The Washington Times - December 16, 2008, 05:46PM

The latest information from Apple Inc. is not good news for trade show fans:

    “Apple 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 website enable Apple to directly reach more than a hundred million customers around the world in innovative new ways.

    Apple has been steadily scaling back on trade shows in recent years, including NAB, Macworld New York, Macworld Tokyo and Apple Expo in Paris.”

I know, I know: the economy’s tough and trade shows are a somewhat less-effective way to reach users, but there’s still something nice (or there was) to having the January revels in San Francisco. This year’s launch of the Mac Book Air (“There’s something in the Air” flags sprouted around the Moscone Center pre-show.) is but one example.

The Macworld show was an important gathering for not only Apple, but also for those who sell software, hardware and accessories for Macs and Mac users. You could touch stuff and ask questions and even gripe a bit. (I had a perverse satisfaction in telling the person from Timeslips how much I hated the product — it worked just fine, but I hate time-logging stuff for assignment to this or that client. Feh.)

Even with all the web-based hooha, it’s still nice to meet real people at a trade show and exchange ideas. There ought to be some way for Joe the Plumber and Jane the Art Director to see all this stuff in one place. In person, that is, and not virtually.

UPDATE: 9:51 p.m. — Sorry, but it seems I missed the real “headline” here, that it will be Philip Schiller, not Apple Chairman and CEO Steve Jobs, who’s doing the Macworld Expo 2009 keynote. The address is usually Mr. Jobs’ “baby,” and attendees patiently wait for him to mention “one more thing,” or an “oh, by the way.”

An Associated Press report hints there may be more to Mr. Jobs’ absence than a change in speakers, but I wouldn’t want to join that speculation without solid evidence. For now, let’s just say it’s sad that Mr. Jobs won’t be speaking at the 2009 Macworld Expo keynote, and sad that Apple is dropping out. Macworld Expo organizer IDG World Expo group, the unit of IDG Corp. that runs Macworld Expo, is optimistic the fair will continue:

“We are committed to continuing to serve [the Macintosh community’s] interests at Moscone Center, January 4 – 8, 2010,” said show general manager Paul Kent in a statement released by IDG World Expo. “Future events will continue to provide quality education, dynamic product viewing and will additionally focus on the amazing ways people are putting Apple products to work across all endeavors, from desktops to iPhones to games to music. We look forward to many more successful years of Macworld to come.”

- Mark Kellner, technology columnist, The Washington Times