Macworld is dead; is CES next?

OK, technically Macworld Expo isn't dead; it's still happening next January 5 to 9 in San Francisco. And Apple will still be there -- but sans Steve Jobs.

The patron saint of Cupertino has confirmed he will not be giving the keynote address at this year's show for the first time since The Second Coming (that is, Jobs regaining the CEO job in 1997). And next year Apple Inc. won't be there at all.

(Filling in for Jobs: Apple veep Phil Schiller, who must feel a little like the guy who replaced Michael Jordan for the Chicago Bulls.)

Why? Your guess is as good as those of the 3 million other bloggers who are madly speculating about this right now. As for me, I'm leaning toward Infoworld's Robert X. Cringely, who suspects a spat between Apple and Macworld's sponsor, IDG World Expo, is to blame.

(Full disclosure: IDG World Expo's parent company, International Data Group, publishes Computerworld, Infoworld, PC World, and nearly every other tech magazine with the word "World' in the title.)

Every year, the tech journos I knew would grumble about having to cover both the Jobs keynote at Macworld in SF and the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, which have often been scheduled for the same week (as they are this year). Now they don't have that problem.

And before long they may not have to worry about CES either.

Oh sure. There will still be enormous crowds in Vegas when the show starts on January 8. Vendors will go to extremes to get peoples' attention. The parties will be excessive, the cab lines insane.

But it will be quieter than it has been in the past. And as for the future, well, remember COMDEX? That show went from over 150,000 attendees to dead in less than three years. My crystal ball tells me CES is on a similar track.

I did an informal poll of folks I know who typically attend CES and a lot of them are sitting it out this year (including yours truly). Part of it is the down economy and the high costs of the show. Part of it is a feeling that these enormous shows have outlived their usefulness. They're fine if you're in the electronics biz and want to schmooze with suppliers and distributors, but as a source of actual product news, CES hasn't been relevant for a coon's age.

PR maven and blackbelt trendspotter Richard Laermer thinks CES is already pushing up daisies:

It was dead last year. People go there flogging products that are vaporware and we're the former attendees who know hype when we smell it. The truth is: the world moves too quickly for show and tell now. Anything you got - show me, don't tell me about it.

On the other hand, colleague and Computerworld contributor Becky Waring counters:

No way... THE best show of the year where you can see everything/everyone. Yes, it's huge and hard to get around but still essential. Where else can you see all this stuff, pray tell?

Personally, my money's on Laermer. Blogging, social networking, and smaller more focused shows like Demo and All Things D are where the news actually happens. Macworld and CES are like artifacts of a bygone era -- three ring circuses in the age of streaming media.

What do you think -- are trade shows dying? Weigh in below or email me: dan (at) dantynan (dot) com.

When not not attending trade shows, Dan Tynan tends to tend his blogs, Culture Crash and Tynan on Tech.

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