A lot of really great technology was announced yesterday at the WWDC keynote. The Mac Pro — a guaranteed hit that’s on sale now — is sure to boost Apple’s third quarter numbers. What we were shown of Leopard indicates that Apple has not been resting on its laurels and has continued to innovate beyond the wildest expectations of Vista’s fans.
And yet, at the time of this writing, Apple’s stock price is still hovering at around $66/share — down $0.80 for the day and a far cry from where it was before AAPL’s Friday beating. Wallstreet seems to believe Apple’s stock option snafu outweighs any announcements coming out of this year’s WWDC. Could they know something we don’t? I’m no stock broker, and lord knows if I claimed the street was being unfairly cynical towards Apple, I wouldn’t be the first. But Apple’s stock price isn’t the only thing sweating under the pressure of the stock option investigation. Steve is too.
I saw something I’ve never seen before at this year’s WWDC keynote. Steve, any time he sat down to give a demo, was actually reading prompts off a piece of paper next to his keyboard. Steve Jobs. Reading a script. This certainly doesn’t sound like the rehearses-keynote-speeches-a-billion-times-until-everyone-is-ready-to-kill-you perfectionist we’ve come to know and love. Why the change? I guess it could be that:
- the features he demoed were only completed the night before, and he had no time to practice with them,
- his age was starting to show, and he found he couldn’t remember feature lists like he used to,
- he decided he just didn’t care that much about keynotes anymore, Disney was waiting for him, and there was nothing to be gained by wowing developers, or,
- he was completely occupied by something more important for the past few weeks, and was unable to find the time he needed to pull the presentation off with his usual flair.
But I have to say, of these, the only one that seems plausible to me is option D. So what’s so big that it’s taking so much of Steve’s time? It could be a new product launch. But if something like that was interfering with the launch of the new Mac Pro, wouldn’t it make sense to just push back the announcement of the Next Big Thing? Maybe it’s not not the announcement that’s troublesome, but the product itself? There have been rumors of sundry design and supply problems surrounding the “touchless” iPod, for example. But how much of that would really require the CEO’s personal supervision to straighten out?
Legal troubles, on the other hand, fall squarely on to the CEO’s plate. Especially when the CEO, himself, is implicated. I know that every press release Apple has issued on the subject of the phantom stock options has stated that, while Steve was granted some of the felonious options, those options were later canceled, and as such, don’t matter. But what Apple thinks “matters” and what an independent probe searching for corporate wrong-doing thinks “matters” may be two very different things. Especially when the CEO in question is legendary for having his fingers in every aspect of the company’s business. Things look worse when you look at the other oddity of the 2006 WWDC Keynote.
“Today, for the presentation,” said Steve, “I have asked three of my colleagues to help me out.”
Sure, Phil Schiller did a keynote by himself, once, when Steve was recovering from surgery. And Steve has always welcomed various Apple VPs to the stage to expound upon the virtues of the products he’s touting. But to bring on three VPs and, in effect, announce their importance at the beginning of the show… it’s like suddenly seeing a part-time character in your favorite sitcom promoted to the show’s opening credits. It’s as though the producers are expecting a contract dispute with Mr. Jobs next season and want to be sure the viewers know there are other good characters to cary the show should Steve have to leave.
Even more eerie is that Steve, himself, did not announce any new products this keynote. The Mac Pro was announced by Phil Schiller. The only Leopard features Steve talked up were the ones that already existed (Voice Over, Mail, iChat, Photo Booth, Front Row, etc.) and the “top secret” ones that he refused to say anything about at all. Scott Forstall (awkwardly) bounced back and forth with Steve to break the word on all the new stuff like Time Machine, Dash Code, Web Clip and Core Animation.
I think Steve’s telling us something. He thinks things are going to get ugly, and he’s going to be in the middle of it. Is the WWDC Keynote just the first example of how CEO Jobs is trying to insulate Apple from whatever it is he sees coming down the road? I hope not. But until we learn more, that’s the way I see it.