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.

Related: iPhone 3G S: Separating Truth from Fiction

 

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10 Comments

  • Charles Miller

    What is most interesting about this article is that you are comparing the WWDC keynote to an event that seems to only have ever existed in your imagination.

    The road-sign graphics, for example, are a staple of Apple presentations. Jobs has stood in front of them on many occasions. The glitches also: this keynote was surprising in that the only problems were related to non-Apple kit. There's a very funny YouTube video where someone has stitched together all of Jobs' demo failures over the years. Even the stunts: maybe Jobs hasn't appeared in a lab coat, but he did once have Noah Wyle introduce the keynote pretending to be a younger him, not to mention the year they ceremonially buried (and Jobs gave a eulogy to) Mac OS 9.

    As someone who goes to WWDC every two years or so, this keynote seemed business as usual.

  • Joseph Waterman

    It sounds like you're covering this conference with preconceived ideas, thus why it's so easy for you to find the random "untucked shirts" metaphor. If you think Apple's treatment of developers has gotten sloppy...then write about how you think Apple's treatment of developers has gotten sloppy! Don't cover a conference with the intention of nitpicking every little detail you don't like and then claim that they're "metaphors" for a greater issue. That's just lazy writing.

  • David Lidsky

    I appreciate the feedback. In response, let me say that what I wrote is just one part of our coverage of the Apple WWDC. My colleague Kit Eaton has separated fact from rumor (http://www.fastcompany.com/blo... and done a comparison between the 3G S and the Palm Pre (http://www.fastcompany.com/blo.... Chris Dannen has written about the current state of the "Apple Tax" (http://www.fastcompany.com/blo....

    Part of business is performance. And that's what I chose to cover, particularly in light of Schiller & Co. having had five months to prepare for this and Apple certainly knew how this would covered. Yes, this is a developers' conference, but Apple spent an inordinate amount of time on hardware that had nothing to do with developers. And Apple has had a lot of issues with the iPhone developers it purports to adore in its presentation yesterday. The untucked shirt was a metaphor for the sloppiness of the performance.

  • Joseph Waterman

    Your arrogance is pathetic. The fact that you would actually take the time to sit down and write an entire article based solely on personal preferences such as, "shirts not being tucked in" and "bad graphics" is questionable at best and just plain stupid at worst. Keep these thoughts to the confines of your personal diary; we expect more from the writers of Fast Company.

  • Robert MacEwan

    David,

    Second article I've read by you. Both were embarrassingly ill-informed.

    @VincentS, You're a schmuck waiting my valuable Internet energy force with that comment spam. May a thousand sand fleas invade your armpits! For those wondering J.D Salinger has filed suit to "stop the presses".

    --

    Cheers,
    MacEwan

  • Mark Sigal

    Yeah, these Apple folks only do boring stuff, like execution. You know, making products that customers really like, developers can build real businesses around, making tons of money. Yawn.

    You post underscores a core part of my analysis on WWDC; namely that Apple has so totally treated us to wizardry and wow over the years that when they merely execute, it's a disappointment (to some), something that I blogged about in:

    Apple WWDC Keynote Analysis: Punishing the Wizard, Part Two
    http://bit.ly/2lC3yC

    Check it out if interested.

    Cheers,

    Mark

  • Stephan Marais

    You do realise that it is not just about the show? - These slobs as you call them still basically refreshed half of their product offering? I would have thought that a proper reporter would be able to look beyond just the glits and glam and actually see how well they are doing, and how well-oiled the machine still is.

  • Jason Hitchcock

    Do you realized what event your covering? this is a DEVELOPERS conference, not Mac World. This conference isn't for the tech writers who follow shiny objects like you. Tuck in shirts? Bad graphics? skits? glitches in the demo? who cares? And you called that person a "lowly" developer at -- i repeat-- a DEVELOPERS conference. and wow, you sure are blazing a new path by writing on the subject of Job's ability to give better presentations than anyone else. Your just a typical tech writer who has nothing original to contribute to apple coverage.

  • R T

    I would expect this quality of writing on the yahoo finance board. This website is garbage.