Jobs vs. Dell in Dueling Trade Show Keynotes

By most measures, Apple Computer Inc.'s Steve Jobs famous unveilings in front of staunch loyalists would be a tough act to follow. Imagine then, going head-to-head with the legendary CEO. That's what Michael Dell, chairman of Dell Inc. and a legend himself, was up against Tuesday.

The two influential leaders delivered keynotes simultaneously -- Jobs at the Macworld Conference & Expo in San Francisco and Dell at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

The timing was coincidental, but the juxtaposition also partly reflected how much the world is enthralled with Apple's products and innovations even though Round Rock, Texas-based Dell has sold millions more computers globally and more than any other PC maker.

The auditorium hosting Jobs' keynote held 4,000 people and still wasn't large enough. Given the sold-out crowd, many more were sitting cross-legged and kneeling in the aisles with rapt attention as Jobs, always the consummate showman, joked with the audience and debuted a highly anticipated cell phone and set-top box, which he called "revolutionary."

The ballroom hosting Dell's keynote also had a capacity of 4,000 people but was barely half full. (Microsoft Corp.'s Bill Gates, who delivered the CES kickoff keynote there Sunday night, was sold out.)

To be fair, Dell was also competing for attention against all the latest and greatest gadgets on display at CES, the largest tech convention in the world. The event ends Thursday.

But even across the sprawling CES show floors, one did not need to walk very far between booths before seeing yet another accessory or product capitalizing on the phenomenon of Apple's iPod media player.

As a co-founder of Apple, Jobs has always been considered a leader of a cult of sorts, a loyal group of Macintosh fans, and anyone in his presence is subject to his "reality distortion field."

Windows-based PC users, on the other hand, are typically not as fanatical about their machines.

But the success of the iPod player, introduced in 2001, and the popularity of its groundbreaking iTunes Music Store has cast Apple deeper into the mainstream. The spotlight on the company's creations is stronger than ever. Many electronics companies have added Apple into their realm of rivals to watch.

Apple on Tuesday even announced how it is officially removing the word "Computer" from its company name, changing it to Apple Inc., to reflect its wider focus on consumer electronics.

Before Jobs' keynote, the expected introduction of an Apple TV product that would let users easily watch their downloaded movies on a television was already causing a stir.

"Companies tell me privately they are concerned that if Apple could get this right with the ease-of-use and quality of service, that Apple could do for home media what they did with the iPod and be the leading player overnight," said Tim Bajarin, an analyst with tech consulting firm Creative Strategies.

Apple did introduce the TV product Tuesday, as well as its first own cell phone.

Dell, meanwhile, introduced a new environmental "Plant a Tree for Me" program in which it offered to plant a tree for every PC sold. It also challenged the industry to follow its lead with a free recycling program and introduced some new computing products and services.

One person in the audience, Mark Parisi, said he liked seeing the products Dell introduced but he also was eager to leave the hall to get to some Internet access to find out what Apple had announced.

The relentless rumor mill around Apple's products had built incredible hype. The CNN television network was even airing a related segment hours before Jobs' speech, amid other news on the war in Iraq.

Apple's own marketing efforts are notorious. And it has no shame when it comes to self-promotion. A week before Macworld, Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple changed the front of its company Web site to a dramatic backlit Apple logo with a teaser: "The first 30 years was just the beginning. Welcome to 2007."

Dell's environmental news on Tuesday also aims to spark world changes.

In an interview after his speech, Dell said he wasn't worried about his company's news getting overshadowed by the media attention for Apple.

"I think our announcements are going to get the recognition they deserve," he said.

The two trade shows are booked years in advance. CES typically begins the first week of January, and Macworld the second week. Often in the past, the tail end of CES coincides with the beginning of Macworld. But this year, Jobs' opening keynote landed on the second day of CES.

Gary Shapiro, president and chief executive of the Consumer Electronics Association, said the organization decided many years ago to start pushing down the opening date of CES to allow its thousands of exhibitors more breathing room following the New Year.

Shapiro said the association has invited Jobs to deliver a keynote at CES in the past.

"Steve Jobs turned it down," Shapiro said, "but he said he'd be happy to come if we change the date."