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Mac Planet: Presenting... WWDC

Apple CEO Tim Cook. Photo / AP
Apple CEO Tim Cook. Photo / AP

One of the interesting aspects of last month's World Wide Developers' Conference was the fact the keynote presented by Tim Cook was quite different to the style to the late Steve Jobs.

Cook is no stranger to this stage, of course. He has for a long time been high up at Apple, and became CEO before Jobs died. But some people would have tried to appear as faux-Jobs - one of the things I like about Cook is that he's happy being Tim. Cook still appeared casual a là Jobs, in jeans and a button-up shirt, not tucked in (so he doesn't look like he's from the North Shore of Auckland, unlike Phil Schiller, although this year Schiller's shirt was conspicuously untucked). And Cook presented as confidently as Jobs, too.

But there were differences. Cook took the stage to applause, but not quite the rapturous applause Jobs always got. But that still may come. Then Cook started talking about the audience rather than 'himself as Apple', as Jobs so effortlessly maintained. The usual sales figures followed (as per the usual pattern - these numbers are enumerated, if you're interested, by All Things D).

If you watch Jobs' last WWDC keynote, even though he looks gaunt due to his advancing illness, it was almost as much about Steve as it is about Apple. I'm not criticising this - the crowd lapped it up and crikey, Jobs was Apple.

But Apple can no longer be Jobs, and has to make its way in the world without his guiding acumen. Even when Cook bragged about the successes of the App Store, it was couched in terms more congratulatory to the developers. He used phrases like "What we do together is much more important than any set of numbers could ever reflect." Remarkable since Cook's background is supply chain and accounting.

If Jobs used the word 'we', it was clear what he meant was 'Apple and me'. It's not particularly fair to use the last (2011) Jobs' keynote as indicative of Jobs the man, and the public face of Apple, as he was not well and didn't keep the stage long, although he reappears at around 79 minutes. This point in the video version, by the way, is good if you still don't understand what iCloud is and does. Jobs always acknowledged Apple talent, but somehow gave the distinct impression that he'd come up with everything himself. Which was probably often the case.

Cook acknowledges the team more, but also talked about "making differences in other people's lives".

In an interview recorded May 30th, with Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg, Cook said in response to a question about social networking that it was not a core concern of Apple's. "But does Apple need to be social? Yes."

And at seven minutes 33 seconds on this year's keynote, Cook rolled a video to prove his point. Remarkably - for Apple's traditional 'look' - the videos showed non-Americans. A blind German man (Per Busch) talked about the joys of walking in the forest using his iPhone. The app that let him do this was developed by another featured non-American, Italian Giovanni Luca Ciaffoni who created the accessibility navigation app Ariadne GPS that guides the blind.

This surprised me enough, but the next segment truly shocked me. A classroom in ... Mumbai! I literally couldn't believe my eyes - an iPad has almost always been shown being used by glossy, perfect, happy Americans, so Busch was already a departure.

Seeing a classroom of skinny Indian kids learning anatomy on an iPad, well, to me that's a fundamental sea change in Apple philosophy and product positioning. At least, I hope it is. The teaching anatomy app that showcased this learning was presented in turn by a guy with an Irish accent. Another developer talked about how easy Apple made it for people like him to develop great apps, once again taking the focus from Apple's genius out into the more public domain of developer cleverness. The whole segment is moving stuff.

Apple has always had a global developer and user community, but it's never been so emphatically part of the public face of the Inc.

When Cook regained the stage after this video, he thanked the developers for "the incredible apps that you've done for us," once again keeping the focus away from Apple's own achievements.

CEO Tim Cook is not without personality: he introduced the latest, faster MacBook Airs with a serious dig at the ultrabook market: "Everyone's trying to copy it, but they're finding it's not so easy."

Apart from Apple not lauding it about itself too much, Nick Bilton of the New York Times pointed out that this year's WWDC keynote was focussed more on the products than previously: the Retina display MacBook Pro, Siri's comedy routine that introduced the event and new features, the completely new Maps app and the nuances of the forthcoming Mountain Lion Mac OS.

Steven Sande of TUAW wrote that "Monday's keynote put the spotlight where it should be - focused brightly on the shining results of Apple's hard work".

Cook does give more away than Jobs ever did. At least, he actually looks like he's concealing something where Jobs could appear inscrutable, and seems to drop hints. For example, that Apple is (yay) working on a proper successor to the venerable Mac Pro tower: in an email addressed to a user named Franz, Cook says not to worry, "as we're working on something really great for later next year." As detail-free as that may be, Jobs would never have been so straight up.

Kiwi Judit Klein, who attended WWDC and who I wrote about last week, said even the Apple jackets seemed different this year, with people saying the 2012 conference jacket 'wasn't really the Apple style'.

Changes trickle down from the top, and so far I am pretty impressed at where the top is positioning itself.

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