Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Apple Cancellations

On the heels of Apple's recent announcement that MacWorld would be permanently canceled[*] -- improved access to customers through retail and online stores make it less relevant than when coverage of the event was a major source of new product press -- this press release confirms that Apple, for similar reasons, has also canceled Christmas.

You can visit an Apple Store year 'round, and have what is left of Christmas in July. And May.

And so on.

At the same time, it's been reported that Apple has just suffered its first computer sales decline in modern history. This claim is about what one should expect from the tech media, but it doesn't jive with the data. Apple has had wild unit sale fluctuations since it first introduced the iMac in the late 1990s, and often has had sequential declines, year-over-year declines, unit declines, dollar-value declines, and so on. What Apple has consistently done -- with notable exception in the case of the Enron-crash-era Quarter of the Cube -- is produce a profit. Apple is still producing a profit, as it appears set to dominate yet another market segment with its handheld products. Apple's profit has created such a glut of cash and cash equivalents that Apple is justifiably criticized for not doing more with the cash.

To Apple's credit, Apple hasn't lost that cash and cash equivalents in the market collapse because it was in ... drumroll please ... cash and cash equivalents.

When I wrote about Apple's "dismal performance" with its cash, I hadn't yet seen September and October of this year. As much as I think Apple's cash management has been a drag on shares, marking to market a bunch of materially impaired investments would have been rather worse. So, hat's off to Apple on its cash.

[*] In fact, Apple can't cancel MacWorld, as it's not an Apple-run event. This is part of the joke on cencelling Christmas, you see? MacWorld, like Christmas, is an event run by others. Apple is simply the highest-profile vendor in the MacWorld show (and if they're lucky and good then maybe sometimes Christmas, too). Steve Jobs didn't go to the first MacWorld, and indeed didn't attend one until his return to Apple in 1997. With Apple's improved power to obtain attention for its press releases without the platform of a third-party's computer trade show, the need to spend time and money on the show seems slight. On the other hand, based on the previous link's comments about the impact of encountering customers and developers, it's possible that Apple's folks might benefit from the trade show. On the gripping hand, the current world of instantaneous electronic communication makes it certain that awareness of users and their feedback is not the kind of thing that requires physical presence at an annual trade show.
My own take is that the increase in the impact of the Apple brand over the last decade makes it unnecessary to present in Moscone, when Apple could for less money announce a press event and host it on Apple's own campus, as Apple has done with some iPod-related announcements. Apple's gotten high profile acts like U2 to show up for these gigs, without even giving them billing. Apple may one day need a trade show to give it profile, but at present Apple can make its own press and doesn't need the expense or distraction. Plus, other developers will have a chance to do something that isn't rendered irrelevant by the keynote presentation.

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