"The problem with Microsoft", Steve Jobs once said, "is that they have absolutely no taste".
In one sense, he's absolutely right. The battle between the two companies has been the aesthetics of elegance versus the athletics of elephants.
But as any well-bred gentleman will affirm, taste goes a long way beyond the vulgar business of looking good. It involves manners, the exchange of respectful behaviour by which two people let each other know that on an important level, they hold each other equal. Without that, useful communication is a lot harder; with it, much may be done to mutual benefit, even in hard and changing times.
Apple has done well out of Macworld's keynotes, and Macworld has done well out of Apple. It has been a drumbeat for the company, the media and the Apple community — for once, that word means what it says. It has given Steve Jobs his annual shot of celebrity, so important to the customers' emotional connection with the company. The keynote has mattered, to lots of people.
Apple's delivery on Monday of a feeble squib of a farewell said "we come first, you don't matter", and is therefore in very bad taste. For a company that fetishises taste, that's a very bad sign.
Don't doubt that the given reasons for the divorce are accurate: the environment has changed, and a big annual shindig doesn't fit with product development and marketing in a world moving to faster, more complex rhythms. The company's very good at being unsentimental about timing. But there are ways and ways to finish a relationship.
What we got, as the grand goodbye, was a selection of utility software upgrades, a fair-to-good evolution of one laptop line, and the expected and welcome death of DRM. Not even a token "it's been real" from the star turn. The best that can be said is that it's probably not the worst Macworld keynote ever.
Why bother with the formula? Put on a show. It's your keynote, after all. Relive some of the great moments of the past. Show how the company's evolved over the years, those amazing products, those amazing numbers. Say what world you see over the next decade. Squeeze in five minutes of product announcements (they'll get the coverage no matter what), and finish on a high about "evolving to advance the future we've made together".
Pick your own razzmatazz if that doesn't suit: but a celebration was in order. This was a perfect opportunity for Apple to demonstrate that by leaving Macworld behind, it was entering a new stage in its life — and you can be a part of that, just as you've been there in the past. That self-confidence, that invitation, would have been good manners and very good taste.
The good vibe wouldn't have lasted long, to be sure: we know things are changing inside Apple, just not what, and not knowing stuff is going out of fashion fast. But it would have been an event, a true climax to the show, and it would have eased difficulties to come.
Keynotes are good ways to start a show. A crescendo is more fitting for its end. Microsoft may not be alone in its tastelessness, after all.