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Apple showcases new products at Macworld

By Renay San Miguel
CNN Headline News

Apple CEO Steve Jobs

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This column was originally published January 8.

(CNN) -- It has only 7 percent of the U.S. computer market. So why does Apple Computer get so much publicity when it stages one of its biannual Macworld conventions?

Two words: Steve Jobs.

Volumes have already been written about the Apple CEO's Olympian salesmanship abilities. If Jobs had been a character in David Mamet's play about desperate salesmen, "Glengarry Glen Ross," Mamet would have needed a new ending.

It's no wonder why companies with bigger market share, like Dell or Hewlett-Packard, don't stage their own convention center lovefests: Michael Dell and Carly Fiorina are certainly charismatic in their own ways, and they may inspire adoration among Wall Street types -- they don't call them "Dell-ionaires" for nothing, and Fiorina gets plenty of veneration for pulling off the tech merger of the new century -- but only Jobs can translate the cult-of-personality thing to Main Street technoids. After all, when Dell or H-P announces new computers, they don't make the cover of Time magazine.

Yet even Jobs' Elmer-Gantry-for-geeks act can't overcome a sluggish economy for computer companies. So the technology press and Apple faithful gathered in San Francisco's Moscone Convention Center last month to see what new products and services might help Apple jump-start sales.

This 17-inch PowerBook hits Apple Store shelves in February at $3,299.

What did they get? Not much new hardware, but some software that has Microsoft squarely in its sights.

Apple is rolling out its own versions of a Web browser and presentation software with the goal of challenging Internet Explorer and Powerpoint. The Apple browser, called Safari, is "a big deal. It's Konquerer for the rest of us," says Carl Howe, analyst with Blackfriars Communications. Howe is referring to the browser for KDE, one of the Linux desktops. "Just like (Konquerer), it shows some important Apple customizations, such as a built-in Google search bar." he says.

Jobs told the Moscone Center crowd that he wants Safari to let Websurfers explore a Web page, not the browser itself.

Howe also likes Keynote, Apple's new presentation software, more than Powerpoint. "I do a lot of speeches. Powerpoint was always the weakest tool in the Office suite, and some of the features of Keynote already one-up Powerpoint for those that care about visuals."

Howe says photos and logos blend together better in Keynote than in Powerpoint. "It sounds trivial, but visually, it should make a big difference, particularly for those of us who create visuals in professional tools like (Adobe) Illustrator."

As far as hardware goes, Jobs unveiled what he's calling the biggest portable computer screen ever, a 17-inch PowerBook that will hit Apple Store shelves this month at $3,299. He also rolled out a 12-inch screen for a PowerBook that sells for $1,799.

Because Apple keeps focusing on using Macs for managing music, movies and photos, Howe thinks Jobs and his company will keep generating publicity during Macworlds. "Jobs is saying we can be more than couch potato consumers," Howe said. "We can be the actors, creators and directors of our own epics and Apple will help us do that. In today's uncertain era with increasing concern about the control of media, that's a story worth telling."

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