Posted byHarry McCracken on December 29, 2008 at 9:30 am
We’re now just over a week before Macworld Expo–a timeframe that would normally be bulging at the seams with speculation about what the Steve Jobs keynote would reveal. This time, of course, there will be no Jobs keynote–Apple marketing head Phil Schiller will fill in at the final Apple keynote at the show. And there’s little chatter on the Web about the Philnote–and virtually no expectation that it’ll be anything but a ho-hum presentation of ho-hum products.
Me, I’ll be at the keynote as usual, covering it live for this site. It’s in my self-interest to hope that it won’t be a non-event. So I’m already asking myself questions about it, and trying to come up with answers. Such as the twelve after the jump.
Posted byHarry McCracken on December 19, 2008 at 11:57 am
Mac fan Lesa Snider King is understandably none too pleased with Apple’s decision to pull out of Macworld Expo as of 2010. She’s come up with a unique way to express her ire: She’s organizing Silent Keynote, an effort to get folks in attendance at Phil Schiller’s Macworld Expo keynote next month to remain silent as a form of protest. (Lesa says she’s not ticked off that it’ll be Schiller up there instead of Steve Jobs, incidentally.)
My first impulse was to scoff at the idea–why try to damage Schiller’s demo in reaction to an Apple business decision? But Apple fans are entitled to respond to Apple doings as they see fit. And I can see the logic behind trying to deny Apple one of its most powerful marketing tools: The intense, bordering-on-the-scary enthusiastic response to Apple news. If you’re not happy with Apple, you might not reward it with clapping, hooting, hollering, and/or repeated standing ovations. That makes sense. Nobody can demand that someone express pleasure if that person is, in fact, really angry. (And Lesa King isn’t advocating booing, hissing, or the hurling of rotten fruit and vegetables. That, I think we can all agree, would be inappropriate.)
The strongest argument against Silent Keynote is probably this: It’s very, very unlikely to make Apple reconsider its decision to end support of Macworld Expo. It might even make it dig in its heels.
Of course, Phil Schiller will be operating at a severe disadvantage anyhow, having been born with a handicap shared by most of us: He’s not Steve Jobs. One suspects that the reaction to his presentation would have been on the subdued side regardless of whether there were organized efforts to make it so.
Me, I’m most likely not going to applaud or cheer Schiller’s news, even if he unveils a $200 Mac supercomputer-class netbook that doubles as a personal jetpack: As a member of the press, I almost never give the people I’m covering so much as a polite clap or two, regardless of whether I’m impressed or not. (Hey, it compensates for the throngs in Macworld Expo keynotes who go into ecstasy when Steve Jobs announces things like the fact that Apple wasn’t going to include a keyboard or mouse with the Mac Mini.) As far as I can remember, the last time I applauded Mr. Jobs was in the mid-1980s, when I went to a demo of his NeXT cube–I wasn’t a tech journalist at the time, and therefore let all of my enthusiasm hang out.
But I’m a contrarian to my core, so who knows? I may give Schiller a brief round of dignified applause when he comes onstage. The poor guy will probably need the support. One way or another, it’ll be fascinating to be in that room, even if Apple’s news that morning isn’t fascinating in the least.
Here, by the way, is a preview of what the Philnote may be like if Lesa King’s protest takes off–starting at 2:58 (looks like WordPress won’t let me embed part of a YouTube video):
Posted byHarry McCracken on December 17, 2008 at 1:59 am
I’m not sure if there’s any consensus among historians about when the first Steve Jobs keynote happened–or, actually, if anyone has even asked that question until now. I like to think that it would be reasonable to say that it was in August 1976, when Jobs attended a computer fair in Atlantic City and demoed the Apple II, which was still a work in progress at the time. (Jobs wasn’t the keynote speaker at the event as far as I know, but that’s OK–he regularly gives Stevenotes these days that aren’t attached to conferences, so the definition of Stevenote encompasses any public presentation by Apple’s co-founder.)
As far as I know, there’s no surviving video from that Atlantic City show, and it’s possible that no footage exists of Jobs showing off later Apple II variants or the Apple III or the Lisa. But we have documentation of him talking about the original Macintosh at the time of its introduction, in the handy-dandy embeddable form of YouTube video.
