Dec 17, 2008

Business - Apple to ditch Macworld gathering

Maggie Shiels

In a surprise move, Apple said it is to abandon its annual tech gathering Macworld after this January's event.

Meanwhile news that the keynote address will not be given by ceo Steve Jobs has reignited speculation about his health following cancer four years ago.

Concern was raised earlier in the year when Mr Jobs appeared at the firm's developer conference looking gaunt.

Apple spokesman Steve Dowling refused to discuss the issue and said shows like Macworld were no longer relevant.

"Apple is steadily scaling back on trade shows and in recent years is reaching more people in more ways than ever before," Mr Dowling told BBC News.

"Every week 3.5 million people visit our retail stores. And like many companies, trade shows are a minor part of how Apple reaches its customers."

Mr Dowling also said that as the company had scaled back on such shows, it had ramped up "stand-alone launch events like the September iPod launch seen by millions of people on the internet".

IDG which runs the show put a brave face on things.

"We are on track for a terrific show with strong attendance numbers and nearly 500 exhibitors showcasing their products," Paul Kent, general manager of Macworld Expo told the BBC.

"The conference and expo has thrived for 25 years due to the strong support of tens of thousands of members of the Mac community worldwide. We are committed to serving their interests," he said.

"Greatly exaggerated"

Macworld is regarded as a highlight for Apple fans with new product launches fronted by Mr Jobs.

When Mr Jobs went on stage at Apple's world wide developer conference in June, his physical appearance shocked many. He appeared thin and emaciated and speculation became rife that he had suffered a setback after a bout of pancreatic cancer in 2004.

Later in the year, he joked about it on stage in San Francisco when he launched the new range of iPods. At one point in his demonstration he appeared in front of a giant screen that displayed the words "the reports of my death are greatly exaggerated".

This was in reference to an obituary that had been mistakenly published.

But analysts are again pointing to the possibility that Mr Jobs's health is an issue.

"I think Steve's health is a factor," analyst Gene Munster of Piper Jaffray told MarketWatch.

"I think it means there's a change of power at Apple... Steve Jobs is playing less of a role. And that is not up for debate.

"Apple could have dismissed a lot of rumours by having him give the final keynote and they opted not to."

The keynote will be presented by Phillip Schiller who is Apple's senior vice-president of worldwide product marketing.

Falling share price

It has not been a good week for Apple.

Earlier Goldman Sachs analyst David Bailey downgraded the stock, cut his estimate for Apple's 2009 profit and warned "some nicks have started to emerge".

Mr Bailey pointed out that the first two quarters of next year would be tough for the company with deteriorating consumer demand.

"Shipments of MacBooks, iPod nanos and iPhone were all slightly lower than what was expected going into the [December] quarter," he wrote in a note to clients.

However he said Apple's ability to innovate would keep it ahead of the competition.

Sales of Macs in US stores last month fell 1% from a year ago, while industry-wide PC sales rose 2%, according to research firm NPD Group Inc which tracks retail sales.

Shares of Apple fell just over 5% in after hours trading on the news of the Macworld announcement to close at more than $99.444 (£58).

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