The Stevenote

I’m not going to recap what was actually talked about, as there are plenty of news stories out there that can do that. Truthfully, the press had people taking notes during the keynote, so they probably wouldn’t forget all the little things that I would if I had to remember it strictly from memory. So, if you’re interested, do a quick Google search and find something about it there. Suffice it say, things are looking pretty good in the Apple universe.

It’s no secret that a dream of mine has been to see Steve Jobs deliver a keyote presentation in person. I mean, let’s face it. Since Apple removed itself from Macworld Expo a couple of years ago, unless you’re press or you work at Apple itself, you don’t get to see Steve Jobs in person as a mere mortal. Unless you happen to attend some event that he attends, but living it Georgia, that opportunity is (how to put it) slim. Except for WWDC. Obviously, not always (as last year indicated), but it’s fairly certain that if he can make it, he will.

Of course, any certainty is put in jeopardy when you realize the health issues that Steve is dealing with right now. Within the past several years, he has battled pancreatic cancer, had a liver transplant, and lost a significant amount of weight due to it all. Most recently, he has had to take a second medical leave of absence from Apple to focus on his health, leaving everyone to wonder what’s really going on behind the scenes.

With all that as a backdrop, I was really pumped in a schoolgirl-crush kind of way when I took my seat for the presentation. First thing I noticed: the hall inside Moscone Center West (Presidiooooooooooooooooooooooo Hall!) is MUCH larger than it looks “on TV”. When you watch the keynotes from Apple’s site or from the download, it looks like it’s holding a couple hundred people, maybe 500 or so. The way the presenters speak, the eye contact, the lack of any notion of an echo almost convinces you that this is a semi-private venue. Definitely not the case! I would imagine that the room (in its expanded state) holds about 6,000 people, easy. I was pretty happy to get a seat where I was, because I could actually watch the presentation with my own eyes and not rely on the closed-circuit feed to see what was going on.

As they’re waitng for the time to start, music is playing over the speaker system. Normally, it’s “oldies” kind of music (“it’s a oldie where I come from”). This was no different. The Beatles, Stevie Wonder, Sly and the Family Stone all made an appearance. There was even one moment, minutes before things were supposed to get started, when the previous song had ended. People had started to anticipate the beginning of the presentation and everyone got quiet. All of a sudden, James Brown’s patented “Heh” came over loud and clear as “I Feel Good” started, which provided everyone with a laugh and kind of let some of the pent-up anticipation dissipate a little.

When James was done, the music stopped, the lights dimmed, and the Apple logo shined just a little brighter. And Steve walked out.

Let me stop here and say it’s always weird when you see someone in person for the first time. Especially someone that you have watched on TV and video for years. Your brain forms some kind of mental image of their actual self and body type. You anticipate their height, their weight, the relative size to you…all that weird stuff. And when you actually finally see that person in real life, most of the time, they are smaller than you would ever think. Of the few TV personalities that I’ve seen in real life, this has been the case.

When Steve walked out, it was (to be honest) shocking. Of course, you read and hear the stories of his health issues and how that’s severely affected his weight. But, apparently I was still not fully prepared. I don’t think it helped that over the past couple of days prior to traveling, I watched several videos of Steve Jobs’ keynotes of the past as well as a documentary on Pixar’s rise as a Hollywood company (of which Steve is a founding partner). In these videos (most of which are prior to cancer), he was decidedly NOT thin and reasonably healthy looking.

From a personal perspective, I was put in an immediate somber mood. I was quickly jarred back to reality, though, as everyone, especially the developers, stood up to give Steve a standing ovation. In fact, if you watch the keynote, the guy three people down from me was the one that yelled, “We love you, Steve!” right as we were all winding down the ovation. An incredible amount of, dare I say it, love coming from the room up to Steve. It was actually a pretty touching (if not brief) moment.

But it was when he started talking that I, along with everyone else, got really nervous. A very soft and weak tamber came over the loudspeakers as Steve started the presentation. Not good. How do I say this without sounding like a complete ass? He actually looked and sounded like an old man. It was even more jarring than I thought. Obviously, everyone in the room was thinking the same thing. This is not the normal Steve authoritative tone. This was a sick guy speaking. A really sick guy. And the fact that after most phrases, he had to cough, did not abate most of our fears.

He welcomed everyone to WWDC and all that, and outlined the three things they would be talking about during the presentation: Mac OS X Lion, iOS 5, and iCloud. Normally, Steve would launch in to he first topic, Mac OS X Lion. Instead, he brought up Phil Schiller (Senior VP of Worldwide Product Marketing) to introduce it. Okay. Once that was over, Phil brought up Scott Forstall (Senior VP of iOS Software) to introduce and talk about iOS 5. Okay. That’s about 65 minutes of keynote with Jobs being on stage for about 2 of them. I was starting to worry. I couldn’t have been the only one. Maybe this really would be his last keynote. Maybe they know something that we don’t. Maybe he really wanted to be here one final time, but just didn’t have the energy to actually go on. I can only relate it to being a parent. All of these bad things start running through your head, no matter how far removed from reality they are.

But once Forstall was done with iOS 5, he did bring Steve back onstage to talk about iCloud. Thank goodness. And when he did actually start to speak about it, he sounded much stronger, much more authoritative, and much more like Steve. It was refreshing and (I’m sure) put some of people’s fears to rest, at least for the moment. Steve went through the iCloud talk and finally summed up the presentation and dismissed everyone.

Buoyed by the final part of the presentation and all of the Steve-isms that come with that, I didn’t feel as much of a sense of dread as I had right at the beginning. It’s very surreal to see someone that you look up to so much, that seems so powerful, that has the ability to steer a ship (and in his case, a company) through the toughest of waters, in such a weak state. It was scary, to be honest with you. Every report with an actual doctor’s opinion that I’ve heard say that people don’t beat the type of cancer he had/has twice. They just don’t. The body goes through too much, and too much is detroyed by the re-enactment of said cancer that everything shuts down and sooner than anyone would like, that person dies. It’s a very sobering idea. I completely have faith in the company that they will survive the death of Steve Jobs. But make no mistake about it, it will rock that company, the tech industry as a whole, and (if I’m going to be honest with myself) me to the core.

Having said all of that…

It was still amazing to see. Period. Like I said earlier, there aren’t many chances to see Steve live. It was an honor and a privilege. I liken the experience to going to a baseball game and seeing the players live. So many times, we watch these games on television and they almost don’t seem real. It’s hard to divorce their “show” from any of the other fictional shows on television. They’re just acting, right? But then when you get to the ballpark and watch them warm up, you realize they are, in fact, real. They really do run that way, or bat that way, of do those amazing acrobatics at second base that seem like they’re floating in mid-air. They’re not an illusion, they’re real.

Steve Jobs

Image from San Francisco Chronicle


And you realize that you are just as “real” as they are. Again, the medium that we become so used to reading about/seeing them through divorces us from the notion that they’re just people, too. Real people with real lives. Real triumphs. Real emotions. Real tragedies. Real problems. You are suddenly forced to deal with their realities as well as you’re own. Your favorite baseball player is a real guy. He might be a great person in real life, but he also might be a complete tool. You never know. Your technology hero (that sounds like such a childish term, doesn’t it) might be dying in front of your eyes. Who’s to know what tomorrow is going to bring?

Obviously, everyone (inlcuding his “enemies”) wishes Steve the best in terms of fighting these health issues. The tech world would be an ever-so-smaller place without Steve Jobs. They know it. And I’m sure it would be a sad day if we were to look back at this keynote and realize that it was his last. I sincerely hope we don’t have to face that anytime soon.

Because I, for one, would like to see another one…

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