News that there'll be no Steve Jobs at Macworld Expo in January has shocked the world. It's made even more terrible by Apple's coincidental announcement that there'll be no Apple at all at Macworld Expo in 2010 - if, indeed, there is a Macworld Expo 2010.
Speculation on Steve's reasons for not showing up is, of course, rife - and the best article I've read on this subject is by Macworld's Jason Snell. (Another, more amusing article “18 Reasons Steve Jobs Won't Deliver Any More Macworld Keynotes” is also worth a read.)
However, I suggest that Steve may have read my editorial from the December issue of Macworld magazine, titled "One bore thing" and decided that my reckoning was bang on the money, so why not cancel his keynote altogether.
If, unlike Steve, you didn't read "One bore thing" when it was published (November 20, 2008), here it is now so you can understand Steve's decision to kill Macworld Expo.
One bore thing
Its that time of the Mac calendar again when all the chatter is about what Steve Jobs will announce during his much-anticipated keynote speech at January's Macworld Expo. Forget Christmas or New Year celebrations, the focal point of our winter existence is what the magnetic man in blue jeans and black turtleneck will pull out of the bag in front of thousands of whooping Apple employees, Mac fans and starry-eyed journalists.
In January 1998 Jobs introduced the sleek PowerBook G3. In 2000 he showed off Mac OS X's fancy Aqua user interface. Grown men wet their chinos when Steve showed the Dock's magnification effect. The next year he unveiled iTunes and the even sleeker PowerBook G4. Just for laughs the funny-looking iMac G4 showed up in 2002. Steve could elicit whoops and cheers from the orgasmic crowd just by showing a Mac in a different colour case. To make it seem more exotic he would call red ‘Strawberry', orange ‘Tangerine' and gray ‘Graphite'.
A year later we all guffawed at the TV ads showing the new 12-inch and 17-inch PowerBooks ("Look a midget and a giant! Hilarious!"), and dumped Internet Explorer like a brick when Steve showed off Safari - and Microsoft promptly did the same. Then we got really little things to marvel at, like the Mac mini and iPod shuffle. How about the iPhone for causing a stir? This year we all sucked our stomachs in when Jobs produced the MacBook Air.
LED Cinema Displays and MacBooks with built-in 3G internet access are the hottest rumours for January 2009.
Steve also demonstrates the latest versions of Apple software. So there's the possibility of iLife '09, where Steve will casually demonstrate some family iWeb site and holiday iDVD that he creates on stage in about 12 minutes, but which in reality was worked on by a team of creative pros for three weeks solid using child models in glamorous locations.
The star of the show should be the next version of OS X - 10.6, which Steve mentioned in passing at this summer's Worldwide Developers Conference. We even know what it's going to be called: Snow Leopard.
If you think that naming OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard is rather uninspiring - seeing as 10.5 is called Leopard - then you're dead right. You see, 10.6 Snow Leopard promises to be the most boring Steve Jobs Macworld Expo keynote announcement ever - possibly more boring than anything talked about by Steve's far-less illustrious predecessors. (In the last non-Steve Expo keynote then CEO Gil Amelio droned on for three hours, dressed in chinos, collarless shirt and sports coat, or as one commentator put it "like your newly divorced uncle on his first date". Auspiciously his ‘One More Thing' was none other than the returning Steve Jobs...)
There's a secret in the name. Not only is it just a type of leopard, but the snow leopard is singularly uninteresting. For instance, it is sometimes known as an "ounce". It is of moderate size. According to Wikipedia "the classification of this species has been subject to change and its exact taxonomic position is still unclear". Snow leopards hang about in the half light of dawn and dusk, and they can't even roar. Its Latin name is Uncia uncia.
"Since 2001, Mac OS X has delivered more than a thousand innovative new features," says Apple. But Snow Leopard isn't about hundreds of new features. It's about leaner, more efficient code. It's a recession-era operating system. Welcome to the feature crunch.
That's not to say there aren't any new features. But just listen to the highlights already announced by Apple. I can't see Steve demoing too many of these during his keynote - or anyone in the audience jumping up from their seat and punching the air, or maybe even their by-then possibly obsolete MacBook Air.
Snow Leopard includes out-of-the-box support for Microsoft Exchange 2007. Woo-hoo! No Way?!
QuickTime X "features optimized support for modern codecs and more efficient media playback." Yes! Yes! Yes!
Then there's OpenCL, which makes it possible for developers "to efficiently tap the vast gigaflops of computing power currently locked up in the GPU". Go, Steve!
Grand Central sounds like fun. What is it, Steve? "Well, it makes all of OS X multicore aware and optimizes it for allocating tasks across multiple cores and processors." Keep ‘em coming, Apple!
I'm being facetious, of course. It's great that Apple is avoiding Microsoft's Vista calamity by actually streamlining its code, reducing OS X's footprint, and making it more efficient for users - for instance, giving us back valuable hard disk space for our music and photos. Windows Vista has many faults, but its major transgression was a Microsoft favourite: features bloat. Snow Leopard will have everything Vista does (hey, even Jaguar had that) but without the head-banging-on-table performance drag.
But it's still boring. Apple isn't meant to do boring, at least not under showman Steve. I hope he has something up his sleeve that will knock us all out with its sheer wild wonderfulness.
A 10-inch MacNetBook. An iPhone Bluetooth headset that actually makes you look cool.
A Time Capsule that works. A Mighty Mouse that doesn't gum up after three months light use. The possibilities are endless.
We want the Next Big Thing, not the Next Smaller, More Efficient Thing - especially if that Thing is dull behind-the-scenes code. We crave innovation, not evolution. So I'll be staying in my seat until the house lights and music come on, just waiting for the ‘One More Thing' that makes Macworld Expo 2009 another joyous celebration of all things Apple.
[I will now be fidgeting in a seat watching Phil Schiller talk up a new Mac mini and an even slimmer LED iMac.]
Simon Jary was the editor and later editor in chief of Macworld from 1995-2004. He has attended nearly every Macworld Expo Apple keynote since 1995.