision: any Jobs absence at a major Apple event would immediately rev up the health rumor engine, but why spend all the time preparing Jobs and Apple for a keynote address that doesn't appear to hold anything exciting?

In any event, there's no love lost between Apple and IDG, two companies that have traded shots for years over the Macworld event. It's not surprising that their final breakup would be acrimonious.