OPINION | "Let's rock" was the theme of Tuesday's Apple event, but it was more like one of those tame "Unplugged" events they have on MTV. And not in a good sense.
First, the news, what little there was of it: Apple has a longer, thinner new iPod nano; a (sort of) new iPod touch; a refreshed iPod classic, and a new version of iTunes. The biggest new feature on all of these is something called Genius (groan) that can automatically make playlists of songs that go well together. Genius also pops up a sidebar suggesting other songs that you don't have in your collection but you should buy from iTunes because those songs go really, really well with the other songs in your new playlist.
So helpful! Why can't the rest of the world be like this, right? Imagine going to the grocery store, and every time you take something off the shelf a little helper runs out with a list of 10 other things that would taste great with that item you just picked up. Thank you, Apple, for looking out for me like this.
Also announced: NBC will start selling its shows via the Apple iTunes store again, after pulling out a while ago in a snit. And by the end of this week, Apple hopes to have yet another software update for the new 3G iPhone (the third update so far), and this time they say they really, really mean business and will address those nasty little problems people are having with the 3G iPhone--teeny-tiny things like dropped calls, bad reception, slow Web browsing and inability to attach to 3G networks.
Of course there was loads of whooping and cheering and clapping at every tiny little new feature that Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced. I couldn't make sense of that at first. But after the event I learned that most of the whooping came from Apple employees who had been sprinkled into the seats in the small auditorium at San Francisco's Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in order to pump up the volume. (I learned this because one of the whoopers spilled his guts.)
Perhaps the biggest news of all was simply that Jobs remains alive and well. In June, the 53-year-old Jobs scared the daylights out of Apple fans (and Apple investors) when he appeared at an Apple event looking like a 120-pound octogenarian. One reason for the scare is that Jobs was treated for pancreatic cancer a few years ago. Apple PR didn't help matters when they first tried to explain away his appearance by saying he'd had a "common bug." Later word leaked that Jobs underwent surgery earlier this year and suffered some complications.
Nevertheless, the Jobs Death Watch continued. In August, the Bloomberg newswire accidentally ran an obituary for Jobs. The news service had refreshed its obit for Jobs, adding new information, and somehow the wrong button got pressed. Not good. Still, Jobs joked about it Tuesday, opening with a slide that said THE REPORTS OF MY DEATH ARE GREATLY EXAGGERATED.
Maybe so, but Jobs still looks gaunt and frail. He walked under his own power but didn't look like a fit healthy man in his early 50s. If the event was meant to cheer investors, it didn't work. Apple shares dropped 4 percent Tuesday and are sliding again Wednesday. Shares are currently around $150, down from just under $180 in August. Whether investors were underwhelmed by the new products or by Jobs's appearance is hard to say. Probably both.