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The Over-reaction

January 7th, 2009

A lot of people were disappointed with the Apple keynote, and the stock fell in value. Some even reported this as the death knell of Apple:

At the annual Macworld trade show in San Francisco today, Apple put on an excruciating 90-minute keynote that may go down in history as the worst Apple event of all time. In brief: for the first time in recent memory, Apple has nothing interesting to sell. And the company’s remarkable decadelong run as the hottest company in consumer electronics may be drawing to a close.

You see, this is why Apple is being smart in shutting down the whole January MacWorld keynote: rumors and expectations build up, and when they don’t arrive, everybody blames Apple. If there had been no expectation of miracles every January, no pre-keynote buildup of rumors, there would not be this kind of letdown when all Apple had was some nice software upgrades and some new developments with the iTunes Store. The bad news was not in what they released–there was some cool and even some important stuff there–the letdown was in that everybody expects regular fireworks every January, which is much less than realistic.

Instead, Apple is now free to release products on their own timetable and not have these unrealistic expectations shoot them down when Apple doesn’t release stuff on an arbitrary schedule. There’s no reason to believe that a new Mac Mini won’t be released in the next month, or that an iPhone Nano won’t have a big, surprise rollout at any given time. Apple has been doing that more and more often, in fact, sending out press invitations to special Apple Events. Apple did that when it released the new MacBook line in October, for example. The fact that industry pundits started proclaiming Apple “out of ideas” because Apple didn’t release these or other items on somebody else’s schedule makes an excellent case for independently-timed Apple Events rather than an annual buildup to MacWorld.

When you think about it, the announcements were not that bad–roughly equivalent to Microsoft releasing a new version of Office, which would normally be a fairly big event. Expectations were so high for Apple that something which should have been important news–Apple building a software suite that can seriously challenge Microsoft’s office dominance–got trashed as “boring.” Seriously, Apple is making huge moves into the Enterprise arena, with Mac OS X but especially with the iPhone–and now iWork is being upgraded as a serious competitor. Mail Merge may not sound like an exciting thing, but it’s a key component in making iWork viable for many workplaces. But instead of popular realization that Apple is eating away at Microsoft’s core market, that it is capturing more and more market share, especially in smart phone and laptop sales–instead of looking forward to potential upcoming non-MacWorld product releases, we get this whole “Apple is out of good ideas” garbage.

I think that Apple has a few product announcements that it is holding back and will make soon: the iPhone Nano and the new Mac Mini line. Now, in the past, I have quickly accepted resignation to the “that is all” mentality after products fail to materialize after a keynote, but this time, a few things are different. First, this was the last MacWorld keynote, and Apple had to know that there would be a bad reaction to that. But if Apple releases a few big products in the weeks or months right after MacWorld, as a way of saying, “Ha! You never know just when we’ll release good stuff!” that could have a big impact on how people see Apple’s creative force continuing, and help re-establish expectations of quality.

But there’s another reason to expect that: the iPhone Nano and new Mac Mini were leaked by accessory and software developers who made products for the new Apple gear. Now, maybe I’m wrong, but usually when an accessory maker leaks a product, it turns out to be true–a lot more so than most rumors. Few companies make products specifically designed for vaporware.

I could be wrong, but I have a feeling about this one. Let’s wait and see.

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