My first big disappointment for NECC 2008 is that Apple will not be present on the vendor floor of the conference as an exhibitor. I heard rumors about this last week but could not believe them: How could Apple Computer, my favorite computer hardware and software company, simply bow out of the most important educational technology conference in the United States? Answer? The CEO has apparently decided trade show appearances are not needed now that Apple has so many retail stores around the country. Cory Bohon reported on June 4th that Apple is not attending this year’s Apple Expo in France, and is not attending the NAB conference either. I can’t speak for other conferences, but I KNOW many, many educators attending educational conferences like NECC, TCEA, and FETC absolutely LOVE to learn at the Apple booth. Typically, Apple representatives and ADEs present a variety of short sessions on the vendor floor at the Apple booth to share techniques and tips for using applications like iMovie, iPhoto, and Garageband. Last year at NECC 2007 in Atlanta, Marco Torres showed me how to use Motion software to create light saber effects with Final Cut Pro. (A podcast of our conversation is available.) These opportunities to learn about Apple hardware and software are VERY important for educators using, supporting, and promoting these tools in our schools across the nation and world.

To clarify, Apple representatives are officially teaching and offering workshops at NECC 2008. There is NOT an official Apple booth on the NECC 2008 vendor floor, however.

Apple retail stores ARE great. I’ve been fortunate to be able to visit them in Phoenix, San Francisco, Chicago, Washington D.C. and Oklahoma City to date. But Apple stores are NOT a replacement for the value and benefit of educators being able to learn from and with each other at an Apple vendor booth at educational conferences like NECC.

I think there is just one person who can reverse this unfortunate decision– certainly not for this year’s NECC, but hopefully before next year’s as well as in advance of other educational technology trade shows around the country and world. Here’s my top ten reasons why Apple SHOULD participate as a vendor at NECC 2009 in Washington D.C.:

  1. Teachers and education mean a great deal to Apple. Apple is THE #1 computer manufacturer who has invested in and supported education and educators to date. A tangible way Apple supports educators and education (as well as promotes sales of its products, of course) is by exhibiting in educational trade shows. NOT exhibiting sends exactly the WRONG message to both teachers and other educational leaders regarding Apple’s commitment to education.
  2. Many educators attending NECC don’t have an Apple Store back home. There are LOTS of teachers, technology directors, administrators, librarians and others attending NECC who are not close to an Apple Store in their hometown. Heck, there is not a single Apple Store in the ENTIRE state of Kansas! Educational conferences like NECC provide an outstanding opportunity for educators to see Apple’s latest hardware and software solutions showcased and explained. These are opportunities many educators simply don’t have at other times.
  3. Apple Retail Stores and store staff members are not education focused. I love the staff who work at our Oklahoma City Apple Store. My son and I think “Apple Genius” is one of the coolest titles anyone in the U.S workforce currently has. These staff members are not as knowledgeable and focused on the needs of the K-12 and higher education marketplace, however, as the Apple reps and ADEs who typically staff the booths at educational conferences.
  4. We live in an attention economy. Information is plentiful, but attention is in short supply. Conferences like NECC provide great opportunities for Apple to get on the attention radar screen of many different educators, who are all stakeholders and influencers in the educational process. Not participating in NECC as an exhibiting vendor is like sending your own child a birthday card for their birthday, but not showing up for the party. That sends a bad message! We show we care with our time and attention. Not showing up and not providing the opportunity to give attention as well as attract attention from educators gives a very negative message to a broad, important constituency.
  5. Competitors are innovative and hungry. One of the computer hardware products I am most interested in is Intel’s Classmate PC. The OLPC / XO Laptop is challenging computer manufacturers to produce hardware suited more specifically to the demands of the K-12 learning environment and priced much more affordably than laptops have been in the past. Why should schools considering 1:1 laptop initiatives go with Apple MacBooks instead of the Classmate PC? I certainly have some good answers to that question, and will have even more insight into that question following NECC, but unfortunately there won’t be anyone from Apple on the vendor floor to ask about this.
  6. Relationships are vitally important in the educational acquisition process. This is one of the first lessons I think everyone learns in sales and marketing 101. Focus on the customer, and your relationship with customers. If you ignore events and opportunities to interact with and build relationships with customers, you’re ignoring your customers. That is never a good idea for a company interested in making money.
  7. Loyal user communities expect good support. Apple has a very loyal user base. It’s fair to say many of us who are “Apple Evangelists” can be “fiercely loyal” at times. User communities support the companies who make the products they use and love in many ways. Before our panel discussion on Sunday afternoon, Jo McLeay went to the Apple Store in San Antonio and bought her first Mac laptop. She told me many of the things I’ve written and shared in blog posts and podcasts have influenced her to finally become a switcher and buy a Mac. This was a long process, but certainly not an isolated event. We are all influencers, and user communities for Apple are VERY important. We are loyal to Apple, but we expect loyalty from Apple as well.
  8. Technical questions often need face to face answers. I’ve received answers to a wide variety of specific and often technical questions about Apple software and hardware at educational technology tradeshows in the past. I am certainly capable of utilizing online support options from Apple, as well as the Apple Store staff in the city where I live, but several times I’ve had questions for Apple representatives that I needed to ask face-to-face. The educational conference vendor floor provided that opportunity in the past. I (and many others I am sure) will miss those opportunities at this year’s NECC.
  9. Apple sets the industry standard for excellent presentations and demos. Modeling is so important. Apple sets (IMHO) the standard in the industry for product demonstrations and tutorials. It is a shame to NOT see the market leader at the NATIONAL educational computing conference.
  10. One to One Computing evengelism is more important than ever. Lots of people are talking about one to one computing, but many continue to focus on TOOLS rather than LEARNING. In the Apple 1:1 projects with which I’ve been personally involved to date, leaders have focused on the learning process and the ways technology tools can be used transformatively to improve teaching and learning. One of the best parts of working with Apple in the TxTIP project was the comprehensive approach which Apple took to the 1:1 learning revolution. For Apple, 1:1 learning is SO MUCH MORE than simply delivering computer hardware and software to a school district’s loading dock. I’ve seen firsthand the ways Apple employees partner with educators to develop and share effective and sustained professional development, and help leaders consider issues of network infrastructure, curriculum, home technology use, and many other issues. We NEED the leadership of educational experts with Apple specifically on the topic of 1:1 computing, and we need those voices out on the vendor floor of educational conferences like NECC.

