The Most Important Keynote in Apple’s History?

Apple just had another keynote two days ago. You can watch it online via QuickTime if you like. It’s pretty good, and has some very significant hardware announcements, but it isn’t the most important one in Apple’s history. Determining which keynote is the most important is a difficult task, but I’d wager a bet that if all the geeks I know made Top 5 lists (especially the Apple lovers in the bunch), the Macworld Boston keynote from August of 1997 would be in every one of their lists.

It’s the first keynote given by Steve Jobs since his departure from Apple in 1985. It’s one of the most volatile and divisive moments in Apple’s history. It contains a gigantic Bill Gates looking down on a tiny Steve Jobs on the stage while the audience shrieks and boos. That’s good keynote. And it’s all done Steve-style. You know the style. (I become more and more impressed with that style every time I see other CEOs or powerful people speak. They just don’t have it. Roz Ho does not have it. Nothing personal, Roz.)

And now Google has it online, so you can download it, or stream it right there in your browser. (The downloadable version is much higher quality. I recommend it.) I just wanted to point out a few things I noticed about this keynote. Only Apple geeks would care about this stuff (or even understand what I’m talking about, for the most part) but I found it really fascinating.

  • The entire thing looks incredibly 80s to me, and this was only 9 years ago! It might as well have been 20 years ago. Everything looks ancient. The styles. The text on the screen. The colors. Everything.
  • Steve Jobs is introduced by some random “expo guy.” This could be an exception since it’s his first Apple keynote in a long time, but today, the keynote starts when the lights dim and Steve just walks on stage. There are no formal introductions. Especially not intros that are six minutes long.
  • Apple Garamond font! Woo! Old school.
  • Steve gets a long standing ovation. Those are rare today.
  • Steve isn’t wearing his trademark black shirt and jeans.
  • At about 7:10 in we see a good example of the presentation slides Steve uses in his keynote. It has the same black-to-grey gradient that became the standard theme of Apple’s Keynote software, which was introduced six years later for this exact purpose.
  • About nine minutes in, Steve gives instructions on how to turn around a beleaguered business. Heed those words, I’d say they’ve proven themselves wise in the last 9 years.
  • Someone apparently boos Larry Ellison’s appointment to the board. Boos are really rare today; the audience is more polite and less rabid.
  • The “production quality” of the keynote is generally way, way lower than it is today. It would appear Apple has learned the importance of fit and finish with that many cameras in the room.
  • Steve asks the audience if they’d like to see a video that he’s preparing to show them. He still does that. I’ve never been sure why. He almost never asks what the crowd would like in any other situation.
  • About 19 minutes in, Steve says Macs had around 7% marketshare. I’ve heard much lower numbers than that in the last few years, and yet Apple is a much, much healthier company.
  • Steve says 64% of all web sites (remember this is just the ones that existed in August of 1997) were created using a Mac! That’s very surprising to me.
  • Steve makes a point of saying they’re going to go after the creative and educational markets. These days, it seems Apple has a very strong presence in those areas, but has also really exploded into new areas that weren’t mentioned at all in those days. Interestingly, people who don’t follow Apple or technology at all would probably say that the creative and educational markets are the markets where Apple is strongest. I used to hear that constantly, but that misunderstanding has been decreasing in the last couple years.
  • At around 26 minutes in, Steve starts to talk about “partnerships” with other companies. He’s either actually nervous, or just acting, but you can really see his demeanor change. He’s about to talk about being friends with Microsoft to a group of people who deeply hate Microsoft.
  • Microsoft committed to equal MS Office releases for PC and Mac from 1997 to 2002. They just committed once again to another five years, and that was announced last Tuesday. What an interesting period the first five were. I wonder what the next five will hold.
  • Steve announces in this keynote that Internet Explorer will become the default browser for the Mac. The crowd is vehemently against this. We know what replaced IE several years later. Thankfully, Apple also shipped Netscape alongside it to give people the ability to easily switch. (To be fair, IE on OS 9 was a decent browser, all things considered.)
  • The portion of the keynote from 30:40 to 34:50 is one of the most important, captivating moments in Apple’s history. The crowd’s reaction to Bill, and Bill’s reaction to the crowd are absolutely amazing. Steve’s sermon after Bill speaks is totally incredible.
  • It’s just amazing how uncharismatic Gates appears to be when you’ve been watching Steve for half an hour.
  • The “Think Different” campaign is initiated verbally by Steve just after his Microsoft-related announcements. He loosely quotes parts of the poem used in the upcoming Think Different ad without the audience realizing it would be in an advertisement coming out a month later, and become cornerstone of Apple’s branding in the years to come

4 thoughts on “The Most Important Keynote in Apple’s History?

  1. In bills defense during his little talk…
    I think he might not be hearing and seeing the crowd. Steve said he was on a satellite “downlink” which makes me think that Gates was just talking to a camera and someone from the camera crew was listening to the crowd noise over a phone or something and telling bill when to speak. Bill even looks off camera once or twice like he is watching for offscreen instrucitons.

    Steve’s little bit after about Microsoft doesn’t need to lose for Apple to win was indeed incredible as you said.

  2. You know, I think you’re right, Jeff. It’s a definite that he’s watching for offscreen instructions, but I think it seems possible that he can’t hear the crowd, either. Frankly, they probably knew what was coming, and didn’t want him to have to hear it.

    The thing that strikes me funny in all of this is that I don’t think Bill thought through how it would look to the crowd. Very 1984-esque, with the big bad face up on the screen, and the tiny hero (Jobs) down on the ground. The pictures the reporters took definitely made it look that way.

    I guess we may never know!

  3. I may loose some of Mac-cred, but that was actually the first time I saw that keynote. Thanks the link.

    I think your right it in it being a (if not the) major turning point of Apple history.

  4. I thought the same thing about it being 1984-esque except that the minions were already freed but the overlord didn’t know it. Definitely an interesting spin on it even if it wasn’t intentional.

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