Don’t shoot the messenger: Content, Not Delivery Marred Apple’s Last Keynote

| Editorial

As Apple’s Phil Schiller delivered yesterday’s keynote address at Macworld Conference and Expo, the company may have been trying to deliver the message that it didn’t need Macworld anymore. But what I took away from seeing the “Steve-less” keynote was that the company could do just fine without Steve Jobs.

I fully expect to get blasted for that statement in the comments that will appear underneath this column, but hear me out.

Schiller’s opening was masterful. He came out onto the stage declaring very convincingly that he was “personally excited” to be bringing the Macworld keynote to the group, and thanking the audience for “showing up” (which got the morning’s first laugh) and for bringing its “energy and enthusiasm to this keynote,” adding, quite touchingly, “from the bottom of my heart, thank you very much,” which brought the morning’s first round of applause and cheers.

It was a beautifully humble and sincere-sounding start to the keynote and subtly addressed any disappointment or resentment that it wasn’t CEO Steve Jobs standing on the stage. And it -- almost palpably -- seemed to diffuse any idea of a hostile reaction in protest of Mr. Jobs’ absence. It felt almost inconceivable that anyone would want to pick on a sweet guy like Phil.

Even when Mr. Schiller threw his first dig at the conference, he was apologetic. He reported that Apple’s retail stores were now getting 3.4 million customers a week.  “I’m sorry,” he prefaced his remark almost meekly, “but I have to make the comparison: that’s a hundred Macworlds each and every week.”

When Mr. Schiller introduced an updated version of Apple’s iLife suite of applications, the crowd seemed as enthusiastic about the new features as if Mr. Jobs had announced them himself. But when the description of iPhoto’s new capabilities started to stretch on, it became apparent that there would be relatively little substance to the day’s product announcements. It was the content of the presentation, however, not the presenter, which made the keynote start to lose steam. Had there been a revolutionary new “one more thing,” I think it would have made little difference that it wasn’t Mr. Jobs who held it up to the crowd.

All this is likely to have little effect on Apple’s decision to end its participation in Macworld, but Mr. Schiller’s stand-in performance may pay dividends to Apple in the long run. If it is indeed the products and not the personality that make a successful presentation, then it bodes well for Apple’s ability to survive Mr. Jobs’ eventual departure from the company. In fact, Mr. Schiller’s appearance may well have been a trial balloon to test that theory. I think it was telling that as far as I recall, Mr. Jobs wasn’t mentioned once in the entire address.

So if you thought Apple’s keynote this year was a disappointment, you’ll find many who’d agree with you. Even an Apple employee I spoke to said it was the company’s weakest address in a decade -- when the sole new product announcement was iTools. But the disappoint came in the message, not the messenger, and it serves to illustrate why Apple no longer wants to be bound by a calendar it can’t control. Without a compelling new product ready to unveil, even Mr. Jobs and his legendary “Reality Distortion Field” couldn’t have saved a keynote where the “One More Thing” was a capitulation to the record industry made in order to sell music without digital rights restrictions.

Comments

b9bot

Except for one thing. Steve Jobs isn’t going anywhere! That was the point of his open email before Macworld. So why mention anything about being without Steve Jobs? You are fueling the fire that says something that isn’t true. Please stop!!!

xmattingly

I thought Phil did a very good job at his presentation. Between the comparison of store visitors to Macworld and Tony Bennett’s song, the underlying message was definitely, “we don’t need Macworld.” Somehow, I seriously doubt those inflections were all Phil’s ideas, and given a number of touchy subjects he had to address, he handled it well.

Consulting Songer

A few reactions to the article.

1) Agree, Shiller was the logical choice and the one person who’s had a lot of face time (identity) at Macworld and with the Mac world in general. He was the right choice for the “last” keynote at Macworld.

2) Steve is going no where nor are we. Sure. None of us has a guarantee on tomorrow or next month. I think Mr. Jobs has hit the reality of his existence by coming into full contact with his own mortality. It happens to nearly all of us that are 50 or greater. So, the wise thing to do is to share the load for his own good (reference the time with family of the holiday season) and the good of the company. Steve Jobs is and yet isn’t Apple computer. It is a publicly traded company that needs to do well without a personality-oriented leadership. Personalities come and go. The legacy of successful leadership is in managing the balance of power well and ethically. It’s just some of the dots you connect in life (See his Stanford address of a few years ago; I think Steve has just connected more dots.)

