Was Phil Greater Than the Sum of His Parts?

Apple Senior Vice President Phil Schiller gave his first complete Macworld keynote, replacing Steve Jobs in that traditional role. While Mr. Schiller is a superb presenter, articulate and charming, there was more missing than just Steve Jobs.

There were empty seats ... lots of them. It the first time in nine years that I've seen a single empty seat at a Macworld keynote. Not a smattering, onesies and twosies, mind you. There were massive blocks in the back, hundreds of empty seats. Another block on stage right had a hundred empty seats.

Empty Seats

When the conference faculty organized to head over to Moscone West, our escort reminded us: "No running!" I uttered in hushed tones... "Running? For Phil?"

Others will detail the nuts and bolts of the announcements, but in perspective, in the 30,000 ft. view, the keynote failed to achieve three things: pack the audience, maintain a high level vision, and enthrall the crowd.

Get a Life

Phil got off to a good start with iLife '09 updates. That wasn't unexpected. Unfortunately, 60 minutes into the keynote, he had demoed, with great skill, every new feature of iLife '09: iPhoto, iMovie, Garage Band ... then ... Keynote, Pages and Numbers.

Phil Schiller1

Indeed there were compelling new features in these products. What I liked most were the enhancements to iMovie, Keynote, and Numbers. iMovie changes have certified the vision that led to the initial wholesale change in iMovie '08. Keynote is now so good that if you use it, it's a sure sign of being hip. The term "PowerPoint bozo" will likely to be even more pervasive. Numbers has grown up and is no longer a toy.

Even with all these changes, I was left with the notion that life is too short to get too involved in push pins, GPS coordinates, geo-tagging every photo, maps of where we took each picture, and Indiana Jones-style global zooming red lines. Perhaps the reason why many American children are so overweight is because they're spending all their time fine tuning their iPhoto libraries instead of playing touch football.

Of course people will pick and chose the best of the technologies presented. Great photo memories, shared with others, are important. And as technology in the Macs improves, it's sensible to exploit that in hardware products. I won't quibble with that.

But after 60 minutes, in the last Apple keynote at Macworld ever, Mr. Schiller was delving into minutiae that left the crowd underwhelmed. There was a pregnant moment when Mr. Schiller started to talk about iMovie, the audience damned the new version with faint applause, and the Apple V.P. noticed that. He hummed to himself in acknowledgement, then quickly moved on.

Turn Out The Lights, The Party's Over

I've been present for eight Macworlds in San Francisco. They all, more or less, left the attendees with a sense of fascination and rapture -- the feeling that it's good to be in the Apple universe.

This time, all we got in hardware was a new 17-inch MacBook, and no quad core to boot. (Pun intended.) The non-replaceable battery is a technical coup, and it very likely will outlive the computer itself. However, in the grand scheme of things, that's just an incremental upgrade. We knew the new 17-inch MacBook was coming. I yawned.

What did we miss? There were a few hardware items we expected, mostly rumors. A quad core iMac would have been a great item to announce, even if not ready to ship. Something to say about Snow Leopard, and maybe a cool demo of OpenCL and Grand Central, would have whetted our appetites. An iPhone nano for $129 may eventually come, but we needed new Apple displays last year. Didn't happen.

What was missing was the power of Apple's vision and a feeling, however subtle, that there is genuine excitement in Apple's plans. Even though Tony Bennett sang, "The Best is Yet to Come," one has to wonder, instead, what's been lost. Nowadays, the theme is: Go to the Apple store. Buy more stuff. Spend more time in front of the computer. Buy more stuff. Edit photos. Buy more storage. Watch Sarah McLachlan try to teach you how to play music -- while you spend more money and she, with genuine talent, collects the checks.

Phil Schiller2

Apple's participation in Macworld ended with a whimper, not a bang. A sales presentation, not a memorable keynote address. That made me sad.