Steve Jobs Makes Appearance at WWDC

Steve Jobs Makes Appearance at WWDC

Apple’s Steve Jobs today delivered the keynote speech at the Worldwide Developers Conference, or WWDC, taking a break from his medical leave to announce the company’s new Mac Lion OS.

Before he could explain the software update, though, an eager crowd at San Francisco’s Moscone Convention Center gave him a standing ovation, and one audience member even shouted, “We love you!”

When things settled down, Jobs went on to introduce the company’s new Mac OS, nicknamed Lion, which increases the number of ways consumers can use their Mac trackpads, besides permitting programs to run in full-screen mode rather than simply as traditional “windows.”

The OS includes 250 new features, including AirDrop, a peer-to-peer, Wi-Fi protocol, as well as multi-touch gestures, which will allow users to swipe through Web pages. Jobs focused on about ten features, which centered on saving and sharing.

Lion will become available to consumers in July for $30, down from $130, but software developers got a sneak peek starting Monday.

Jobs also announced Apple’s new iCloud service, an online music and media storage system.

Jobs’ eagerly awaited speech today indicates the importance of his presence and influence for the company, and is significant in that he has been on indefinite medical leave since January 17, though he did make an appearance to launch the iPad 2 in March.

The Apple CEO was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2004, followed by troubles with hormone imbalances and then a liver transplant in 2009. Jobs has not disclosed the reason for his current medical leave, being just as secretive about his condition as about Apple’s new products.

Investors are worried, however, that Jobs’ continued presence is tied to his company’s success. After Jobs left Apple in 1985, the company fell behind until he returned to take the reins in 1996. Since then he has remained central to the company’s growth, providing not only leadership and vision but also designing several key products and services himself.

Jobs holds over 230 patents, including portable devices like a precursor to the iPod and an Apple remote control, besides random things like power adaptors, iPod boxes and a glass staircase. His influence, especially in the design department, extends to his company’s outlet stores as well — Jobs recently had a hand in Apple’s Store 2.0 refurbishing. Without Jobs at the helm, Apple’s direction would have been quite different; some fear it may yet veer off course.

While Jobs still makes “major strategic decisions” for Apple while on medical leave, investors are wondering if his health will ever permit him to run the company as before. This winter, the Laborers International Union of North America tried to persuade Apple to set up a CEO succession plan. But the company desisted from naming a replacement, though they have put Apple COO Tim Cook in charge of operations while Jobs continues his medical leave.

Even without Jobs at the office, though, Apple’s soaring profits and record-breaking sales show no sign of stopping. With a first quarter net profit of $6 billion, Apple is still sitting pretty despite Jobs’ absence. The company is set to overtake the world’s largest handset maker, Nokia, by revenue. Apple recently made the Guinness Book of World records for selling the most popular gaming platform to date — the iPhone 4 — and for the unprecedented 6.5 billion downloads from its App Store.

But stock prices reflect investors’ nervousness, as they have been flat since news of Jobs’ medical leave in January. In shareholders’ minds at least, Jobs’ absence will negatively impact the company’s prosperity in the long run, though of course that remains to be seen.

If the music choice at WWDC is any indication, however, Jobs, like singer James Brown, can still say with confidence, “I Feel Good.”

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