Behind Steve Jobs’ Macworld exit

Truth is, nobody outside Steve Jobs’ inner circle knows why Apple’s CEO won’t be giving his annual Macworld keynote this year.

The news broke Tuesday afternoon, and by dawn Wednesday just about every reporter who follows the company had filed a story. Techmeme‘s news aggregator listed 104. Google News had 779.

I haven’t read them all, but I’ve read enough to know that nobody has talked to Jobs or been given the inside dope.

On its face, Apple’s press release makes a plausible case for why Macworld 2009 will be its last. Apple (AAPL) has cheaper and more effective venues for reaching its audience — on its own terms and its own schedule.

But to get a feel for how far Apple’s four-paragraph release is from the real story, contrast it with John Gruber’s 2002 Daring Fireball report the last time Apple called IDG World Expo’s bluff. (Killer quote from IDG chief Charlie Greco, apparently thinking Jobs needed IDG’s expo more than the expo needed Jobs: “You know how badly they want to do San Francisco,” [Greco] said. “We don’t have to let them.”)

But even if you accept Apple’s reasoning for abandoning Macworld, that doesn’t explain why Jobs isn’t giving the valedictory keynote. Or why he waited until three weeks before the event to spring the news of his absence and his keynote stand-in Senior VP Phil Schiller — too late for the thousands of Apple enthusiasts making the pilgrimage to San Francisco to get their money back.

Apple must have known that the sudden switch would rekindle speculation about Jobs’ health. (See here for background.)

Asked by Time Magazine‘s Josh Quittner if Jobs canceled because of illness, Apple PR chief Steve Dowling said, “Phil is giving the keynote because this is Apple’s last year in the show, and it doesn’t make sense for us to make a major investment in a trade show we will no longer be attending.” (link)

What “major investment” is he talking about? Apple has already rented the space in Moscone West, and Jobs gets paid whether he speaks or not.

CNBC’s Jim Goldman thinks he got the inside scoop. “I can tell you that sources inside the company tell me that Jobs’ decision was more about politics than his pancreas,” he wrote.

But Goldman’s sources also told him that if Jobs was ever unable to perform any of his responsibilities as CEO because of health reasons, he should “rest assured that the board would let me know.” (link)

Goldman is a good reporter, but he’s not the first to make the mistake of believing that Jobs or Apple’s board puts any journalist’s interests ahead of its own.

Steve Jobs may someday tell us what’s really going on. But he’ll do it in on his own terms, and in a venue of his choosing.

One thing we know for sure: it won’t be Macworld.

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