From here, at the end of Apple’s participation in the Macworld conference entirely, I suspect we will see them develop a revised annual cycle of product updates and announcements in various categories. What might that calendar look like?
Well, first off it won’t be a rigid calendar — it will have a give-and-take that’s more helpful for software development projects. Dumping Macworld gives them control over both the size and timing of each announcement, rather than being tied to venues, dates or formats dictated by a third party. That said, Apple would be well-advised to bite off projects in 12-month increments. Projects that run much longer than 9 months can easily start to lose focus and experience endless scope creep.
In any case, I’m betting on a roughly annual product cycle that might look something like this…
JAN / FEB: Mac OS X, iLife, iWork, MobileMe
Like this year’s Macworld, this could be a great time to introduce consumer software updates. “You got a new Mac for the holidays? Great. Now you can spend another $200 on new software!” Plus, if you have an older Mac and love it, you’re pretty likely to drop some coin for the new goodies. (Or maybe the new stuff will push you to buy a whole new machine at the next hardware launch?)
MAR / APR: iMac, Mac mini (and Pro apps?)
This seems like a good time for consumer desktop Mac announcements and perhaps peripherals. The timing here is designed to beat the education buying cycle — which gets planned out now for the new fiscal year which begins July 1. Plus, desktop sales are on the wane when compared to laptops, so there’s no need to make a splashy announcement ahead of the holidays.
This might also be a good period for Final Cut Pro and other “Pro” applications and services to be introduced. While Apple has recently backed out of the NAB show (National Association of Broadcasters), they could return. Otherwise, watch for FCP to go to an expanded WWDC or perhaps a new show aimed at pro users.
MAY / JUN: iPhone (software and hardware)
Shipments of these products can be immediate or may slip to July, as has been done in the past couple of years. But this is as good a time as any to launch phone products. I don’t sense a specific cyclical window for phones because they’re sold with such lengthy lock-in contracts. If Congress ever makes contract-bundled sales illegal, then iPhone announcement timing might become more strategic. Until then, timing is almost irrelevant — just find an open calendar slot.
If Apple fully develops and releases a “mega iPhone” or “mega iPod” slate-like media/communications device, I’m not sure whether they would group it with iPhones, iPods or laptops.
JUN / JUL: Mac OS X Server + OS X betas, Mac Pro, Xserve (Pro apps?)
With WWDC traditionally scheduled at this time, it makes sense to densely group developer-specific and power-user-specific announcements. Whether the Final Cut Pro apps (and Final Cut Server stuff) fits in here is debatable. Apple could start a second WWDC just for media pros if they wanted to, but that may not be needed at all.
AUG / SEP: iPod, Apple TV, iTunes
Though the iPod is shrinking in importance as the iPhone rises in popularity, digital media devices like the Apple TV may yet take off in years to come as broadcast shrinks and people take more and more media direct from the Internet. And, of course, this is the best time to launch relatively inexpensive consumer products for the holiday buying season.
OCT / NOV: MacBook, MacBook Pro
Apple can get the laptop line updated in time for holiday shoppers — and after all the new college students have snapped up prior models. It’s a great time to get buzz for laptops — the dominant Mac form-factor today and for the foreseeable future. This could also be a good time to get out mobile-specific peripherals like AirPort base stations and the like.
The Big Idea
Of course, this is all speculation, but a product cycle like this allows each team/product line to shine on their own — while still within an Apple ecosystem — and it keeps Apple in the digital media, PC and cell phone media spotlights throughout the year. The rumor mill and fan sites can stay active all year, the stock performance is less cyclical, cashflow is more regular and Apple can always make a surprise announcement out of left field at any time, regardless of anyone else’s schedule.
If this is the Apple strategy — breaking the back of the single annual conference bugaboo and giving themselves room to surprise and delight customers anytime — it’s straight-up brilliant. I’ve long felt that most industry conferences are a waste of time, money, travel, effort and so on. Need product info? Look online, go to an Apple Store, contact a pro Apple integrator, and so on. Going to a massive Apple booth at a conference won’t teach you anything new.
Separately, it’s been suggested that Macworld is really a “meeting of the tribe” conference, in which Apple lovers can hang out with one another. Folks: That’s what we call a Star Trek convention. I’m all for “meeting of the tribe” conferences, but they don’t really work well for all participants above perhaps 500 attendees (and even that’s a stretch), and they’re not about the company (Apple), they’re about the community — something Apple can’t, and doesn’t want to, control.
So what do you think? Are the months right? Products grouped right? Do I just not “get it?”