Steve Jobs Takes the Stage


Once again, we in the press got things wrong about Apple.  At this point, we might as well throw up our hands when we get one of those silhouetted invitations from the company, and just go to the event with an open mind.  I know, that’s crazy talk in this media-saturated day and age, but really, who among us ends up looking good after these things, besides those who keep quiet?
I have to hand it to the companyitself:  Apple is nothing short of brilliant when it comes to PR.  Not manipulation, as some would say.  I don’t see it all that much, really.  Just solid products that, unlike other solid projects, get massively hyped by those of us who cover these things.  And it works.  New products, new excitement surrounding the return of the Silicon Valley’s prodigal CEO, a new musical guest (Norah Jones this time around), and everyone goes home happy.
Even before Steve Jobs walked out on stage (more on that later), we heard rumors of a rift growing between Apple and Google.  The next arch-rivalry, we heard.  Google CEO Eric Schmidt resigning from Apple’s board seen as another shot across the bow in what was being called a war between two tech giants.  But get this:  At 9:58am, just as everyone was getting settled for the kickoff, there’s Schmidt himself, purposely standing up to shake the hand of a fellow tech executive.  You could hear the murmurs .. “He’s here!,” “He’s in the front row!,” “Maybe Google and Apple are friendly after all…”  Brilliant.  Coupled with Jobs actually taking the stage four minutes later, you actually saw a spike in Apple share price at 10:02 pm Pacific Daylight Time.  Two rumors, quashed simultaneously, just in time for billions of dollars to change hands.
10:02 am:  One of the truly electric moments of Silicon Valley history.  After a quick moment of silence (where I could literally hear people swallow), the applause was deafening.  Then a standing ovation, even from some of the very people who had written Jobs off not long before.  On top of that, I had no idea how many people outside the auditorium were waiting right then to see if Jobs would indeed make it.  Sending out a quick minute of cell phone video from the Silicon Valley start-up Qik, I noticed hundreds, then thousands of people, clicking on it to see Steve Jobs, in his grainy glory (my cell phone’s fault, not his), making a pretty damn triumphant return. 
You can see the initial video here:  www.qik.com/budman .. We’ve posted the much better TV video nearby.
As for the rest of the session, unless you’re a huge Norah Jones fan, nothing came close to those first few moments.  I’ve been at baseball games where walk-off grand slams are met with less glee.  Jobs and Apple must have known it, too:  Despite all the calls for brand new products, tablets, laptops, etc., the company put forward a fairly standard update of the iPod line, along with some tweaks to the iTunes service.  The iPod family is a solid one heading into the holiday season, and iTunes can do . . .well, for me, it does too much . . .but that’s another post.  Suffice to say that if content is indeed king, Apple can get you what you want, when you want it.
Yes, Steve Jobs is thin, and who really knows what that means for his future, not to mention the future of Apple?  Even the cynics among us have to admit that a) his return is an impressive, courageous fight against a terrible disease, and b) Apple was well run (new products, hot sales, a 100% gain in share price) in his absence.  When he spoke of the young person whose family donated a liver after a deadly car accident, and asked those of us in the audience to consider organ donation ourselves, it instantly made whatever was going to come next seem trivial by comparison.  None of us got that right ahead of time, but perhaps we went home with a little extra perspective.