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Originally published January 7, 2009 at 12:00 AM | Page modified January 7, 2009 at 8:07 AM

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Apple's blah final appearance at Macworld no Jobs fest

You can't blame Tony Bennett for upstaging a marketing vice president, even for a company like Apple.

Special to The Seattle Times

SAN FRANCISCO — You can't blame Tony Bennett for upstaging a marketing vice president, even for a company like Apple.

When the crooner and his band glided on stage at the end of the last keynote address an Apple executive will deliver at the annual Macworld Conference and Expo, the electricity missing during the speech by Apple Vice President Philip Schiller suddenly crackled in the air.

Bennett belted "The Best Is Yet To Come" and his signature "I Left My Heart in San Francisco." The audience hooted, applauded and gave him and his group a standing ovation.

Then the golden-voiced singer floated away, and we were left with the stark reality: Steve Jobs really wasn't coming, Schiller didn't have much to say and the relevancy of this show to Apple was at an end.

Even the choices of songs were a bit cruel. Apple already said it wouldn't be at the trade show in 2010 as an exhibitor (the company left its heart?), and that it would have plenty to talk about at its own managed announcements in the future (the best is yet to come).

Apple bowed out with a whimper, not a bang. For a company that opted just two years ago to drop "Computer" from its name of three decades, becoming simply Apple Inc., there was little on display not solidly focused on Mac hardware and software. That's appropriate for Macworld, but unusual.

Schiller delivered a perfectly reasonable address for a Macworld trade show of a decade ago, including emphasizing features in software and online applications that lag those of Microsoft and Google, and a couple Apple itself pioneered in the 1990s then later dropped.

The absence of Steve Jobs was palpable from start to finish.

Reporters and attendees weren't expecting much from the keynote, despite rumors about a revised Apple TV media center, updated iMacs, an overhauled Mac mini (a compact desktop system), or even an Apple-branded tablet.

Instead, Apple showed off iMovie '09, a release clearly designed to apologize to its customers for iMovie '08, which baffled existing users and was targeted for a YouTube-uploading audience.

Most of what was shown in the new iLife '09 and iWork '09 suites is either already available from Google or Microsoft online or in desktop software, or embodies ideas that were in currency (and have been in mature software) 10 or even 20 years ago.

How did a marketing VP misstep so badly to describe how cool outlining in a word processor was in 2009?

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The one moment Schiller went off the Mac focus was in describing iTunes Store sales — 6 billion songs sold to date — and in revealing Apple had finally negotiated with music labels for something that Amazon.com, Microsoft, and WalMart already had: the right to sell all their music without copy protection (digital-rights management or DRM).

Perhaps the last Macworld in this exact form marks the change in both the company and its users. Apple customers are no longer "Mac users" and a Macworld's focus may be too narrow. Appleworld is apparently upon us, and instead of happening once a year, it's everywhere, all the time.

Glenn Fleishman writes the Practical Mac column, which appears every other Saturday in the Personal Technology report of the Business section.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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