Who needs Steve Jobs, anyway?

Chicago (IL) – This past Tuesday, it felt like Steve Jobs personally orchestrated
the multiple hardware updates of Mac desktop lines when, in reality, all Apple did was leak the Mac mini spyshot
and announce updated products with two press releases. What a
remarkable departure for the California-based consumer electronics
powerhouse that up until recently used to send tingles down our spines
with glamorous media events centered around Steve Jobs and his showmanship.
While many fans would like to believe Apple’s marketing will turn
to old practices once Steve Jobs gets back from his medical leave, in
reality it won’t. In fact, Steve Jobs may never return to Apple and
the recent stark departure in how the company markets its products might be
part of a carefully-staged plan to prepare all of us for the idea of an Apple
without Steve Jobs.

As most probably know, Apple’s legendary CEO is on a six month
medical leave with op-chief Tim Cook filling his shoes in the interim.
Although Jobs isn’t around on a daily basis, Apple is doing just fine.
In less than two months of Jobs’ absence, Apple has successfully
negotiated the Mark Papermaster appointment, started shipping a new version of iLife, unleashed the major Safari 4 Beta with cool new features, they brought forth the long-expected hardware updates to Mac mini, iMac, as well as its range of wireless base stations. And as if that wasn’t enough, Apple also unveiled a new Mac Pro which runs Intel’s “secret” Nehalem processor, something you’d expect only Steve Jobs could pull off.

What is different though is Apple’s PR style. Just a couple of months
ago, Apple would organize blockbuster media events at its Cupertino
headquarters where the Jobs would unveil new products — like the media
presentations held last October and September when Jobs showed us the new
unibody MacBooks and iPods respectively. Two media events in less than
two months. Not bad even by Apple’s standards. But, these shows are
likely the last such events we’ll be seeing from Apple as the company
transitions to a different PR strategy.

Marketing by spy shots and press releases

We saw it coming. When Apple pulled out of January’s MacWorld show for
good, we were told the company would abandon trade shows entirely in
favor of promotion in Apple Stores and on the Apple.com’s homepage. If
anything, this week’s Mac desktop refresh marks a new era of Apple
marketing. Instead of the frenzied media events that many of us have hoped for, Apple
simply leaked a Mac mini spyshot
and the blogosphere did the rest, marketing and all. We should all gets used to
these new realities and expect more product updates via press release, just
like other companies do.



A leaked spyshot, a note on Apple Store and a press release is all it takes these days to market an Apple product that would have been unveiled in a special media event just few months ago. It’s interesting that last few product updates, from round iPod nano to unibody MacBook to the new Mac mini all came via suspiciously accurate spyshots, like Mac mini spyshot pictured above.

WWDC now in Apple’s focus

Apple will likely still treat us to media events. After all, this is the company that began bringing a show business-like excitement into the otherwise dull computer industry some thirty years ago, and it’s not
going to let rivals steal the spotlight now. Apple will resort to media
events, but only when substantial new products and technologies need
introduction. One big annual show is a no-brainer — the WWDC developers
conference in July. In past two years, Apple used WWDC as the launching pad
to unveil both the original iPhone and iPhone 3G. Steve Jobs should
take the stage of this year’s WWDC to introduce third-generation iPhone
and OS X Snow Leopard, both major new product releases.

Read on the next page:What to expect from Apple in the future, Best- and worst-case scenarios, Apple  without Steve Jobs.

What to expect? Up to three events a year?

Beyond WWDC, Apple might occasionally surprise us with a special media
event only when it needs to bring major new technologies into the
picture. For example, the Mac notebook updates last October justified a
dedicated media event while Mac desktops did not because, with
MacBooks, Apple also announced broad shift to Nvidia GPUs
and DisplayPort interfaces across the product matrix in addition to a new unibody
manufacturing process.

As Apple moves towards yearly hardware updates,
one could assume at least one technological shift a year that would
justify an event. Looking forward, when Intel brings Nehalem
architecture into mobile processors (sometime this summer) and Apple
deploys it in iMacs, that could be an event. However, we can as well
imagine the Nehalem-based iMac and Mac mini announcements coming to us via boring press releases.

Apple’s trademark Hollywood-style media events that rely on Steve Jobs’ showmanship, like the January 2007 iPhone introduction, will certainly cease to exist when/if Jobs steps down. Apple is already transitioning to smaller press events where select journalists are invited to a more intimate presentations at Apple’s Cupertino campus.

Best- and worst-case scenarios

In fact, I’d put my money only on an Apple event in the case of a major form
factor change (that usually grabs most headlines) and the annual iPod

So, there you have at. The best case scenario calls for a
maximum of three Apple events annually: 1) New OS X and iPhone versions at WWDC in July, 2) major technology or
form factor changes, and 3) new iPods. The worst case scenario has only one event at WWDC in
July and nothing else beyond it. Realistically, I think Apple will keep
pushing new iPods via media events while diverting all other major
announcements to the WWDC.

The world without Steve Jobs

While it’s understandable that Apple’s pulling out of the MacWorld show
and subsequent changes in how it markets products will disappoint
die-hard fans who have enjoyed every second of every Steve Jobs keynote, we
should all adapt to new realities. As Apple grows and becomes the next
Sony, something has to give. And in Apple’s case it may well be the Hollywood-style
presentations which focus on the showmanship of Steve Jobs. After all,
Jobs will not be the CEO of Apple forever, nor will he be in the spotlight forever.

The sooner the company
adapts to the world without Steve Jobs, the better.

As much as I hate
to consider this idea, I really can’t help but thinking that the marketing
changes we’ve been seeing lately is Apple sending us a signal
and setting the stage for this internal transition of power. Call me
superstitious [You’re superstitious. -Editor], but I have not seen Apple quote Steve Jobs in their
press release since he went on a medical leave. But today, Tim Cook gets quoted
quite a lot in Jobs’ place.

It’s a strange coincidence that Apple is pulling out of all the big shows — save its annual WWDC developer conference in July. Has the hype became too big for Apple to handle? Or is the company already transitioning us toward gradually accepting the world without Steve Jobs? I believe it’s the latter.