As of this writing, there's about 24 hours until Apple hosts its latest product event, and speculation about what the company will release has become a blood sport.
I would argue that the biggest release will be an upgraded Steve Jobs, and that at least this time around, the products will take a back seat to his return, quite literally, to center stage.
Sure, there's the requisite speculation about what new attributes a new class of iPods will feature; whether the iPod Classic gets an even bigger hard drive, or gets retired all together; whether new iPod Touches and Nanos get cameras; whether Paul McCartney or Mick Jagger joins Jobs on stage.
But it's "Jobs on stage" that will be the show stealer.
Make no mistake: Jobs is back, in charge, firmly in control. Yet it's one thing to hear it, or read it, but it's a far different proposition to see it. Apple's shares are running today and it very well could be a "buy on the rumor" scenario, but I get the feeling investors will build on that momentum tomorrow as long as Jobs serves as ring master.
Since his return, we've gotten hints of him running the show: that single quote in an iPhone press release; a snapshot of him walking with a colleague on Apple's campus; a Wall Street Journal article capturing the lament of Apple employees once again having to deal with the wrath of this tough taskmaster, driving the development of the long rumored Mac tablet.
But nothing will bring the theory into reality better, more clearly, than Jobs taking the stage to tell us just how amazing, incredible, elegant, brilliant, awesome even the smallest new iPod detail is. Mac fans have been desperate to hear from Jobs himself-it's been a year and the Jobs absence from the public eye is leading to a kind of withdrawal for some.
Love him; hate him; love the company; hate the company: you simply cannot argue Apple's financial fundamentals and its penchant for exceeding expectations. And no one can sell Apple like Steve Jobs. He is the CEO of this company and if for some reason he decides to pass hosting responsibilities to Tim Cook or Phil Schiller, that would a be a problem.
Some might still believe his return is a charade; some might wonder how he's really doing; what kind of control and motivation he's truly exerting.
And only time and execution will put those worries to rest. Wednesday's event will be key in marking Jobs' return to the helm, and it's the best possible news for Apple shareholders who rode a nauseating rollercoaster ride last year, and who have been holding on for dear life to the rocket ship ride these shares have been on year to date.
A few key upgrades recently call for Apple shares to reach $200 in the next 12 months. With holiday shopping on the way, a new crop of iPods, Mac sales surging, retail activity soaring, that staggering $33 billion in cash in the bank, the App Store enjoying explosive growth, and iPhone continuing to gobble up market share-not to mention iTunes, AppleTV, the MacOS, and an improving economy, it seems momentum continues on Apple's side.
Now inject Jobs back into the recipe and you get that "Bam!" Emeril is always talking about. For the past year, Apple has stressed its "deep bench" and that the company is bigger than just one guy. While I believe that to be true, that message will fade to the background Wednesday.
Make sure to check back here Wednesday. I'll be live blogging the event and we'll have updates throughout the day.
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