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UPDATED: Will CES kill Macworld?

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UPDATED: Will CES kill Macworld?

San Francisco (CA) – Despite Apple’s withdrawal from this year’s Macworld Expo (the move that nearly killed the event entirely right there and then) IDG, the show organizer, has pulled itself together and is now moving forward with plans for Macworld 2010 – even without Apple. At the same time, CES organizers have seized the opportunity and are now openly inviting Macworld attendees to exhibit at CES 2010 in an all new Apple-related area. Online sources also cite “friends at Apple,” who claim that the company planned to ditch Macworld in order to “go large” at CES next year. Apparently, a Stevenote at CES may also be in the works.

Wired’s Mac blog first reported of an Apple at CES 2010 possibility, and Computerworld somewhat corroborated the news, but refrained from going as far to claim that the self-proclaimed consumer electronics giant from Cupertino will indeed exhibit at CES. There are two schools of thought going on here. Some claim that Apple is now big enough and strong enough to maintain a large CES presence, joining the likes of Google, Microsoft and several other key industry players. According to those voices, Apple’s product lineup would give any tech company at CES a serious run for its money – while unexpected new product launches would garner tremendous media attention.

But, the majority of Apple watchers for now doubt such a scenario will unfold. They cite Apple’s own Macworld 2009 exit press release in which the company clearly stated it has no interest in trade shows since they play minor part in how it reaches customers, especially when compared to millions visiting apple.com homepage and 250 Apple retail stores. Apple has been steadily scaling back on trade shows in recent years, including NAB, Macworld New York, Macworld Tokyo and Apple Expo in Paris. So, if Apple withdrew from Macworld and thinks trade-shows are last year, there’s no logic as to why it would now appear at CES 2010, right?

Your guess is as good as ours, but we think it’s highly unlikely that we will see Apple exhibit at CES in 2010 – let alone have Steve Jobs deliver the keynote. Both are wishful thoughts of CES organizers, probably leaked intentionally to gauge media reaction. Having said that, it is still entirely possible that CES kills Macworld come January, 2010.

Jason Oxman of the CEA confirmed to Computerworld that there is already “a dedicated special area at the 2010 CES to Apple-related CE manufacturers.” The only unanswered question at this point is what will Apple-related exhibitors choose now that they’re offered a choice: Macworld Expo or CES?

CES may be the safe bet. It is, after all, the biggest consumer electronics-oriented show in the world. It also gets the most coverage. Nearly 3,000 tech companies gather each January in Las Vegas to set the pace of technology for the year and global media listens. It is this media importance, combined with the promise of an Apple-only area, that may make the CES offering irresistible. But, there are two important drawback, as well.

First, CES is not exclusively an Apple-related show, in contrast to Macworld which draws only companies who make their living inside Apple’s ecosystem. In addition, CES is a trade show where businesses come to cut deals. At Macworld, anyone can come and look around, examine products and services that companies exhibit. They can buy, have fun and mingle with like-minded individuals.

Most media outlets are notably divided over the CES vs Macworld debate. For example, CNet thinks Apple at CES is unlikely, citing marketing chief Phil Schiller who told NYTimes Apple does not want to time new product launches at a particular point each year (CES, like Macworld, runs in January). On the other hand, the traditionally well-informed Apple Insider confirms that CES is tempting Macworld exhibitors, calling Apple’s CES move a “done deal.”

With all of that in mind, we arrive at the third, least likely, outcome: That Apple indeed confirms at some point it will be exhibiting at CES 2010, with or without Jobs’ or any other Apple executive’s keynote. Such an announcement would spell instant death for Macworld as vast majority of Macworld attendees would switch to Las Vegas where the mothership is (at that point).

Lastly, now that Apple has grown from a niche player into a consumer tech giant with its hands across several businesses, we’d be startled to see Apple isolating itself from the industry’s largest tech show. Besides, Apple’s presence at CES would likely benefit Apple’s business and it would certainly boost sales and confidence of Apple-related exhibitors.

In any case, such an open invitation from the CES organizers to the Macworld exhibitors couldn’t have arrived at a better time. Such an early offer leaves exhibitors with ample time to decide between Macworld or CES in 2010. It is also a brilliant move that puts Macworld’s organizer, IDG, in defense. Even if CES 2010 doesn’t kill Macworld 2010, the latter, seriously wounded with the lack of Apple and Jobs’ keynote address, is still set for a slow death.

UPDATED: January 12, 2009 at 2:14pm CSTIn addition, in recent years Apple has indicated its trend away from the Mac-centric world of exclusivity enjoyed in its past, toward a business model which actually fosters relationship across businesses. Their decision to abandon previous CPUs in favor of the much more popular and ubiquitous Intel models is one such example.