Why Apple must make January great again

The AirPower brouhaha may be overblown, but it shows what happens when idle hands are left to play.

Apple, AirPower, Macworld Expo, iPhone, January
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There was a time when Apple defined the future direction of the entire tech industry for the next 12 months when its annual January Macworld Expo event set the scene.

Even the first iPhone was announced Jan. 9, 2007.

What this meant

The January event meant Apple commanded the attention of every tech media and industry thought leader at the beginning of each year.

Airports across the planet were filled with people making their quarterly journey to an Apple keynote (others took place in New York, France and Tokyo, with a fifth event WWDC in June).

Crowds congregated and speculation flew.

Hacks were happy to have something exciting to write about after the annual crushing bore that CES became and the long spell of holiday season news emptiness that seems to extend from November.

The result?

Apple’s decision to ignite interest with a January event drove the fallow news cycle. It generated coverage and helped it grab the public imagination early each and every year.

Apple would corral all this excitement around a new release, a new strategy or the philosophical frisson of a Stevenote.

Who else recalls the introduction of the “digital shoebox” for content in iPhoto that eventually became the digital media ecosystem everyone from Amazon to Netflix now profits from? Who else sees how by bestowing digital content with real value, Apple helped bring into reality a viable ecosystem for creative expression through digital content in the face of piracy?

Empty vessels make a noise

Sure, the argument Apple made when exiting the trade show schedule was a strong one: Commitment to these dates put it under pressure to announce exciting new products and reduced its capacity to be flexible.

“Every Macworld can’t have an iPhone,” said IDC analyst Richard Shim, commenting on Apple’s decision at that time.

He was right, but over time the decision has generated unwanted consequences.

These days we have a vacuum.

Left with nothing interesting to write about and in a publishing environment in which it seems acceptable to criticize Apple for even the smallest failing while denying competitors the same level of scrutiny even when more egregious errors are made, journalists reach for any critical story they can find.

That’s why Apple’s failure to launch AirPower to schedule is getting so much coverage. It’s not because anyone writing about this actually cares. They just want something to write about. (It is probably more telling that Apple seems to have removed almost every reference to the product from its website and did so months ago. It's always nice to see a story get recycled.)

Apple needs to regain the initiative

I’m not arguing that Apple should return to Macworld Expo.

In a digitally connected world choking on the fumes created by "clean coal," it makes much more environmental and economic sense to use video and AR to share ideas and product announcements — we’re certainly seeing a growing number of enterprises do just that. In that context, trade shows are an anachronism.

I do, however, think Apple should consider how it has blunted the impact of its messaging by abandoning an event in January.

Doing so has left a drought in tech industry news coverage, a gap now regularly filled by Apple criticism published for fun and profit. The people who identify and write about these problems aren’t dumb. They know there is a market for negative Apple stories. “Build them up to knock them down.”

One way to silence this critical cacophony might be to give those idle hands something better to write about. The malaise created at a time of year when no one has anything much to say during the slowest sales season is an opportunity to share a better story.

Will Apple seize that moment, or is it an opportunity for another ambitious firm to carve its own vision for a future in which technology meets the liberal arts?

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