Tim Leberecht, in a Matter/Anti-Matter blog post, asks whether Apple's "shock and awe" approach to product announcements is a dinosaur in a Web 2.0 world. I think there are a couple of other points worth making for perspective on this.
First, Apple has shifted dramatically from purely relying on big announcements at big events. It used to be, until just a few years ago, that Apple really only had two times each year that it made major hardware announcements: Macworld expos in San Francisco and New York. The developers conference was used for software announcements. Between them was pretty much a desert.
Today, Apple makes announcements throughout the year, sometimes at other shows like the NAB. This has allowed the company to spread the much larger quantity of announcements around, and makes the Macworld announcements more focused. It surely also makes managing the larger product pipeline easier.
So while the expo is still the highpoint of the year, it is not fair to characterize it as Apple only having two real opportunities per year to make announcements and news, as Frank Shaw does. While the other venues are not as big as the mass-market-oriented Macworld, they are geared toward their niche audiences with appropriate announcements. And besides, two major events a year is one more than many consumer electronics companies have, which put all their eggs in CES....
Second, Apple has become much better about spreading the word through other means than the expos. Starting with the iconic Think Different and iPod campaigns, Apple has reinvigorated its advertising efforts with large infusions of cash and creativity. And the Apple Stores have been very successful at attracting new customers and maintaining interest for existing Mac users.
As Mr. Shaw puts it: "But I'm a huge believer in the value of ongoing communication, to the right audiences, about the topics they care most about, in a regular, sustained way." It seems to me that with the stores, advertising, and targeted product announcements, this is exactly what Apple is doing.
Lastly, let's also think about how Apple itself builds up excitement before Macworld. Aside from occasional teasers that are void of any information (such as the last one, "something is in the air"), it pretty much does nothing. It is famously tough on clamping down on leaks, and only sporadically gives previews to select journalists like David Pogue.
Ninety-nine percent of the excitement and momentum is generated by the user base, the media, the blogosphere, essentially doing Apple's work for it. Most companies would kill for that kind of free publicity. If the announcements don't live up to the hype, that's not because Apple itself has controlled what the hype should be about, but because Apple has an enviable track record of blockbuster announcements.