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Editorial - Apple Keynote: Lots of Stake, Not Much Sizzle

TMO at MWSF - Editorial - Apple Keynote: Lots of Stake, Not Much Sizzle

by , 5:45 PM EST, January 15th, 2008

SAN FRANCISCO - This year's keynote address by Steve Jobs solved a major problem for Apple - its relationship with Hollywood was at stake. It also introduced some evolutionary improvements in the iPhone, iPod touch, and the MacBook lines. However, when it comes to sizzle and excitement, it wasn't there, and the audience was quite a bit more subdued than times past.

Apple is a changed company on many levels. The approach to consumer electronics and entertainment has required Apple to work more closely and visibly with partners, and as a result, we're not on the edge of our seats about new products so much as we are about affirmations of the stories we hear regarding what Apple is up to with its partners.

This year we knew something was cooking with 20th Century Fox. We knew that the Apple TV had to have new life breathed into it. We knew that Apple had to start offering high-definition movies in some starter fashion no matter what. And that's what a lot of the keynote presentation was all about: affirmation of Apple's essential initiatives.

In that vein, Apple had a lot at stake. When Mr. Jobs showed the list of minor studios that have come on board first, there was a pregnant silence in the audience. When Mr. Jobs showed the next slide with six major studios, there was an obvious gloat on this face. "See, we did it," the look seemed to say. All you naysayers said we couldn't do it.

However, the compromises Apple had to make then became obvious. The customer will have only 24 hours to finish watching a movie. One can start watching it on a PC or Mac, finish on an iPod, but that may be the limit. Coexistence on both devices was not so clear. Compromise. Hollywood is very much in control of these viewing terms.

In terms of the MacBook Air, it's going to be a wonderful computer to use, but, again, it is an evolutionary device. To be sure, there was some extreme effort on the part of partner Intel to make it happen, but evolutionary nonetheless. It's not that Apple won't sell a boat load of them. Rather, we al kind of sensed that evolution. After all, as my distinguished colleague Jeff Gamet said, how can one improve on the MacBook design? Thinner and lighter is a good start.

But hardly sizzle.

Apple is a company that feeds on making our dreams come true. More that ever before, that's going to require that Apple work with other companies to deliver entertainment and creative tools. As a result this keynote merely avoided disappointments and gave us incremental improvements in our lives. It paved the way for, as Mr. Jobs said, the remaining 50 weeks in 2008.

Come to think of it, the development of Apple is like a war. Apple has to take the beach before moving inland. And those beach scenes can be ugly and dangerous. Sizzle will have to wait for another keynote.

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