January is a favorite time of year for me. Two big events every year create all kinds of excitement with product announcements, technology visions and some pie-in-the-sky dreaming. Of course the two shows are Macworld and CES.
This year’s Macworld in my view was a bust, but carried plenty of drama. The biggest headline was the absence of Steve Jobs, who normally presides over the event like a nerd god, evoking oohs and aahs with the wave of a hand and a slight smirky smile. It will be missed. This year Macworld was not the same at all, nor will it again as Apple has announced this is their last year to attend (and thus so long to Macworld…). Without Apple it will be like watching the SuperBowl played by two high school teams — marginally interesting but only for parents.
On the product front, it seems Apple has exhausted it’s creativity and R&D innovation. The always entertaining, and often controversial, Daniel Lyons of Newsweek captured it superbly in an article “Macworld, Macboring” suggesting the end of an era for Apple:
“Thus the whole thing feels like the end of an era. Jobs is sick, Apple has lost its sizzle, and without the participation of Apple, the Macworld show, the annual mecca for Apple fans worldwide, will no longer matter. Sad stuff.”
Sad stuff indeed. I remember growing up with the Apple ][ computer circa 1980, followed by the Mac (remember the “fat” Mac?) and of course eventually iMac and the rebirth of the company. Along the way Apple was a magnet for publicity, but mostly around how poorly it’s leaders fared after Steve Jobs was ousted from the very company he helped create. Sculley came closest with the introduction of the Newton, but was too early to market by about 20 years. That’s forward thinking. Just not very profitable.
So with no Jobs, and nothing exciting to announce, all eyes gazed upon Phil Schiller who Lyons calls “a nice enough guy”. What happened?
A 17″ Macbook starting at $2,800. What are they thinking?
The market is moving to smaller, Netbook like devices with sub-$500 price points. HP, Lenovo, MSI, Samsung, Asus and others stormed the market last year and are announcing more at CES this week. Where is Apple’s answer to this exploding market segment?
In the grand scheme though this is a rather tactical and unimportant question. The real question should be: what is happening to Apple? Microsoft, despite all of its criticism over the years, was able to smoothly transition power to Steve Ballmer and never skipped a beat. It will be interesting to watch Apple’s succession plan — or lack thereof — unfold. I’ll be cheering, albeit with some skepticism, as Apple has never flourished under anyone but Steve Jobs.
Now, about the Consumer Electronics Show. It starts tomorrow and runs alongside the porn expo in Vegas. No wonder drones and geeks alike flood the strip every year with such gusto.
There are a few trends I’ll be watching (and I’ll report back later with hits & misses of the show):
- Netbooks. Lighter, and faster. But with bigger screens. HP already pre-announced some new models this week before the start of the show. What’s in a name… will they eventually become the new “laptop”?
- Foldable Display Technology. I’ve been watching this for years, and expect it to break out “any year now”. When it does, look out, we’ll be folding screens into our pockets, reading roll-up digital papers just like the real paper deal.
- Internet Radio and Wholehouse Audio. Another topic dear to my heart. Linksys, the consumer division of Cisco, has already announced a system similar to Sonos (which I’ve previously reviewed on this site) this week.
- All-in-one Super Smartphones. We’re getting closer, but I have still not seen the ultimate all-in-one Smartphone, although the iPhone is pretty darn close. Expect innovative input devices (virtual keyboards, improved sliders), fancier screens with higher resolutions, and still lower price points.
I’ll drop in again shortly to give an update on the CES show, and let you know what company’s hit the mark.