SAN FRANCISCO – Apple Inc. CEO Steve Jobs re-emerged from his latest medical leave Monday to show off the company’s latest innovations and sustain the hope that he eventually will return to dream up more ways to reshape technology.
The highlight, as usual, came at the end of Jobs’ presentation. He was on stage for less than 30 minutes during a nearly two-hour event that primarily featured his subordinates.
Ever the showman, Job announced that Apple had struck licensing agreements with all the major recording labels on a new music synching system.
It will allow people to put all the songs they have ever bought from the company’s iTunes store on up to 10 devices. All future iTunes purchases also will be automatically sent to all the devices, too. None of the transfers will require devices to be plugged into a single computer. It will automatically happen over wireless connections.
“Keeping all those devices in sync is driving us crazy,” Jobs said.
Jobs’ keynote address at a conference for application developers marked his first on-stage appearance since he unveiled the latest version of Apple’s tablet computer, the iPad, three months ago.
It comes five months after Jobs went on his third medical leave of absence in the past seven years to deal with an unspecified medical issue. He has previously survived pancreatic cancer and undergone a liver transplant.
Unlike a six-month leave in 2009, Jobs, 56, hasn’t said when he is coming back to work. The uncertainty make his every appearance even more of a spectacle because people don’t know if it will be the last time they will see him.
Looking as frail as he did in his last appearance in March, Jobs didn’t discuss his health Monday. That wasn’t unusual; he has consistently treated his health as a personal matter and insisted that Apple’s board remains mum, too, much to the frustration of some shareholders who believe they deserve to know more about the condition of the leader.
Apple, though, tried to strike an optimistic note by playing the James Brown song, “I Feel Good,” as a prelude to Jobs’ appearance.
Having Jobs appear at major events remains important to preserving Apple’s market value and keeping shareholders at bay, said veteran Silicon Valley technology analyst Rob Enderle.
“As long as he is still showing up and looking like he can still do the job, that helps keep the pressure off the board to replace him,” Enderle said.
Tim Cook, Apple’s chief operating officer, has been running the company, just as he has through all of Jobs’ medical leaves. Jobs still has a say in major decisions.
Jobs also unveiled a way for most people to keep their music collections on the company’s computers without going through the time-consuming hassle of uploading each song over the Internet.
The $25-per-year service, called iTunes Match, will allow people to play their personal jukeboxes on any device with iTunes software instead of keeping them tethered to a personal computer that must be synced with other devices. It’s aimed at people who have transferred their CD collections to the iTunes library on their own computers.
The music streaming is part of a broader service, called iCloud, that represents Apple’s attempts to persuade the millions of people who own iPhones, iPads and iPod Touches to store documents, video, photos in a massive data center that the company built in North Carolina. The allure for consumers is to have all their digital content available on any device running Apple’s mobile software, called iOS.