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Phil Schiller Delivers Lackluster Keynote

It was a fine keynote. Apple VP Phil Schiller, standing in for Steve Jobs, worked his way gamely through updates to iLife and iWork (the former impressive, the latter less so), the news of a beta release of, the refresh of the 17-inch MacBook Pro, and, almost as an afterthought, welcome changes to Apple’s music business. There were no significant stumbles or mishaps, and the Apple employees Schiller brought on stage for special demos also did fine.

But – and how to put this nicely? – the presentation was essentially a ho-hum keynote when placed alongside those given by Steve Jobs over the last few years. The only new Mac we saw was entirely expected, and the much-rumored updates to the iMac and Mac mini were no-shows, as were additional sizes of the LED Cinema Display, continuing a situation where most of Apple’s Macs and monitors aren’t compatible.

What struck us was how the keynote almost felt like the kind of talk we would have been happy to hear from Apple 10 years ago, in an era of lesser expectations before the iTunes Store, the iPod, the iPhone, and the MacBook Air. Back then, the announcement of significant updates to iLife and iWork would have been more than enough to set tongues wagging for the rest of the show.

Would it have been different if Steve Jobs had been on stage with his Reality Distortion Field operating at full strength? Perhaps somewhat: Schiller’s delivery was overloaded with weak superlatives and, at least in my mind, he never quite connected with the audience. But I think the real reason Jobs handed the keynote reins to Schiller was because there simply wasn’t that much to demo.

Schiller started on a strange note, extolling how great it was to build stores with the Apple logo, and wondering if any other company could put its logo front and center. Where the statistics of how many customers visit Apple Stores each week used to sound as though the company were sharing celebratory good news with the keynote attendees, this year’s claim of Apple Stores receiving “100 Macworld Expos” worth of visits each week came off instead as a dig, and almost insulting.

And he went out equally strangely, with several comments about “this last Macworld” (rather than Apple’s last significant participation in the show) and then introducing musical guest Tony Bennett, who launched into “The Best is Yet to Come” and “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” It may have been meant as a sort of goodbye, but it rang false, given that it’s more a situation of Apple giving up on the rest of us.

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