3) Macworld has changed over the years. It needs a change. And, how Apple markets itself needs to change. I think they see a better opportunity in not being tied to “get your annual fix here” while moving emphasis to the Developer Conference which has been a moving target on the calendar. Besides, the best and more real technology developments is shown and nurtured there. After all, that’s what we really want—technology leadership instead of just another new gadget.

Yes, the content was “weak” in comparison to some of the others. But look at the real numbers not centered around the January lovefest in San Francisco—market share is increasing, products continue to be developed that are “insanely great” and we no longer have to hang our heads upon saying “Macintosh” like we did just a few, short years ago.

Better days are still ahead. Of that I’m sure.

OldGuy

I have never worried about Steve being gone as far as the keynote, or other presentations go.  He gives great demo, but others can—with practice—do almost as well. 

I worry more about what Steve’s absence would do to the style and thinking of Apple.  His influence is huge. 

One way to quantify Steve’s influence on Apple - go to the U.S. Patent office website and search for Inventor Jobs, Assignee Apple—http://patft.uspto.gov/netahtml/PTO/search-bool.html—Steve is listed as an inventor (almost always a co-inventor) on 135 issued patents.  Seventeen of the patents are utility patents, the remainder are design patents.  Plus there are 19 pending published applications.

And, if you think Steve’s name is added to patents even if he was not an inventor, think again.  Inaccurate naming of inventors on patents can put the patent’s validity at risk.

I am glad his doctors have given him a diagnosis, and wish him good health and a long life, both for the good of Apple, and for his family.

Tiger

My problem was Schiller’s dig at MacWorld. Apparently HE doesn’t get it.

He reported that Apple?s retail stores were now getting 3.4 million customers a week.  ?I?m sorry,? he prefaced his remark almost meekly, ?but I have to make the comparison: that?s a hundred Macworlds each and every week.?

Doesn’t he realize that those same 3.4 million are the same people who watch the streaming of the keynote and most, if not all really do care about the product announcements? It’s a better viewing than virtually anything on tv right now for sure. Heck, if they’d go live with it again like in the past, they could qualify for Neilsen ratings!

Is he a viable alternative to SJ for the future? Sure. Are we glad SJ’s gonna be around a while. Heck yeah. I’m sure not everybody is sad to see Apple walk away from MWSF, but I for one sure am. It was an annual feeding frenzy followed by an ordering frenzy at my university.

JonGl

What’s up with the auto-reloads? It’s very aggravating to get to the end of a rather thoroughly thought-out and written post, only to watch it disappear before my very eyes, do to nothing I did on my part, but thanks to some arbitrary auto-reload on the page! Please, dump it! I am now seriously frustrated, and highly unlikely to continue reading and posting on TMO. Who thought up this scheme to auto-reload pages?

-Jon

Chuck La Tournous

Except for one thing. Steve Jobs isn?t going anywhere! That was the point of his open email before Macworld. So why mention anything about being without Steve Jobs? You are fueling the fire that says something that isn?t true. Please stop!!!

My point was that Jobs will not be around forever, whether he leaves due to health issues of some sort (which I sincerely hope is not the case) or he simply retires someday. Apple needs to make sure it can be successful without him. In light of the speculation and rumors over his health, I should have been clearer about that. Thanks for pointing it out.

csimmons

“I have never worried about Steve being gone as far as the keynote, or other presentations go.  He gives great demo, but others can?with practice?do almost as well.

I worry more about what Steve?s absence would do to the style and thinking of Apple.  His influence is huge.

One way to quantify Steve?s influence on Apple - go to the U.S. Patent office website and search for Inventor Jobs, Assignee Apple?http://patft.uspto.gov/netahtml/PTO/search-bool.html?Steve is listed as an inventor (almost always a co-inventor) on 135 issued patents.  Seventeen of the patents are utility patents, the remainder are design patents.  Plus there are 19 pending published applications.

