Apple CEO Steve Jobs today appeared at a software developers' conference in San Francisco to introduce a new operating system called Lion and a wireless service called iCloud, but his mere presence at the event dwarfed the announcement itself.
After several years of stories about his failing health and the self-imposed medical leave of absence he announced earlier this year, he got a standing ovation just for being there.
"We love you," shouted someone in the crowd.
"I appreciate it very much," Jobs answered.
Jobs, the mastermind behind the iPad, iPod, iPhone, iTunes and so much more of the iconic company's identity, has become such a looming figure in popular technology that you'd think he invented the apple, not just headed the company.
People emailing or Tweeting from the conference said he looked gaunt, though.
Jobs "looks extremely thin," ABC News correspondent Neil Karlinsky wrote in email from the audience, but added, "He's walking steadily and seems to have energy."
Macrumorslive.com, a website that covers Apple full-time, commented, "Steve sounds... exasperated. Weirdly quiet and not as energetic."
Jobs didn't stay long, commanding the stage for approximately 3 minutes. "Today we're going to talk about software," he said, before handing off to Phil Schiller, Apple's senior vice president for worldwide marketing.
Schiller and colleagues showed how the Lion operating system, on a properly-equipped computer, could offer the same kind of touch-to-activate features one finds on the iPad tablet. He said it offers 250 new features.
Jobs returned to the stage to introduce iCloud, a service he said would make it possible for users to access photos, music, documents and other content at any time from any device. He demonstrated how photos taken with an iPhone were visible on a user's iPad moments later.
ICloud, which will be free initially, replaces an earlier Apple service, MobileMe, which Jobs called "not our finest hour."
Many users of Apple devices had been frustrated that if, for example, they bought a piece of music from Apple's iTunes store, they were limited in how many places they could store it -- and in trouble if their iPod or MacBook computer broke down or was lost. The iCloud, Apple said, will solve such issues.
The service will integrate what you can get on different Apple devices, the company said. If you've been reading a book on an iPad, Jobs said, you can open it on an iPhone -- and the bookmark to show your place will open with it.
Personal photos, the company said, will not be kept permanently on Internet servers. After 30 days they will need to be downloaded to one's own devices, because they consume large amounts of computer memory.
Jobs Reappears from Medical Leave
Immediate reaction to the new offerings was positive, but many in the crowd of 5,200 were still reacting to Jobs himself, who wore a trademark black mock turtleneck and blue jeans.
Jobs' health has been a public issue since 2004, when he announced that he had a rare -- and treatable -- form of pancreatic cancer. In early 2009 he took a medical leave, and, it was later revealed, traveled to Memphis, Tenn., for a liver transplant. He came back to work full-time later that year, but in January of this year he took another medical leave.
This was his second public appearance since then. The other, in March, was for the release of the company's successful iPad 2 tablet.
Jobs had handed off day-to-day operation of the company to his principal deputies some years ago, so his medical problems have not greatly affected the firm's success. Apple stock, valued around $120 per share when he took his 2009 medical leave, hovered just below $340 today, though it dropped a bit more than one percent during the presentation.
"I don't know if you can read very much into Jobs' appearing at the conference," said Tim Bajarin of Creative Strategies, Inc., a consulting firm that follows Apple developments. "We know he's been at Apple's offices. Even though he's on medical leave, he's still very much involved."
Jobs also remains a rock star of the technology world. His authorized biography, "iSteve: The Book of Jobs," by former Time magazine editor Walter Isaacson, is not due for publication until next March, but Amazon.com is taking preorders, and Amazon reported it was ninth on its list of 100 bestsellers this afternoon.