Not-so-great expectations

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I’ve been in the business long enough that I shouldn’t be surprised by others’ reactions to a Steve Jobs keynote but I admit I was caught unaware by the responses of a couple of folks in the hall and some who’ve since written about Monday’s Worldwide Developers Conference keynote.

One journalist I spoke to, who I thought should know better, claimed it was “the dullest keynote I’ve ever witnessed.” Where was the iPhone? The next iPod? The “One more thing!?”

“Where,” I thought, “is your sense?”

And it then occurred to me that in the minds of many, each and every Steve Jobs keynote must contain The Big Wow element—something completely cool that comes out of left field. This without consideration of the venue or where Apple is in its development cycles.

In my mind, Monday’s offering was a perfectly satisfactory keynote. But maybe that’s because I wasn’t expecting a new iPod, an Apple-branded phone, an Apple-branded tablet computing device, an Apple-branded multimedia set-top box, and Apple-branded line of organic frozen foods. I was expecting pretty much what I got—the completion of the Intel-based Macintosh line with the introduction of the Mac Pro and Xserve and a glimpse at some of Leopard’s new features.

And honestly, if you pay attention, that’s pretty much how things are done these days. If the whys and wherefores of Apple’s announcements and keynotes are a mystery to you, let me spell it out clearly by the seasonal year:

Winter: Macworld Expo

Expo is the “consumer’s show,” the exposition where Apple shows off cooler and lighter fare. Here you can expect announcements of brand new Macs, iPods, iLife/iWork updates, consumery application tweaks (iChat, for example), and the consumer’s look at an upcoming major revision of the Mac OS (following the Developer’s look at WWDC the previous summer). If there’s going to be a “One More Thing” slide, this is the keynote in which it will most likely appear.

Winter: National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) Show

At this trade show taking place a couple of weeks after Macworld Expo, Apple shows off its music-related applications—largely Logic Pro and Logic Express—and some of its hardware.

Early Spring: National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) convention

Look for announcements and releases related to Apple’s pro video applications at this event.

Late Spring: School buying season

If Apple’s got a new Mac for schools in the pipeline, this is when you’ll hear about it.

Summer: WWDC

Now that there is no summer Macworld Expo, Apple uses its annual Worldwide Developer Conference to update developers and the mainstream press on what it’s up to. Because the focus of WWDC is developers, Jobs tends to stay away from strictly consumer items like the iPod and iLife and, instead, spends time talking about the company’s high-end hardware and OS space, as illustrated by this week’s unveilings.

Apple is now in a position to muster the attention of the mainstream press at any time of its choosing by announcing a special event. The days when Jobs needs to tack on a “One more thing” to the end of a WWDC keynote are over.

Early Autumn: Apple Expo France

Apple generally uses its time in Paris to talk up what it’s doing in the European market—iTunes and Apple Store expansion in the EU, for example. You may also get a rehash of some of the material offered during the WWDC keynote. Now that Apple can call well-attended special events, Apple Expo France isn’t the place to look for Big Announcements.

Mid-Autumn: Special events for consumer products

Like any other company whose products are likely to be found under December’s decapitated Douglas Fir, Apple understands the need to have hot new products out in time for the High Holidays. September and October are the months when Apple creates special events to announce and release new iPods and other consumer gewgaws.

Mid-Autumn: Audio Engineering Society (AES) convention

Apple is generally well represented at October’s AES convention where it shows off its professional audio applications (Logic and Soundtrack), high-end video applications, and more-powerful computers.

And then back to Macworld Expo where the cycle begins anew.

Just because Apple’s innovative (and highly secretive) doesn’t make its actions unpredictable. We’ve had plenty of evidence of how Apple’s product and presentation cycles work to make reasonable guesses about the fundamental elements of upcoming presentations. Beyond that, the trick to avoiding disappointment is keeping unreasonable expectations in check.

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