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Confident Apple for 2004

by Derrick Story 01/07/2004

What do you do when the whole world is watching and you don't have a killer hardware announcement? You do what Steve did on the opening day of Macworld 2004.

Steve Jobsí first keynote of the year was relaxed, confident, and entertaining. And to me, it was a keynote for Apple in 2004 as much as it was for the Macworld conference.

You might be thinking that the iPod mini isn't exactly chopped liver and qualifies as a major hardware announcement. You're right, it isn't chopped liver. It's cool. It's five fruity flavors in your pocket. But it's an evolution of a revolutionary product. In of itself, the iPod mini isn't a major announcement. Apple is tending the garden, and they are doing so quite well.

Then you could argue that the Xserve G5 isn't really anything to pooh-pooh. And I would say, "Amen brother." The Xserve is Apple's commitment to the small and large enterprise market -- and what a beautiful, smart, powerful commitment it is. And don't forget about the Xserve RAID Steve demoed. Very nice.

Again, evolutionary, not revolutionary. Nothing wrong with that. In fact, nothing worse than having a great idea (iPod, Xserve, etc.) and not fully developing it. Apple is not only coming up with new ideas, but they are also seeing them through. Heck, look at Mac OS X if you want to talk commitment. This is good business.

Steve Jobs was relaxed and confident on stage during his keynote address at Macworld SF 2004. Photos by Derrick Story.

While I'm standing here in the garden that Apple is tending, I should mention the iLife suite. iPhoto, iDVD, iTunes, and iMovie are all maturing with grace and stability. It's so cool to fire up a new version of a favorite application and not be disgusted by feature bloat, poor performance, and buggy behavior.

I haven't heard the official word either way on this, but it appears that you will have to buy iLife to get the updated versions of iPhoto, etc. No more free downloads apparently. But the entire suite is $49 and that includes a new application that is killer. Personally, I find it hard to complain about that.

But I want to get back to the keynote itself and Apple's momentum for 2004. One of the first things I noticed during the presentation was that it was mostly Steve and a few Apple product managers. The parade of technology CEOs proclaiming their commitment to the Mac platform was diverted to another place and time. Yes, Microsoft did make an appearance to announce Office 2004 for the Mac. And that was certainly the right thing to do. But that's all that was needed. Apple doesn't require validation from fickle companies that would just as easily turn away at the drop of a mouse.

Watching Steve work the computer, trying to make something happen, was both endearing and exciting all at once.

Steve ran most of the demos. And watching him refer to his notes, leg bouncing with excitement as he tried to tame his computer in front of the whole world was exciting. Steve is a rock star, no doubt. But there's something very endearing about him when he sits down at the computer and suddenly becomes you or me trying to make something happen. It takes guts to do that in front of the whole world. And when it works, we can identify with the man on the stage in a very familiar way. If Steve can do it in front of thousands, millions, of people, then I sure as hell can in the privacy of my own office.

It got even better. Steve introduced John Mayer. John has some endearing qualities himself. First of all, he's a guitar player, and the first thing they did was set him down at the keyboard. "John, play a few rifts for us," Steve asked. John's thinking, "Dang, what am I doing playing the keyboard in front of the whole world." But it worked. Again, it was you or me trying to pound out a tune.

"I'm not really a keyboard player." -- John Mayer.

The new application, GarageBand was the reason for all this fun. And what a heck of a program it is. Over and over again I heard in the audience, "I want that." You look at it, watch Steve trying to shape a composition with it, and you connect. Not only is the application revolutionary (because average people can actually use it), so was the presentation of it.

Then they got serious. John Mayer picked up the guitar and the room lit up. I cannot describe the enjoyment I felt watching John play, Steve play, and seeing the Mac capture it all. When Steve was getting ready to close the application, "Save it!" was shouted throughout the hall.

The room caught on fire when John Mayer picked up the guitar and began to play.

I don't know what's going to happen in 2004. I hope it's a good year for the U.S. and all of the world. But I do know that Apple has laid the foundation for a strong 12 months ahead. You can see it on paper, and I could feel it in the Moscone Ballroom yesterday.

Now we need to do our part. We need to take this platform and push it to the very limit. As developers and power users, we can apply the same creativity and confidence to our endeavors that Apple has to its framework.

Steve's done his thing on the Mac, now we need to do ours in 2004.

When Steve introduced the video showing Virginia Tech's supercluster of 1,100 G5s, I thought that this is a perfect example of recognizing the strengths of a platform and leveraging it in a creative way. I would love to see those types of achievements, big and small, come out of our audience. We certainly can add fuel to this fire, and if we do, God knows what we might see this time next year.

Derrick Story is the author of The Photoshop CS4 Companion for Photographers, The Digital Photography Companion, and Digital Photography Hacks, and coauthor of iPhoto: The Missing Manual, with David Pogue. You can follow him on Twitter or visit

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