I am REALLY going to miss the Apple booth at this year’s NECC. Let’s hope the leader of this incredibly innovative and empowering company will change his mind and support educational tradeshows in the future by sponsoring a booth as an exhibitor.

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  • craigr

    I was curious why I didn’t see Apple listed as a NECC exhibitor. Now I know why. As a long time Apple user this is a huge disappointment. With gas prices the way they are, I will be making far fewer trips to the nearest Apple Store back home, which is two hours away.

  • http://www.johnhendron.net/ John Hendron

    That explains it! I kept looking down there on Sunday, wondering where “the Apple Booth” is??

    Oh well, they don’t need to sell to us, we are a 100% Macintosh district, but it does seem silly to bow out at this opportunity when folks are FINALLY making some decisions to consider Apple.

  • Kare

    I also was surprised when I heard that Apple was not at going to be at NECC and has scaled back their booths at other conferences. I was told by an Apple rep that part of the decision was based on that they did not generate actual sales from their presence on the floor. Doesn’t make sense to me.I would think people curious about their products have the potential to generated future sales. Thanks for a great post!

  • http://theeducationalmac.com/ Kelly Dumont

    This was part of a corporate wide decision to not participate in many trade shows this year. If you look back at other shows that Apple usually participates heavily in they were not there either. This includes huge trade shows such as NAMM and NAB. I don’t necessarily agree with the decision, for the reasons Wes states above, but it was a decision that I believe was made far above Apple Ed.

  • http://johnpeters1959.blogspot.com/ John Peters

    I have to agree, I was disappointed. I did notice some Apple Education sponsored learning sessions right around the corner from where Edublooggercon was held, for those who are at NECC.

    I too am an apple fan. I have been to the Apple store here in San Antonio a few times, but don’t have one anywhere near my home in Amarillo. I wish that that would have had an NECC Presence. I would have liked to ask them a few questions.

  • Brad

    Trade shows are a waste of Money and time. The millions that Apple spends on trade shows would be better spend doing regional seminars for educators. Maybe that is what they are trying to do.

  • http://tinamsteele.com Tina Steele

    Wes – as evidenced by the EdubloggerCon at NECC08, almost everyone I saw had an Apple. After NECC07, I went out and bought one last year, and this year, our whole TechDept are buying Apples and going to run both Mac OS and Windows OS, just to prove how great Apples are in Education. See the photo of the row of teachers I took using all the Apples the first day of NECC08. I took this picture to take back to my school and show my administrators how much educators love Apples!

    http://picasaweb.google.com/tinamsteele/NECC08/photo#5217454556054671906

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  • James Katt

    Apple realized that spending millions of dollars for a trade show booth was a waste of money. It did not sell Macs.
    Yes, it is fun to talk with the tech staff and get demos. But it still did not sell Macs. Bottom line.

    If you wan to talk to Apple staff, go to MacWorld! That is the Mecca for Macintoshes.
    Otherwise, trek on to the local Apple Store several times and join a Mac User Group.

    Apple has transformed itself into a ubiquitous brand.
    It doesn’t need specific and expensive trade shows that do little to advance its platforms.

