Key notes


The first time I saw a Steve Jobs keynote in person was the 1997 MacWorld Boston keynote. Jobs had just returned to Apple and was starting to make changes. That was the keynote that famously featured Bill Gates on the big screen but mostly I remember Steve. I covered every MacWorld keynote that Jobs gave after that and none that he didn’t.

The press was different at a Jobs keynote. They weren’t just there to cover what Steve had to share — they applauded his announcements. This was years before bloggers and citizen journalists filled the press area. Professional journalists applauded.

I also went to developer conferences. I got to go to a couple of WWDC’s when they were still held in San Jose. The tradition there in the keynote was that the people at the head of line would sprint across the wide auditorium to get a center seat as soon as the doors opened.

I don’t remember when the WWDC keynote began to include sales figures – how the stores were doing, how the Mac sales were doing, how the platform adoption was doing. They may have always had that feature and I just didn’t notice. But, developers applauded these announcements. Apple was building a platform for our apps.

One thing I learned was that there were always hints in previous keynotes of what was to come. We might not understand the implication go what was said when it was said but we could always look back and say “oh, I get it.”

There was one keynote where Jobs demonstrated an application shrinking down and finding its place in the dock. We saw it with the Genie effect in slow motion over and over. Once you saw the iPhone springboard and animation throughout iOS apps it all made sense.

Jobs was better at explaining technology than anyone. I remember the excitement I felt at the rollout of Rendezvous — later known as Bonjour in 2002. Others remember that WWDC keynote as the funeral for Mac OS 9. For me, I remember Bonjour being demonstrated in a way that developers would want to incorporate it in our apps. While Steve browsed through his music collection, Phil opened his laptop. Automatically Phil’s music collection appeared in Steve’s iTunes window.

I get it.

He told a story that made me understand what a technology could do for apps I might write. Bonjour was a beautiful bit of technology that had a corresponding compelling story.

For years Steve would talk about the Apple stores during his keynote. He would always talk about the traffic that the stores got in a week and compare them to the attendance at the current MacWorld show. It wasn’t a surprise, therefore, when Apple stopped going to the east coast MacWorld and later to the west coast MacWorld. Apple controlled their own calendar and their own stage.

WWDC is seldom announced very far ahead of the event. How inconvenient for developers. What if we have made other plans for that week? Travel will be so much more expensive when we have to book with little advance notice.

It hardly seems to matter now that it sells out in less than a day.

I was offline and away from email when this year’s tickets went on sale. Fortunately, a friend texted me to let me know and I was able to get a ticket.

I can’t say that I have learned to understand the implications of what Steve tells us at the keynote — but I have gotten better at reading the tea leaves. This year we got to see Lion, a preview of iOS 5, and a look at iCloud.

Jobs then did two things that, for me, eclipsed the rest of the keynote. He acknowledged that .mac and MobileMe hadn’t been the products he’d hoped for. He assured us that iCloud would be different. You could tell that iCloud would enable us to interact with our devices, with our data, with our creative output differently. He wanted us to trust him on this one because it was important to him that we take this next step.

The second thing he did was pause and look backwards and forwards. He’s done this before but this time it was different. He told us that the digital hub concept that was the center of Apple’s view of our digital world had taken us through the last ten years. The iPod had been launched ten years earlier and it was designed to connect to a Mac (or PC) and get its music and later videos and games through iTunes. Cameras would connect to a Mac. iCloud, Jobs told us, was part of the vision that would take us through the next ten years.

I teared up. He was saying goodbye. I thought we would have him for another year or more. I thought he was laying the groundwork for leaving. I didn’t understand he was leaving us so soon. The message was clear. We have a solid future planned. You’ll be in good hands.

When he stepped down as CEO I still didn’t think he would be leaving us so soon. After all, he asked the board if he could stick around and they said yes. He was easing us one step at a time.

The steps just came way closer than I imagined.

I don’t know why Jobs death struck so many of us so personally. I never met him. He had no idea who I am. But he’s been there for much of my adult life. It’s weird. He was only four years older than I and test so much of my life was influenced by him.

I remember setting up a lab of Apple II’s at Laurel School for Girls. I may be misremembering, but it seems to me they were packed with an apple scent. Rachel Fagerburg and I set up one machine after another pausing only to play Brick Out on each one to test that they were set up properly.

Guy Kawasaki responded to an email question of mine about the Mac by offering me a discount to buy a new Mac Iivx. That was the machine I used to do my research in Graduate School. I used it to write my thesis and save it on floppy drives that I left with many different people while Kim and I were away on our honeymoon.

It’s not just Jobs’ work at Apple. It’s his influence on so many industries. I remember what a Microsoft operating system looked like before the Macintosh. I remember what a cell phone looked like before there was the iPhone. You can’t look at Windows as not having been a derivative product any more than you can look at an Android phone without seeing its pedigree. Sure both platforms have innovated since — but their origins are clear.

Steve Jobs put the “P” in PC. The Macintosh made the personal computer more personal. The day before he died, Apple announced the most personal of all computers. You can talk to it. You can put it in your pocket. Pictures you take on it automatically appear on your other devices. It knows the music, videos, and apps you’ve purchased. It knows where you are in books you are reading on other devices. It can remind you of where you need to go and makes sure you remember what you’re supposed to do when you get there and when you need to leave for your next commitment.

That’s why Jobs’ death is so personal. He cared about making my life better without ever knowing me.