Apple: Exec team, not Jobs, to deliver WWDC keynote

It will hand out Snow Leopard OS preview at June developers conference

Apple has announced that an executive team will deliver the keynote at the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) June 8, but didn't mention CEO Steve Jobs as one of those expected to take the stage.

Jobs, who has been on medical leave since January, is slated to return to the company at the end of June. Even so, some had speculated that he would make an appearance at WWDC, where in the past he has led major product announcements, such as last year's iPhone 3G.

Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research, said that Jobs absence would be a good thing. "With the incredible focus people put on Jobs, to bring him up [on stage] would be distracting, and just a lot of unnecessary drama," said Gottheil.

Philip Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of worldwide product marketing, will lead the team of Apple executives in the keynote, the company said. Schiller received mixed reviews when he filled in for Jobs at the January Macworld Conference & Expo keynote, another major event that the CEO has traditionally handled.

Snow Leopard, the follow-on to the current Mac OS X 10.5, was prominently touted in Apple's statement today. The company promised that it would hand out what it called a "final Developer Preview release" of the upcoming operating system to attendees, but did not set a release date for the final. Last June, Apple confirmed that it was working on Snow Leopard, and at the time, said it would ship the update in about a year.

Some bloggers had earlier pegged June 8 as a likely ship date for Snow Leopard; Apple's news today quashed those rumors.

"It looks like sometime this summer," said Gottheil, reading the tea leaves of Apple's announcement. "That's close enough. In the world of real software, this release [of a developer preview] is an indication that things are going pretty well, not the contrary."

Apple also trumpeted the iPhone 3.0 sessions at WWDC, which most analysts have predicted will be used to introduce new iPhone hardware.

In March, Apple unveiled iPhone 3.0 and a beta of the accompanying software developer's kit (SDK). The company did the same in 2008, when it previewed iPhone 2.0 in March, then followed that with a June introduction of the new iPhone 3G, which went on sale in mid-July. Most experts expect the same pace this year.

For Snow Leopard, however, Gottheil has scaled back his expectations, saying that the new OS, which even Apple has marketed as less a feature-rich update as one that focuses on performance and stability, will bring fewer dollars to Apple's coffers than its predecessor. "The economy, and the steep decline in Apple ASPs (average selling price) means that Snow Leopard will bring less of an immediate surge in revenues than did Leopard," Gottheil said.

In the fourth calendar quarter of 2007, Leopard upgrade revenues added a $170 million "bounce" to Apple's bottom line.

Apple could boost Snow Leopard by cutting the $129 price it's typically charged for operating system upgrades. "That's a possibility," said Gottheil. "The cost of goods is essentially zero. The idea that operating systems are sold at fixed prices is one of the illusions that Microsoft has. Even though Apple generates illusions at times, I don't think it has illusions about pricing."

The WWDC keynote will kick off Monday, June 8.

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