Apple Risks Backlash With Macworld Fiasco

Hey Steve Jobs, what exactly is your problem with Boston?

Are you worried our new waterfront convention center won’t be ready by 2004? Do you think there aren’t enough affordable hotel rooms for attendees? Does the thought of visitors becoming disoriented by Big Dig detours and ending up in Rhode Island scare you?

Apple Computer‘s CEO won’t say what’s behind the threat to boycott IDG World Expo’s Macworld when it returns to Boston in 2004.
But it surely isn’t any of these logistical (and admittedly legitimate) concerns. No, given the timing, it was personal.

Apple’s petulant press release coincided with a news conference Mayor Tom Menino and IDG World Expo honcho Charlie Greco were holding to announce that the popular industry event had been wrested from grip of Gotham.

The PR bomb was designed for maximum embarrassment and, in that respect, was a smashing success. Menino and Greco, who in recent weeks were led to believe Apple was on board with the move, were shocked and angered. Instead of a pat on the back, they got a slap in the face. What’s worse, it happened on their own turf…at their own event.

Neither men are shy about throwing elbows during negotiations (precisely the approach needed to recapture the show, and the tens of millions of dollars it generates,
from New York). Almost certainly, one of these elbows caught Jobs in the chin when it came time to work out Apple’s show contract.

Consult the text of Apple’s statement if you like for clues…it won’t help.

“Apple disagrees with this decision [to return to Boston], and will not be participating in Macworld Boston,” the Cupertino, Calif.-based company said. “Since IDG is no longer investing in New York, we now need to re-evaluate our participation in Macworld New York 2003. Apple will continue to participate in Macworld San Francisco in January.”

That’s it. Beantown’s business community, press and pols have been reduced to trying to parse this statement.

Whatever the problem, it should have been hammered out weeks ago. Perhaps, Apple’s very public fit will succeed in winning concessions from Boston and IDG. On tech message boards, some Mac devotees derided the ploy as “typical” and “arrogant” of Jobs management style. Some even claimed they were going to buy an Apple but have changed their mind.

After cooling off over the weekend, the combatants are talking again, and it wouldn’t be surprising if Apple will agree to some kind of presence at the East Coast shows.

The details of any arrangement won’t be made public. But as Apple tries to navigate a difficult PC market, alienating legions of potential PC buyers in New England
may cost it more than agreeing to Macworld Boston in the first place.

Colin C. Haley reports from’s Boston office.

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