Posted byHarry McCracken on December 16, 2008 at 5:58 pm
Mind if I state the obvious? Steve Jobs is the undisputed master of the tech-product keynote, and if there’s anyone who’s a very distant second place, it sure ain’t Bill Gates. Yet the only other tech keynote that’s got any history to it other than the Jobs Macworld Expo ritual has been the Bill Gates keynote in Las Vegas, a tradition even more venerable than the Macworld Expo Stevenote. It even outlasted Comdex, the show it was given at–Gates simply transferred his act to CES.
Jobs and Gates: The two most iconic entrepreneurs that tech has produced to date. Schiller and Ballmer? Not iconic. It’s like seeing Marlin Perkins sidekick Jim Fowler take over Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom the same week that Ed McMahon assumes the duties of hosting The Tonight Show.
In the era of Jobs and Gates, you didn’t have to give a nanosecond’s thought to who would give the more impressive presentation. With Schiller vs. Ballmer, it’s a tougher call. We’ve seen both of them do demos before, but the spotlight has never shined on them quite as brightly as it will in three weeks.
Who will be the new king of the conference keynote? (Yes, I know that Schiller plans to abdicate after one morning.) You’ve got me, but as we prepare to answer that question, we can at least prep ourselves by analyzing existing footage of the two execs ‘ communication styles.
So who would you rather watch at work next month? So help me, I may witness both in person…
Posted byHarry McCracken on December 16, 2008 at 5:08 pm
I’m not sure if Steve Jobs spoke at the very first Macworld Expo back in 1985–it was held not too long before he was exiled from the company he co-founded. But when he returned to Apple in 1997, the modern era of the Jobs Macworld Expo keynote began. And I not only didn’t attend the first one, but practically went out of my way to skip it: It was held a few hundred yards from where I was working in Boston at the time, and I couldn’t be bothered to walk over. (That’s a sign of just how down Apple was at the time--I was first wowed by a Jobs demo when he showed off the Lisa to the Boston Computer Society in the early 1980s, and his NeXT demo for the BCS, which filled Boston’s Symphony Hall, remains the single most memorable Jobs presentation I’ve witnessed in person.)
[CORRECTION, 1/27/13: I’m not sure why I wrote in this piece that Jobs gave the Lisa demo at the BCS; I was never certain that he had, and I eventually confirmed that it was given by Apple’s John Couch. It may have not had Jobs, but it was still dazzling.]
I’ve been to plenty of Jobs Macworld Expo keynotes since that 1997 one, and if they’re indeed a thing of the past I’m going to miss them. We do have the memories, though–and, thanks to YouTube, we have plenty of video documentation of the Jobs reality-distortion field at work. Here are highlights from most of the Expo keynotes since 1997. (I don’t include any of the many Stevenotes that weren’t attached to Macworld Expos here, but I blogged some of them as well as most of these clips last year at my old PC World blog.)
Return with me now to the Jobs keynote in Boston I ignored at the time, won’t you? Right after the jump, that is…
Apple is reaching more people in more ways than ever before, so like many companies, trade shows have become a very minor part of how Apple reaches its customers. The increasing popularity of Apple’s Retail Stores, which more than 3.5 million people visit every week, and the Apple.com website enable Apple to directly reach more than a hundred million customers around the world in innovative new ways.
Apple has been steadily scaling back on trade shows in recent years, including NAB, Macworld New York, Macworld Tokyo and Apple Expo in Paris.
All of which is true. And it’s conceivable that it’s the whole story about Apple’s decision. But the release doesn’t tippy-toe anywhere near any of the truly interesting questions raised by this bombshell. Such as the twelve that leap to my mind–which I’ll ask after the jump.
Posted byHarry McCracken on November 26, 2008 at 1:10 pm
Everybody has two businesses, the old saying goes: their own business, and show business. It’s the same with technology, except everybody’s two business are their own business…and Apple’s. No other tech company on the planet is followed as avidly, nor is any so routinely second-guessed. And if anything, controversy over Apple’s decisions and dramas intensifies with time: I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if someone, somewhere, still contends that Jobs and Wozniak should have slashed the $666.66 pricetag of 1976’s Apple I to better compete with the $495 Altair.
Apple’s long history is rife with defining moments…and, therefore, with roads not traveled that might have led to radically different places. I call the twenty-five items in this story “unanswerable questions” because none of them have right answers: Nobody knows what would have happened if things had turned out differently. All you can do is speculate. Which is what I do, briefly, for all of the questions below. But mostly, I’m curious what you think. These questions may be unanswerable, but it’s still a blast to try and answer them anyhow, as I hope you’ll do in the comments…
Let’s start at the beginning, shall we? After the jump, that is…