After some 25 years, Apple has decided that it can do without the Macworld Expo.
Apple announced that CEO Steve Jobs had given his last keynote address at Macworld in San Francisco and that January's Macworld would mark its last year participating at the show. Apple said Phil Schiller, the company's senior vice president of worldwide marketing, will deliver the keynote, usually handled by Jobs.
An Apple representative declined to comment on Jobs' health, a prominent topic of discussion this year. Jobs' keynote addresses at Macworld have become almost legendary events, launch pads for some of the company's most important products and strategies. His absence from what many in the Apple community consider their Super Bowl has once again revive rumors that Jobs is ill.
The decision reveals an Apple that has decided it no longer needs to make an appearance at the event that has come to define the company in recent years. In doing so, it's also preparing for a future when its iconic founder no longer dominates the stage the way he currently does while confirming a shift in its strategic thinking when it comes to reaching customers.
But industry events like Macworld Expo have been losing their luster inside Apple for some time. This is not a company that spends much time hanging out with its peers in the personal computing and mobile phone industries. And quite simply, the nature of technology marketing has changed a great deal as tech has evolved from something reserved for professionals to something that almost everyone uses on a day to day basis.
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, Calif.
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. One 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 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.
Chips are down
Apple provided the rare bit of light for the generally bleak chip market when it took a small stake in a British chip designer, revealing how the company plans to power the graphics in future iPhones and iPod Touches. Apple acquired a 3.6 percent stake in Imagination, which will cost Apple 3.2 million pounds, or about $5 million. Imagination designs chip cores for a variety of applications, but its most prominent designs are its PowerVR cores for graphics in mobile phones.
However, semiconductor sales may set a record for consecutive yearly declines. Market research firm Gartner predicted that in 2009, the chip industry will see back-to-back yearly declines for the first time in its history, with global chip revenue expected to decline 16.3 percent, to $219.2 billion.
Sales in the fourth quarter of 2008 will post a historic decline, too, sinking to a record quarter-over-quarter decline of 24.4 percent, surpassing the 20 percent decline record set in the second quarter of 2001, the firm forecasts. Gartner's preliminary 2008 market share results, released last week, showed 2008 revenue reaching $261.9 billion, a 4.4 percent decline from 2007.
And as chip equipment goes, so goes the electronics industry and the rest of high tech. Netherlands-based chip equipment maker ASML announced that it was cutting 10 percent of its workforce amid an "unprecedented" downturn.
"Never before have we witnessed such a sharp and sudden fall-off in lithography system demand," said Eric Meurice, chief executive officer of ASML, in a statement. He attributed this to "an unprecedented mix of falling end-demand for semiconductors, weak memory prices and restricted access to capital for our customers."
Those customers include Toshiba, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, Samsung, and Intel, which supply the electronic guts to customers like Sony, Nokia, Compal Electronics, and Hewlett-Packard.
Patches and privacy
Microsoft released a critical security patch to plug vulnerabilities in Internet Explorer, a move that comes amid malicious attackers taking advantage of the flaws. The patch is designed to prevent attackers from downloading malware onto users' computers if they visit a malicious Web site, or a legitimate Web site that has been infected.
This zero-day exploit has been in circulation since the first week of December and potentially could have infected a wide swath of users. The vulnerabilities are found in not only IE 7, Microsoft's latest browser, but also Internet Explorer 5.01, Internet Explorer 6, and Internet Explorer 6 Service Pack 1.
Mozilla released updates to its popular Firefox browser, its Thunderbird e-mail client, and its SeaMonkey application suite, aiming to address highly critical security flaws that could expose users' sensitive information. Users are advised to update to version 3.0.5 of Firefox, which was released Tuesday. They are also advised to update to version 184.108.40.206 of Thunderbird and version 1.1.14 of SeaMonkey.
Yahoo said it will make its user logs anonymous within 90 days as it ups the ante on data retention policies. The Web pioneer also said it would also make user data on page views, page clicks, ad views, and ad clicks anonymous as well as its user logs. The only exceptions would be for "fraud, security, and legal obligations."
Clearly, Yahoo, Google, and others are racing to the bottom on data retention policies. In particular, Google and Yahoo have been playing a game of privacy leapfrog.
Also of note
Engineers in Microsoft's Live Labs have released the company's first application for Apple's iPhone--even before making it available on Microsoft's own mobile platform...Delta Air Lines began offering Wi-Fi service to its passengers on some East Coast flights...Toy maker Hasbro withdrew its copyright and trademark lawsuit filed against the creators of the ad-supported online application Scrabulous.