Apple 2.0

Covering the business that Steve Jobs built

Jobs wows the faithful; Wall Street is underwhelmed

January 15, 2008: 4:42 PM ET

apple-jobs-air.jpgSAN FRANCISCO -- Steve Jobs gave it his best, delivering a new must-have gadget called the MacBook Air, deals with a full house of compliant Hollywood studios, and more bells and whistles on his existing products and services in a 90-minute speech than most technology companies do in a year.

But Wall Street was not impressed; shares of Apple (AAPL) got hammered, falling more than 10 points during the course of the keynote despite the impressive sales figures Jobs rattled off: 4 million iPhones, 5 million copies of the Leopard operating system, 4 billion songs, 125 million TV shows, 7 million movies.

And although the crowd of 2,500 that packed San Francisco's Moscone West ooohed and ahhhed at all the right moments, there was a audible murmur of letdown when Jobs ended the presentation not with his patented "one more thing," but with a couple musical numbers from songwriter Randy Newman.

Still, the performance was vintage Jobs. He showed genuine delight when he untied the little red string on a yellow interoffice envelope to reveal what he described as the world's thinnest notebook computer: .16 inches on one end and .76 on the other -- thinner on its thickest end, as he happily pointed out, than the comparable Sony (SNE) ultraportable is on its thinnest. Even at $1,799, the Air will be "the must have product of 2008," predicts Jupiter Research analyst Michael Gartenburg. "All the cool kids are going to want one."

And he was clearly in his element demonstrating the features of the newly configured Apple TV, which can now wirelessly download DVD- and HD-quality video without going through a computer. Starting in two weeks, anybody who wants to spend $2.99 to $4.99 on the iTunes Store will be one-step closer to the video lover's idea of Nirvana: the ability to watch anywhere, at any time, any movie ever made. (Or at least the 1,000 movies currently in Apple's library, a number Jobs promises will quickly grow as Apple re-engineers the movies from participating studios.) Netflix (NFLX) should be nervous.

"This is potentially extremely disruptive," says Gartenburg. "This could do to Hollywood what the iPod and iTunes did for the music industry."

Tim Bajarin of Creative Strategies agrees. "The biggest news today is that Apple was able to get support from all the major studios," he says. "It shows that Jobs is still the master broker."

Media analyst James McQuivey of Forrester Research begs to differ. Apple needed Hollywood to put content on its video-ready hardware more than Hollywood needed Apple, he says. Renting content is one thing. Selling it for $1.99 (and forgoing all that ad revenue broadcast TV generates) is quite another; that's why Universal is making its movies available on iTunes even as NBC Universal pulls its TV shows.

Part of the air of disappointment that fell over Macworld Expo when the keynote was over was due to the fact that although Jobs delivered on some of the rumors, there were no major surprises, and most of the announcements anticipated in the Apple blogs proved to be wishful thinking. There was no new 16 GB iPhone, no demonstrations of 3rd party iPhone apps, no Blu-ray announcement, no new display screens, no Beatles on iTunes.

And even in the products Jobs did deliver, there were almost as many questions as there were answers.

How much, for example, does the 64 GB solid-state version of the MacBook Air cost? Jobs didn't say and none of the Apple reps on the floor seemed to know. (The answer can be found on the Apple Store: $3,098 with the high-end 1.8 GHz chip, a whopping $1,299 premium over the standard 80 GB hard drive model.) How do you replace the battery on the MacBook? (It turns out that, as with the iPhone and iPod, you can't -- it's sealed into the gadget.) Where's the Ethernet plug? (There isn't one; you have to buy a USB to Ethernet adaptor.)

But for all that, it was an impressive show, delivering enough innovation to keep the competition at bay for another 12 months. "It goes to show," says Gartenburg, "that even when Apple doesn't deliver a tsunami, it can still make waves."

For more detail, see Jon Fortt's live blog at fortune.com/bigtech.

[Photo: Jon Fortt]

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About This Author
Philip Elmer-Dewitt
Philip Elmer-DeWitt
Editor, Apple 2.0, Fortune

Philip Elmer-DeWitt has been following Apple since 1982, first for Time Magazine, and now on the Web for Fortune.com.

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