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Andy Ihnatko

Steve's Keynote: Step-By-Step
January 5th, 2003

Once again, Apple has bizarrely gone and scheduled Steve Jobs' Macworld Expo keynote to commence at 9 AM on Tuesday instead of, say, 2 or 3 in the afternoon, a very sensible hour that would have allowed us all to get a good night's sleep, eat a nice room-service breakfast and maybe see if the hotel's pay-movie channel has "Pirates Of The Caribbean" before working out the controls for the suite's Jacuzzi.

I mean, 9 AM! Just how many farmers does Apple think will be coming to Macworld, anyway?

But I'm a professional. I roll with these things. I figure that if I just stay up all night instead of trying to rouse myself from bed after only eight hours of sleep, I'll manage to make it to the keynote on time. I can't say the whole situation doesn't rankle, however.

And as a professional, I have to note the possibility that this master plan wherein I stay awake for about 31 hours straight might not pay off as intended. I'm confident. If you convert the number from Base 4, it's really only 13 hours. I've attended Stooge-A-Thons that lasted longer than that. My confidence level is pretty high.

Still, it's probably a good idea for me to write my Keynote Report up in advance and file it a day early. I'm an old hand at this stuff and I've got a pretty good idea of what I'm going to see on Tuesday morning. Plus, I can guarantee you that I'm more awake and alert right now than I will on Tuesday morning at the crack of nine, when I'll surely be struggling to stay upright in my chair.

On the off-chance that I'm a bit patchy on some of the details, I'll file an update later in the week. Much later, after I've had a chance to catch up on my sleep.

But here's how the keynote's gonna go down:


1) Steve will be wearing a black mock-turtleneck over a pair of Levis red-tab jeans, waist 34, inseam 36.

Could you imagine what a dull subject Steve would be for an episode of MTV's "Cribs"? The stars have the attitude that the gravy train will never end, because they've learned from M.C. Hammer's mistakes and they don't intend to stop making hit records ever. And their closets reflect this. "I wasn't born rich," a bass player proudly declares. "So when I pay $230,000 for a pair of platinum Reeboks, I make sure I have a pair of $938,000 Tiffany shoe trees in 'em so they'll keep their shape." The interviewer -- still impressed by his living, genetically-engineered sportcoat ("Killing 150 animals to make a coat is immoral, man. So I thought, why not just breed one really huge mink that was shaped like that already?") -- nods dumbly.

But what would the crew find at Steve Jobs' house? One closet with about fifty sets of mock-turtlenecks and jeans sewn together into a long roll. Every morning he just tears off a set and heads out the door.

I'd really like to punk Steve out for the lack of variety in his wardrobe. But to do so, I'd have to have forgotten about the time I was giving a talk to a user-group in Michigan and suddenly discovered that I happened to be wearing the exact same clothes I had on in the two-year-old photo currently being projected onto the screen.

I will also give Steve props for (a) choosing a keynote uniform that conceals any and all sweat stains (unlike one Microsoft CEO I could mention), and (b) never attempting to cloak his (incredibly cool) aura of subtle evil by appearing in public wearing a faux-folksy pullover sweater (like another Microsoft CEO I could mention.)

So Steve gets a pass on this one. Though if one of those basic-cable Surprise Makeover shows is reading this, hey, I'm game if Steve is.


2) Three people in the keynote's audience will attract 70% of the media attention.

I've been to every Mac Expo keynote that Steve's ever given. And I can personally attest that the four-figure throng there in the venue are paragons of modern professionalism. A perfect crease in every trouser leg. Hair Brylcreemed and parted down the middle just so, straw boaters held in the left hand. Spats nicely brushed out. When Mr. Jobs makes a point which moves the crowd to make an audible reaction, the soft rustle of ivory-tipped walking sticks gently tapping on the carpeted floor fills the hall. I think a couple of years ago a gentleman a few rows ahead of me was actually heard to mutter aloud "Bully! Bully for Steve Jobs, by jingo!" but -- instantly mortified -- he clapped his hand to his mouth with such force that it disarrayed the curl in the tips of his moustache. And one must make allowances for the high-spirited youth of today.

I know for a fact that you, dear reader, fall within this description. I might be slightly off on some of the finer details, but I know I have the spirit of the crowd down pat.

So it's somewhat distressing that all of the mainstream press coverage of the keynote leads off with a description of three men who arrived at the keynote naked from the waist up, with "G" "5" "!" painted on their chests using condiments grabbed from the convention hall's food court.

We like our Macs, yes, and one of the perks of using them is that when new hardware and software is announced, we often have ample reason to cheer. But we hardly bring the same level of fanaticism to our intellectual appreciation for Steve that the average middle-schooler brings to the dynamic musical legacy of Mr. Clay Aiken. Okay, we have his "TIME" cover taped above the dresser, but you won't see any hearts painted on it with glitter-glue, except for just that little one down in the corner. Those jokers at the keynote are hardly representative of the group.

