SAN FRANCISCO—I have a shameful confession to make: Dont tell my wife, but I have a crush on Steve Jobs.
Id like to think my history in the Mac community has immunized me from the aura surrounding Apple Computers charismatic CEO: I caught the Mac bug shortly after Jobs original departure from Apple in the mid-80s and covered the market professionally for nearly a decade before his return, so I missed the full force of Jobs-mania shared by many true Apple vets and youthful enthusiasts. Moreover, Ive always preferred to glean my tech stories and angles from the dynamic expression of developers and end users, not the more-rehearsed cadences of the executive suite.
But goodness, the man can keynote! Even as I squirmed over my earlier decision to endorse a Mac tablet over new PowerBooks as the likely hardware highlight of this show, I was even more humbled by the sheer volume of announcements he effortlessly spun at Macworld Expo.
His two-hour turn Tuesday morning spanned two dramatic new notebook computers, three new software applications, upgrades to four consumer multimedia apps, new wireless capabilities, and a welter of ephemera ranging from television commercials to retail sales—all wrapped up in a package as eye-catching and tightly choreographed as Noh theater.
But while Noh is an ensemble performance, this weeks Expo keynote was absolutely a solo turn. Aside from one brief appearance by DigiDesigns Dave Lebolt (to announce the arrival of a Mac OS X-native version of the Pro Tools audio package) and five minutes from Phil Schiller, Apples indefatigable senior vice president of worldwide product marketing (to tout a new entry-level version of Apples Final Cut video software), this was Jobs show. He used every minute of it to push Apples tightly interwoven agendas: speed Mac OS X migration, win new crossover sales from the Windows world, and wow consumers and pros alike with media-rich Mac applications and hardware.
So how are these announcements going to play once the keynote glow has dissipated? Here are a few quick impressions.
Apple insiders had hinted that this weeks revelations wouldnt please Microsoft. Im sure that Redmond is a tad discomfited by Apples new Safari browser (which Jobs claimed performs up to three times faster than Internet Explorer, the Macs erstwhile “browser of choice”) and by Keynote, a presentation package that handles Microsoft PowerPoint files along with other formats. Safari could indeed pose some headaches for Explorer. However, Im less-convinced that the graphically impressive Keynote will do much to sap sales of the full-featured and familiar PowerPoint to users who are already buying into Microsofts Office suite. Could Keynote be a crossover hit outside traditional office applications—say, in the education market?
: Viva Steve Jobs!”>
While the 17-inch PowerBook is a tour de force of industrial design, Im inclined to agree with showgoers who suggested that its new 12-inch counterpart is the easier sell. The larger models $3,299 price tag is not insignificant, and the system is awfully big. Its target market of creative professionals may be accustomed to toting bulky portfolios, but Im not sure how this system will fit in coach. Its fast FireWire 800 port is a nice improvement; its 1GHz PowerPC G4 processor is less-than-impressive. I love this machine, but Id sooner hitch up with its elfin and less-expensive 12-inch counterpart.
The adoption of 802.11g for AirPort and built-in support for BlueTooth are both nice enhancements that underscore Apples commitment to industry-standard wireless networking.
The enhancements to its iMovie, iDVD and iPhoto applications (along with the recently upgraded iTunes) will surely help spark sales of consumer systems and reify Apples position as a vendor of family-friendly multimedia. Happily, the pricing structure for the new software turned out to be a non-issue: iMovie, iPhoto and iTunes are still available for free download; all three are bundled with iDVD for $49; and as expected, all four will ship free with each new Mac.
When a performer as highly disciplined as Steve Jobs speaks—even for 120 minutes—you have to assume that every word is carefully chosen, and seemingly tangential remarks take on some weight.
At risk of sounding like a Cold War Kremlinologist, I was intrigued by the image Jobs evoked to illustrate the volume of visitors coming to Apples national chain of 51 retail stores. After pointing out that 85 million Americans now live within 15 miles of an Apple outlet, Jobs pointed out that Decembers 1.4 million visitors was “equivalent to 20 Macworlds.”
Its public knowledge that Apple and show organizer IDG World Expos have been at loggerheads over Apples continued participation in twice-yearly Macworld Expos. Im sure this contrast between store and trade-show traffic was an intentional reference to the underlying economic issues behind Apples reluctance to commit.
Watching one trade show after another crumble in the face of woeful industry conditions, I can understand the desire to think different when it comes to reaching out to end users. So far, this show seems far more dynamic than any other industry event Ive observed this year, thanks both to the dauntless energy of the Mac community and the showmanship of the man who best symbolizes the platform.
As a fan both of the Mac and the theater, though, I profoundly hope that yesterdays performance wasnt Steve Jobs Macworld swan song.