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Key Not: Why the Jobs-less Apple WWDC Signals Trouble

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Wow, there's two hours of my life that I won't get back anytime soon. Today's epic bore of a keynote address at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference signals the problem that Steve Jobs has created as the designated showman/face of Apple. Jobs' rampant control issues and megalomania are so acute that everyone else who works for him sounds like they've never had to address the family dinner table, much less the assembled throng of thousands of Apple developers and the untold millions of fanboys refreshing liveblogs around the world.

Of course, some of these Apple execs have been on the big stage before. But as faceless helpers in the service of King Steve, their charisma deficit has been an asset. I'm surprised Jobs never outfitted them with black sweatshirts with only their first names on them, like the henchman to the supervillains in the 1960s Batman TV series. With Jobs behind the scenes, though, the implications of his claustrophobic management and one-spotlight-only public-relations style has become a massive liability for the company.

First of all, tuck in your shirts, slobs. I understand that the louche millionaire look is a favored one in Silicon Valley, but come on: Even Steve tucks. I know your wives bought you your party shirts for this special occasion, but the execs running the coolest company in the world shouldn't look like stand-ins for the actors in the Flomax commercials.

apple street signsSecond, who approved those graphics inspired by road signs and car dashboards? Not Steve Jobs, I can tell you that. I know times are tough, but getting your graphics from a clip-art gallery still seems like a bit of unnecessary economizing. Somewhere, Steve Ballmer is laughing, "I knew those guys used PowerPoint."

And then there were the glitches. This wasn't the TechCrunch 50 or Demo or one of those conferences featuring nervous entrepreneurs trying to jam in what's important about their company in six minutes to a roomful of influential VCs and press. This is Apple, the only company that could attract a massive audience to watch a feature rollout via liveblog. So if there's even a chance that something could go wrong—like say, during the Pasco demonstration with the balloons—maybe I don't risk it, especially if there are going to be costumes involved.

keynote3Could you imagine Steve coming out and saying that he's going to do his famous impression of Bill Nye, the Science Guy and slipping on a lab coat for a skit with some lowly app developer? Exactly. That's the sort of thing Bill Gates used to do to seem human. Who needs that? Jobs  must have had a doctor's appointment the day they did the run-through on this presentation.

The takeaway is that Steve Jobs got the immediate gratification he so desperately desired during that decade-long run of adoring keynotes. We all hung on his every word, his every fillip of salesmanship of features that in lesser hands wouldn't have felt all that special. Well, now they're in lesser hands, and that's bad news. Because what felt revolutionary now seems incremental and small.

Get well, Steve. Not because we need you on that stage again—although we do—but because you should spend all your time training your heirs how to put on a show.

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