PARIS -- Apple was very particular about the Think Different posters it hung around the Palais de Congress, site of Wednesday's Apple Expo keynote. The giant banners either depicted local heroes, such as movie director Francois Truffaut, adopted sons such as Pablo Picasso, or innovators who made their bones in the City of Lights, such as jazz man Miles Davis.
Steve Jobs isn't ready to join those three in advertising immortality along the streets of Paris. Not yet anyhow. But if the Apple CEO's goal is global acclaim, then this keynote was a step in the right direction.
The standing-room crowd at the Palais de Congress greeted Jobs with rousing applause at the start of his speech, and about a third gave him a standing ovation at the end (the rest were running to catch the free shuttle busses back to the Apple Expo site across town). In between, the audience oohed and aahed at the right times, cheered the TV commercials, and kept the booing to a bare (if noticeable) minimum.
Several reasons can explain the favorable reaction to Jobs here. First, the expo is an event for Mac vendors, users, and partisans -- they're more likely than the crowd at, say, Internet World to hail Jobs as a conquering hero. Second, Jobs had plenty to say, from the OS X beta release to the reconfigured iBook product line. When Jobs has news to announce, like he did at July's Macworld Expo, he can read baking recipes and hold the audience's attention. When he's forced to rehash old news, like at last month's Seybold keynote, it's like watching paint dry.
Paint did not dry on Wednesday.
Finally, and perhaps most important as far as this crowd was concerned, Jobs and company don't make it out to The Continent all that often. When they come with big news, the locals are more likely to be enthusiastic.
So the crowd chuckled good-naturedly when Jobs awkwardly repeated a joke about a busted water main at the exhibit hall -- "Well, something had to leak," he said without benefit of a rim shot. And when Jobs had a cruel laugh at the expense of the faltering Euro -- he asked the crowd to support the slumping currency "so we can charge you less" -- the largely European crowd, not known for taking Yank taunts in stride, laughed with him.
Why? Because Jobs whetted their appetite from the get-go. He was there at the keynote, he said, to talk about OS X and the new iMacs and G4s Apple released over the summer. And, he added sheepishly, "maybe a few new things today as well."
With that throwaway line, Jobs enjoyed the most rousing applause of the speech.
Other places where Jobs scored with the crowd and where he fell flat:
iMovie 2.0 Demo In the nosebleed section of the crowd where I sat, at least, people loved the new iMovie features -- with the reverse, motion, and other special effects getting the biggest "oohs." It seems strange that features which have been public for more than two months now still generate that kind of response, but then again, this is probably the first chance a lot of the audience had to see iMovie in action. And it's an outstanding program.
ATI Radeon Availability Must have been a lot of gamers in the crowd. At any rate, the audience cheered the fact that you can now have the Radeon graphics processor included on your new G4 for an extra $100.
iBooks, Rising from the Floor Everything about the new iBooks -- from FireWire support to the faster processors -- won raves from the crowd. But the biggest reaction came when the machines rose through the floor on rotating stands. Of course, those cheers could have been gasps of pain as the glow off the key lime iBook scorched people's retinas.
I tried to avert my eyes, like Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark .
Built-in MP3 Player on Mac OS X Of all the OS X beta-related news, this generated the biggest pop. And for good reason -- it's a great feature to include in the operating system. Counting Jobs's Seybold address, this is the second trade show in a row that the MP3 player has scored the biggest cheers in the OS X demo.
Although, Europe is apparently gaga over the Dock as well.
The Sage iMac TV Commercial. At every Jobs speech I've been to this year -- Macworld Expo, Seybold, and now, Apple Expo -- the ad where Kermit the Frog sings It's Not Easy Being Green as the camera lovingly pans across the new sage iMac gets the loudest, most sustained applause.
And it baffles me.
Think about the song for a second, particularly the part of the song that Apple uses in the ad. Kermit is singing how it's not easy being green, how he hates being green, how green is a terrible color, and how he wishes he were a different hue.
And from this I'm supposed to want to buy a green-tinted computer?
Microsoft The mere mention of the software giant's name inspired universal booing. The booing was so fierce that Jobs felt obligated to strongly defend Microsoft's Mac developers. "Isn't it great that the Mac is going to have the best version of Office 2001?" he asked -- in theory, rhetorically -- about the upcoming Office 2001 release. "We've got to help these guys because you can imagine they don't get a lot of pats on the back (in Redmond)."
And to his credit, Kevin Browne, Microsoft's Mac business-unit chief, kept the rowdies at bay by stressing the numerous Mac-only features in Office 2001.
Apple's Online Store This e-commerce thing apparently isn't catching on in Europe. When Jobs mentioned that the key lime iBook was only available through the Apple Store, the crowd hissed and whistled, clearly taking Apple's CEO aback.
"It's maybe the best online store in the world," Jobs said -- a claim he'd have to repeat a half-hour later when the crowd hissed the news that the OS X beta was only available online as well.
Apple's Shuttle Buses Apple tried to do right by the faithful. The keynote speech was held at a building some ten miles away from the Apple Expo itself. So Apple arranged to have free shuttle busses outside the Palais de Congress after the speech to take people across town.
It was a solid plan, too -- until a capacity crowd showed up, with each individual person deciding that they had to be on the bus right away . So people pushed. People shoved. People jostled one another and muttered words underneath their breath that I will probably not find in my Berlitz phrasebook. And whatever good feelings had been created by the release of the OS X beta or the new iBooks or the news about Radeon disappeared -- hopefully temporarily, but you know how people like to dwell on the negative.
This is hardly Jobs's fault. After all, it's not like he runs the busses, too. But maybe next year, if Apple has the same setup, the organizers can devise a way for attendees to move in an orderly, single-file fashion to the shuttle bus stop. No pushing, no shoving, no sharing of discouraging words.
Pull that off, and then you're a cinch for one of those Think Different posters, Steve.