News from Apple sparks a posting frenzy

The Baltimore Sun

Today is Christmas, New Year's and the Fourth of July - for the bloggers who follow Apple.

The tech company sent out announcements last week for a news event today at the Yerba Buena Center for the Performing Arts in San Francisco. The invitation, titled "Let's Rock," looks like an iPod screen with one of the silhouetted, earbud-wearing dancing figures from Apple's TV commercials.

The company didn't say exactly what it would be announcing, but it doesn't have to.

In the blogging age, few events are as chronicled as intensely as an Apple news conference. Dozens of reporters "live blog" from the event. Minute-by-minute accounts of the announcement, expected to be about new models of the iPod ready for the holiday shopping season, will bounce around the Internet all afternoon. At least one blogger who can't attend urged people not to e-mail him about it so he could download the news conference without spoiling the surprise for himself.

The invitation itself was being dissected online - to the point where some were insisting that the image of a "progress" bar at the bottom of the invite (like the one that shows how long to complete a download on your computer) meant that the announcement must be really, really, really big - like space explorers trying to decode some extraterrestrial alphabet.

It's not right to describe Apple's event as a corporate news conference because there's nothing in corporate America comparable to it. It's more like a new-age media religious experience.

This is an excerpt from June when the tech site TechCrunch live blogged from Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference that revealed details about the iPhone 3G:

10:00 AM: There's a buzz in the air. Things should get rolling momentarily.

10:02 AM: They just came on the PA and told us to turn off cellphones (including iPhones), things will start in a few minutes.

10:05 AM: The stage just went dark, they're playing great balls of fire by Jerry [Lee] Lewis.

10:06 AM: Steve Jobs just walked up on stage. He's wearing, wow, jeans, tennis shoes and a black turtleneck sweater.

The Apple-polishing is all the more striking given all the sarcasm and too-cool-for-school tone that's more typical of blogs and new media.

"They keep the media in the dark and it creates a sense of curiosity that goes beyond normal," said Ewdison Then, executive editor of slashgear.com, a digital lifestyle Web site based in Dallas and San Francisco.

When slashgear first blogged live from an Apple event in early 2007, the resulting Web traffic crashed its computer servers. It's straightened out that problem. It got 500,000 unique visitors to its last Apple live blog, 10 times its typical traffic for a whole day.

Slashgear will assign both a writer and photographer today so they can post words and photos of the new products as fast as possible. Apple doesn't allow videography at its events, so the live blogging raw text has almost an odd, throwback feel - like 19th-century reporters Teletyping news from the battlefield to the home office.

Seven years ago, I found myself seated next to Steve Jobs on a bus headed toward a media event for the opening of the first Apple store in the East, in Tysons Corner, Va.

Jobs - in jeans and turtleneck then, too - was explaining to me that Apple's 5 percent share of the computer market at the time was nothing to sneeze at, and he was happy with it. But of course the whole reason he was on a press bus that day was to launch a gamble on a new strategy of slick Apple stores because the warehouse-type retailers weren't able to give his computers the display or cachet they needed to move past 5 percent.

You know what happened: Some bugs and frustrations with the PC. Greater appreciation for the Mac. One of the more brilliant marketing campaigns in recent years, with the actors John Hodgman and Justin Long. Then came the advent of the iPod, which revolutionized consumer listening habits and the music industry, and the iPhone, which may eventually alter telecommunications as profoundly. Apple's stock, which traded at less than $24 that day on the bus, closed at $157.98 a share yesterday. And that 5 percent share of the computer market? It's past 20 percent, analysts say.

Maybe the visionary Jobs even then could imagine a day when writers would be live blogging his news conferences, hanging on every word about his portable music player, which could help determine the success of the shopping season, and by extension the greater economy.

If he did, he kept it to himself.

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