By Philip Elmer-DeWitt
December 17, 2008

In a surprise move that shocked fans and troubled investors, Apple announced after close of markets Tuesday that Steve Jobs will not be delivering the keynote address at Macworld 2009.

In the same press release, issued three weeks before the event, the company let it be known that after this Macworld, Apple will no longer participate in the industry showcase that takes its name from the company’s flagship product.

Apple’s press release offered no explanation for why Jobs has decided not to give his usual keynote address, one of the signal events of the year for Apple watchers. It will be delivered instead by marketing VP Phil Schiller, an Apple executive notably lacking in Jobs’ showmanship and star power.

The switch is likely to raise questions once again about the health of Apple’s CEO, who struggled earlier this year with complications from surgery performed in 2004 to remove a tumor from his pancreas. See here.

Apple (AAPL) shares, which had closed the day up a fraction of a point, fell nearly 6% in after hours trading before settling at 92.94, down 2.6%.

San Francisco hosted the first Macworld in 1985. The expo was held twice a year until 2005, when it was scaled back to an annual event.

Now its future is in doubt.

“We’re on track for a terrific show for this year,” Paul Kent, a VP at IDG World Expo and general manger for Macworld 2009, said in a prepared statement. He insists that IDG is committed to staging Macworld in San Francisco’s Moscone Center in January 2010, but declined to go further than that.

Apple’s press release begins as follows:

Apple(R) today announced that this year is the last year the company will exhibit at Macworld Expo. Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Product Marketing, will deliver the opening keynote for this year’s Macworld Conference & Expo, and it will be Apple’s last keynote at the show. The keynote address will be held at Moscone West on Tuesday, January 6, 2009 at 9:00 a.m. Macworld will be held at San Francisco’s Moscone Center January 5-9, 2009.

Apple is reaching more people in more ways than ever before, so like many companies, trade shows have become a very minor part of how Apple reaches its customers. The increasing popularity of Apple’s Retail Stores, which more than 3.5 million people visit every week, and the Apple.com website enable Apple to directly reach more than a hundred million customers around the world in innovative new ways. (link)

The rest is boilerplate.

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