The news today in the design community is buzzing about Steve Jobs, Apple and the MacWorld Expo. For the first time ever, the great Mr. Jobs will not be giving the keynote at the Macworld Conference and Expo next January. For all of you who don’t use a Mac, you may not know how big a deal this is.
What is Macworld?
Well, it’s kind of a mix between a Star Trek convention and a World’s Fair. The Macworld Conference and Expo is an annual event held in San Francisco, CA where developers, vendors and geeks from all around the world gather to find out what Apple’s future holds. It’s always been the place where Steve Jobs would walk onto the stage with sneakers, blue jeans and black turtleneck and lay down the gauntlet of what next year would hold. He’s positively prophetic at these things. He’s inaugurated whole shifts in the design and technology industries, by calling one year “The Year of the Laptop” or another year “The Year of Digital Music”.
Macworld represents the old Apple: not so much a company as it was an enclave of creative, eccentric fanatics devoted to the whims of a single leader. Kind of cult-sounding isn’t it? The Macworld expo fed the Mac culture for years, and it has always been an integral part of how Apple grew it’s fan base. Yes, I said fan base and not market share. Apple’s users aren’t just users; we’re fans and evangelists.
So what does this mean?
Good question. Does this matter at all? Apple’s press release says that, first, this has nothing to do with the rumors about Steve’s health. He battled and (supposedly) conquered pancreatic cancer recently, and he still looks pretty thin by most estimates. The press release says that Apple is seeking greater control over their media exposure, using Special Media Events at Apple headquarters to announce new products, instead of the IDG MacWorld Conference and Expo. I suppose that makes sense, in a Microsoft kind of way. Control has it’s lures – you can have greater power to determine how potential customers view your product. If Apple only announces new products at what amounts to a geek festival, most Windows hold-outs aren’t going to be attracted to the product.
Here’s my opinion. Apple is making an intentional shift away from being the underdog with an incredibly loyal fan base to being a respected, professional competitor with the rest of the technology industry. They are seeking market share above customer loyalty. I believe that over the next ten years, the customer support ethos will change, and will gradually be equal to the rest of the industry (read: Dell, Microsoft, HP). Apple’s products will always be superior, since that’s what they continue to use as their differentiating factor, but the atmosphere and customer support will degrade as market share increases.
Here’s the other thing: Steve Jobs is working his way out of a job. At next year’s Macworld, the keynote will be given by Apple’s Phil Schiller, and will be the last keynote delivered by an Apple exec. So, the last-ever Macworld keynote will not be delivered by Steve Jobs. That’s huge. He’s trying to destroy the cult of personality that’s been built up around him, I believe because he wants to retire soon.
The impact on the design community will not begin for several years. Apple has always been on the forefront of industrial and user interface design, and they will continue to be. However, at some point they will lose their “cool factor” amongst designers. Artists like to use Macs because the operating system is intuitive (requiring less tech knowledge), the machines last longer, and you get more power per dollar than with a Windows-based system. It used to be the case that Macs were better at graphics, but that’s just been an ungrounded myth since the early 1990’s. Once Apple loses it’s cult following, artists will lose a lot of incentive to get Macs. I foresee a great equalization of the industry approaching, where both Windows and Macs share equal market share among designers.
Then again, maybe I’m just a dissapointed fanboy.
Here’s a link to the story I found at macrumors.com>