Why Jobs is a huckster hall of famer

The reality-distortion zone is alive and well.Just in case any one is wondering whether Steve Jobs still had his old touch, consider this: More than 300 stories have been written about the iMac since mid-May.

The reality-distortion zone is alive and well.

Just in case any one is wondering whether Steve Jobs still had his old touch, consider this: More than 300 stories have been written about the iMac since mid-May.

Not bad considering how the world is hyperventilating over what is, at best, a mildly interesting $1,299 machine that incorporates not a whit of the revolutionary design embraced in the original Macintosh.

Yet with 150,000 people placing their pre-orders, the iMac debut is shaping up to become Apple's biggest product rollout since 1984.

Imus on iMac
Everywhere you turn, iMac frenzy is mounting. In newspapers, magazines and television, the amount of PR devoted to Apple's new entry in the consumer market has been nothing less than astounding. Even morning shock jock Don Imus has featured the iMac on drive time.

What's more, the jaded fools on Wall Street are starting to salivate once again about Apple, a company they had all but abandoned prior to Jobs taking over for the feckless Gil Amelio.

Investors have pushed shares up to their highest levels in nearly three years, on hopes the turnaround is for real.

Steve Jobs -- miracle worker?

Not exactly, but Apple's "interim" CEO-for-life is living up to his reputation as a master impresario.

If anybody thinks Apple could have pulled off this stunt had it still been under the Teutonic tutelage of Michael Spindler or the wooden stewardship of Amelio, then I've got two Web virgins who plan to do it on ourfirsttime.com.

Smoke and mirrors?
The effectiveness of Apple's PR campaign is all the more remarkable considering the product in question.

Sure, the egg-shaped iMac is cute computer with a few nice bells and whistles, not to mention that curious, bluish-green hue. But it's not going to change the world.

Plus, iMac buyers are still going to need to pay extra to save files on floppy disks -- a real inconvenience for home users -- or connect their computers to printers.

Ah, but then there's the Jobs factor to consider. Charm is worth its weight in gold, and many of the (usually) sober souls inhabiting the Fourth Estate have been given to unusual palpitations and ecstatic blatherings in discussing the iMac.

"At the end of the day, the media has little to do with the pursuit of truth and everything to do with entertainment," said one source involved in the iMac project.

"Look -- this industry's been boring. Everything in the last year has been about the Internet. Does Steve have star appeal? Sure he does -- and there's nothing wrong with that."

Press groupies
One former Apple hand who spent most of the 1980s and 1990s as a senior staffer at Camp Cupertino offers an even crasser explanation.

"A lot of reporters covering Apple 'missed it' the first time around and they're getting seduced by Steve, who is masterful about weaving his magic. Steve's a legend, and they're getting a chance to experience it."

But it's not all smoke and mirrors.

Under Jobs, Apple has rebuilt some of its lost cachet by sticking with a clever brand advertising campaign that has seeped into the cultural vocabulary. Considering Apple's perennial inability to stay with anything resembling a strategy, the company did itself a huge favor by taking its "Think Different" motto to heart.

"The fact that they're sticking with something is a change," noted the former Apple exec. "And they're sticking with it."

Superstar status
That's not an inconsiderable change, considering the rooted consensus culture that has been the bane of prior Apple CEOs. And like other Apple CEOs, Jobs has been managing from the outside -- exploiting the company's name brand and trading on his own charisma -- to generate a buzz.

One huge difference: We're talking Bill Gates-status here. Only a select number of superstars have membership to this elite club -- and Jobs is a charter founder. At the end of the day, that may turn out to be Apple's ultimate ace.

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