I did have one idea: we could hire the official Vampirella model to come to the show and walk around during and after the keynote, to draw all the camera fire. From my experience attending the San Diego Comic Con as a credentialed member of the media, I know that when camera crews come to a big convention they're not interested in thoughtful interviews with sensible professionals. They're there to get footage of one of two things: hot models, or middle-aged men in tragically bleak Klingon drag.

We can't do anything about the guys with the mustard smeared on their chests (well, we can, but I can't spell it out for you in a public forum like this). However, employing the Distraction Option is very doable. It's just a matter of setting up a PayPal account for donations and then getting the word out for 2005.


3) Steve will announce speed increases across the entire Mac product line, and will back up these numbers with a real-world demonstration that pits Apple's latest-and-greatest against a comparable Windows box.

It's a keynote tradition, and it makes for good theater, but it has to be noted that the world audience will react the same way they did when Kathie Lee Gifford was fighting allegations that she was an heartless exploiter of international child labor, instead of merely a walking crime against good taste in general. It's a bit of a waste of time and effort. Everyone feels like they know the truth already. Either they think you're telling them something they already know, or they were never prepared to lend your argument any credibility to begin with.

There's also the problem of benchmarks in general. It's real angels-dancing-on-pins stuff. I've got a Hokey-Pokey Elmo doll here in the house and by selecting the right test protocol, I could probably get it to perform a Gaussian blur on a 50-megabyte Photoshop file faster than a 3 GHz Pentium 4, too.

Still, there's an excellent chance that part of the demo will involve assembling and then playing a new teaser for the next PIXAR flick, so I'm all for it.


4) Steve will then talk about financials.

How many Macs were sold last quarter. How many Apple stores were opened. Growth versus predicted growth. PE. PLE. WA-QSA. Again, I'm all for this bit because it gives us a solid ten minutes in which nothing newsworthy is being announced, and we can finish getting the previous announcements up on our weblogs.


5) Steve will introduce a Special Guest.

And here we see one of the many enormous benefits of the iTunes Music Store. In days of yore, getting Noah Wylie up on stage was really the best you could hope for. Today, the sky's the limit. There are more than 4600 bands in the Store's "Rock" section alone, and any one of them could stroll out on the stage.

Granted, the chances of seeing Jimi Hendrix on Tuesday morning aren't great. But hey, fingers crossed. Now that Apple's in the music biz, one does tend to believe that the sky's the limit.

Let me point out something about The Who, for instance. At the moment, they're short a drummer and a bass player. The Beatles have lost everybody but their drummer and bass player. Is it too much to dream that Steve made a few phone calls and we'll be treated to a rendition of "Yesterday" with windmill power chords?

(Or is it possible that I'm the only person to notice that The Who have personnel problems that The Beatles can neatly solve, and vice-versa? All I'm saying is that it's worth a lunch meeting.)


6) Steve will demonstrate something cool with Bluetooth.

Thus demonstrating his (very real) brilliance at seeing where three different Industries are simultaneously headed. Hitching one of Apple's wagons to the cellphone industry is pure genius. Competition among wireless providers has never been fiercer, and cellphones have never been smaller and lighter. Users can now switch providers without losing their existing number, too.

Result: phones are being accidentally dropped into toilets at an unprecedented rate, and with the cost of new phones being borne chiefly by wireless providers who give away the best Java and Bluetooth-equipped models as incentives for users to switch providers. It's going to be a boom year for makers of cellphone hardware and Apple has its hand right there in the till.

7) Steve will unveil three new commercials.

One will be crap, one will be incredibly cool but unairable, the third will be very nice and will feature a highly-affordable celebrity.


8) Steve will thank us for our time, and just before dismissing us will mention Just One More Thing. This Thing will be a corker.

Another keynote tradition, and a big improvement over Steve's previous keynote Tradition, which was to introduce a new graphical shorthand for somethingorother. One year, it was a grid of boxes to represent Apple's product lines, and he was filling in the boxes, and pointing out there was an empty box, and then showing what was in the box, or amending the last keynote's box to show that there was room for another box in between the existing boxes. Which was pretty hot stuff, but keeping the diagrams straight reminded me too much of that discrete math course I took, and Steve wasn't offering me course credit. So I was just as happy to see that one go.

The One More Thing: it will be pocket-sized and excrementally cool news. The entire crowd will go absolutely nuts for it.

And 36 hours later, everybody will be complaining that it's missing One Screamingly Obvious Feature, its capacity is way too low, and its price is way too high. Which is another Grand Keynote Tradition, though one with far greater permanence.

digs the Mac, and has been writing about the Mac for longer than most of us could tell the difference between a bite of Apple Sauce from a byte of Apple code. You can read his monthly column at Macworld magazine, and his blog at the Colossal Waste of Bandwidth.

Andy's latest book is The Mac OS X Tiger Book (US$16.49 - Amazon).

You can send your comments directly to Andy, or you can also post your comments below.

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