    Trade shows have become archaic in the era of the internet.
    Apple knows that.
    Numerous large vendors know that.

  • http://www.wesfryer.com Wesley Fryer

    After talking with several others today, James, I think I see that point. Someone observed that perhaps the iPod and now iPhone, as well as Apple Stores, have led to significant market penetration for Apple and they don’t see the return on investment (ROI) being there for trade shows. Apparently Avid has made the same decision in at least one other case.

    The bottom line is I’m sad to not see Apple on the vendor floor at NECC. I love Apple and Apple products, I think they are best in class, and I miss the chance to learn more about them at the National Educational Computing Conference.

    I want to be clear that this post was NOT in any way intended as a “flame” to Apple. Certainly I disagree with this decision and wish it would be changed, but having that opinion should not and hopefully will not be interpreted as a “flame post.” Those were the words I heard at NECC from some folks.

    I’m mainly sad that Apple made this decision. I was trying to articulate that feeling intelligently in this post.

  • http://www.mindoh.wordpress.com Amy Strecker

    That is disappointing! Hopefully things will change for next year.

    (PS — if you’re looking for a bright spot in SA, check out Rosario’s for their fish tacos — amazing!)

  • http://www.assortedstuff.com Tim

    I wasn’t surprised or disappointed by Apple going missing on the exhibit floor. It’s very expensive to rent a small patch of real estate and erect a small house for three days. I think it’s smart on their part to spend their marketing money elsewhere.

    For example, they typically would spend most of their floor space on a classroom to show off their software. This year they did that in some quieter rooms just off a very heavily trafficed corridor. They also loaned dozens of iMacs for the workshop rooms.

    Then there were the many, many presenters who were doing sessions based around iMovie, GarageBand, and other Apple products. Probably the best, and least expensive, advertising. Of course, NECC will be in trouble if other vendors decide to do the same thing. :-)

  • http://www.wesfryer.com Wesley Fryer

    Tim: I heard some very positive feedback from others also about the workshops Apple offered at NECC. One advantage of Apple having those sessions in a separate room, not on the vendor floor, was that people were not able to sit down and not leave– a problem in the past with showfloor sessions at times when others wanted a seat.

    Change is always difficult, and I guess I fall into that frame of wanting some things (like Apple being on the vendor floor) to stay the same. I think you are right, this has everything to do with ROI and finding more effective ways to reach and influence teachers than vendor floor booths.

    It will be interesting to see if other vendors follow suit down the road… I think Apple is in a unique situation now because of their commercial stores in lots of places. Did you see how HUGE the Cisco and Verizon booths were this year? I wonder how much those cost?

    If vendors support NECC less, it could change the nature of the conference in fundamental ways, and that could turn out to be a good thing. Personally I think the conference should be very learning focused versus vendor and commercial sale focused. The conference means many things to different people and groups, and it certainly WAS and IS a learning conference primarily for me. It will be interesting to see how things evolve on the vendor side, however.

    Apple is led by very smart people and certainly this decision was not made carelessly or unintentionally. I think I can better understand now the reasons for it, and although I wish Apple still had a vendor floor presence, I am glad they are still present / available at the conference and providing opportunities for educators to learn about new applications/hardware in workshops. The context has changed, but the presence and commitment on the part of Apple to education is still strong. That is the key. And I am very glad of that.

  • riley couger

    I missed Apple although I can understand the decision. I always learn “something” at the Apple booth I want to run back and share. I guess I could have figured out how to get a schedule of the sessions but there is something about the excitement at a trade show. If a vendor really believes in a product,program, idea, etc you can tell and feed off of their positive energy and ask questions you need to. I’ve from east west nowhere and TCEA & NECC is one of the times I count on that chance for face time. Someone implied it is time for the demise of trade shows. I am human and when it comes to a point I’d rather interact with keyboard and screen than another human not only trade shows but everyone is doomed. Maybe that is what is wrong. Have we forgotten the human element in educational technology? Aren’t in it for the students? Do we rely on software that merely raises test scores? Apple was always a leader in the old notion of ain’t this cool, look what I can do. Excitement at NECC was seeing Roger Wagner again and knowing that HyperStudio lives on. W/o people computers just go off/on, off/on,off/on

  • http://ed421.com Stephanie Sandifer

    Wesley,

    I forget who I was speaking with regarding this issue, but someone mentioned a new Apple policy regarding conferences that involves only sending regional employees to the conferences to conduct the training sessions. I can’t confirm this, but I wonder if someone else can confirm it. If true, then I could see it making sense due to the increasing cost of fuel.

    However, there is still the visibility issue — especially at an education/edtech conference. You brought up some good points in this post and I’ll be curious to see how Apple continues to address their presence at these kinds of conferences.

    Stephanie

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