And, if you think Steve?s name is added to patents even if he was not an inventor, think again.  Inaccurate naming of inventors on patents can put the patent?s validity at risk.”

Steve Jobs doesn’t have to run Apple to influence it; he could always play an advisory role, still serve on the board, and even still be involved in the creation and patenting of future Apple products. Also, being that his greatest role at Apple has been as it’s #1 cheerleader, he could very well become their chief evangelist.

A perfect example of how Job’s future role could look like; In Germany, the President is the public face of the government, but the Chancellor is the head of government. Jobs could still be the public face of Apple, but someone else could actually run the daily business.

xmattingly

@ JonGl:

I’m with you on that. I have seriously reduced the amount of visits I make to Macobserver since the site rebuild, specifically because I’m put off by the auto reload deleting my posts in mid-thought. I actually visit Macworld more often now.

I know there was one guy in particular who spent a TON of time rebuilding the site code; it would be hard to believe that he simply overlooked a page reload. Was this a short-sighted scheme to generate more ad revenue or something?

Consulting Songer

I think one needs to be around Steve Jobs to see the difference between that man and the one that makes great keynotes at Macworld or the one that made it on Time’s list or even the one who’s name is on patent applications.

To say that he is “driven” is an understatement. To say that he holds to a certain set of moral values and ethics as tightly as Gorilla glue on a piece of plastic is, perhaps, more to the point. I have witnessed how he handles these “glowing” comments a couple of times while with Apple.

Mr. Jobs really believes that Apple is every person that works there and that no one person deserves single credit, not even Steve himself. Yes, he has an ego and in that ego he is very insistent on sharing “the glory”. When you see that and understand that the chain is only as strong as it’s weakest link then you begin to understand that Apple can survive without Steve.

And that brings up another interesting term; survive. What we want is for the company to continue to thrive and flourish magnificently in the spirit of Jobs, Wozniak and others.

If Jobs were to walk onto another level of existence tomorrow and never be heard from directly on this plane again the company would go on guided by the indelible imprint his mark has made. To have such a legacy is the dream of many people. He will achieve it because of the consistency of his character.

ctopher

@Consulting Songer

Sure, OK, but what if he died?

Lee Dronick

“What?s up with the auto-reloads? It?s very aggravating to get to the end of a rather thoroughly thought-out and written post, only to watch it disappear before my very eyes”

“I?m with you on that. I have seriously reduced the amount of visits I make to Macobserver since the site rebuild, specifically because I?m put off by the auto reload deleting my posts in mid-thought. I actually visit Macworld more often now.”

I have learned that for anything more than a quick post or response that it is safest to compose the message in TextEdit and then copy/paste.

daPrinz

Phil did a great job but his charisma hasn’t reached Job’s (yet).
What some people don’t understand is that Apple is dropping MAC World and not product presentations.
Now they can decide when to introduce new products with little announcement time. And this is good news.
1) They don’t deliver “underwhelming” keynotes
2) They don’t introduce products available in XX months
3) We don’t have to read rumors XX months in advance what is coming out when.
Keynotes will continue in the future just more unpredictable like I like it.

YodaMac

A agree.  Phil did just fine (with all due respect to SJ) presenting some really cool software updates.

No, it was no “iPhone Event”, but then - how often does that happen?...

I’m hoping that the Mac Mini is next in line for an upgrade, and look forward to that so I can enjoy Leopard and the new iLife features.

My only problem now is… how do I ever know when to buy another Apple product again?...  :(  Without the regularly scheduled announcement events, they have to start being less secretive about what they have “in the works”.  I hope.

Andrew A

Just a quick note to say that I very much agree - I think Phil did a great job. Not perfect, but overall quite good. Steve Jobs is better, but frankly, not *that* much better, in my opinion, and he’s had a lot more experience doing it. I don’t think Jobs’ presentations are perfect themselves. (For instance, how he always asks the audience whether or not they want to see a new advertisement. In the smaller events, he doesn’t always get much response, but of course by that point he’s committed. Just go ahead and show the ad.)

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