Can big trade shows survive Apple and Google?

How strange is it that perhaps the two biggest product announcements this month will come right before major trade shows, rather than during them? In less than two hours, Google is expected to officially launch the Nexus One smartphone at an event in Northern California. The Consumer Electronics Show kicks off with tomorrow night's Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer keynote. Apple is expected to unveil some new product, presumably a tablet PC, during another Northern California event on January 27. Macworld Expo opens about two weeks later.

The separate event strategy is about managing the message -- controlling mindshare -- being the one and only voice instead of one of many. The problem with big trade shows is the size. There are so many new product announcements, many good ones get lost in the noise. By holding separate big events, Apple and Google can capture the most publicity for the buck -- as in what they spend to host their own events and what they don't spend to attend the trade show or for additional marketing. It's a strange turnaround. Tech companies are supposed to ride the tradeshow's coattails by attending the event.

Both Apple and Google are being quite audacious in their upstaging efforts. The timing of Google's event and location, Mountain View and not Las Vegas, means some bloggers and journalists must make either/or decisions about which event to attend. Travel budgets are tight. Others will have do some last-minute plane hopping to cover both events. More typically, when not attending an event but making an announcement around it, a high-tech vendor books a hotel in the venue city. There's something oh-so middle finger about Google's timing and location.

Apple is being even more audacious. After weeks of rumors, news broke yesterday -- the day before Google's event -- that Apple would make some new product announcement on January 27 in Cupertino. I'm an old school thinker -- if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is a duck. The timing isn't coincidental, it's deliberate. News of Apple's late-January event is meant to upstage Google's event and to steal some of its marketing and mindshare building thunder. A round end-of-2009, looking-ahead blog and news commentaries speculated about increasing competition between Apple and Google, which partnership fades as the two companies push harder into competing markets, such as mobile devices and Web browsers. The two January events kick off mindshare competition between Apple and Google and their next-generation mobile platforms.

Google isn't Apple's only game. The Cupertino, Calif.-based company also is gunning for Macworld Expo, and there are real questions about killing the beast. The Consumer Electronics Show can survive Google. Macworld won't survive Apple. In December 2008, Apple revealed that Macworld Expo 2009 would be its last attendance. Apple is doing more than just not attending in 2010, it's hosting an event that's news likely will upstage every other at the expo.

Yesterday, Jim Dalrymple took "a quick look at the history. Apple pulled out of Macworld Expo Boston/New York -- it failed; Apple pulled out of Macworld Expo Tokyo -- it failed; Apple pulled out of Apple Expo Paris -- it failed...I've talked to many people in the media that are already writing the Macworld Expo eulogy. That's not a good sign."

The real question to be answered is something bigger than whether big trade shows can survive separate, major announcements by tech's heavy hitters -- or in the case of Apple and Macworld Expo the heavy clubbers. How effectively are these same companies using leaks to manipulate bloggers and journalists, particularly at a time when readership -- as measured in pageviews -- means so much more than subscribers did during the news print era?

Leaks are nothing new. In Washington, D.C., during the late 1960s and 1970s, the Nixon administration crafted leaks into a state of art. It's a wonder that Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward uncovered the Watergate scandal with so many journalists chasing Nixon White House leaks for the next big scoop.

In the 2000s, more tech companies are using leaks and special events to grab free marketing and to boost perceptions about their products and even their share price. Apple has effectively used this kind of guerilla marketing for years. But there was a qualitative change in 2008 and more so in 2009, particularly in managing news about CEO Steve Jobs' medical leave and liver transplant surgery. Apple's effective media manipulation -- and bloggers and journalists seem all too willing to be manipulated -- makes anything not officially announced suspect.

Here's an example: Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Apple's rumored tablet would sell for around $1,000. That's a simply outrageous price, considering the closeness in price to the white MacBook or to much lower-cost Windows 7 multitouch, touchscreen laptops. Suppose the $1,000 price was a deliberate leak, which I strongly suspect. In late December, Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster put a $600 price on the device. The $1,000 leaked price will make anything less seem less rather than more. With expectations set at $1,000, a $700 or $800 device would seem to be more reasonable, when in fact it probably is still too high for mass-market adoption -- not that Apple cares. Gadget geeks and Mac fans will pay more. The price for the rest of us can come later on. Meanwhile, geekdom could exhale a collective sigh of relief about the perceived lower pricing.

Macworld won't survive Apple. Jim Dalrymple is right. CES will survive Google. Meanwhile, gossip and rumor will continue to define the tone of technology news coverage. Will any of us survive that? I pose that question to you.

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