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Jobs Retakes Center Stage at Apple Event

SAN FRANCISCO - Apple CEO Steve Jobs returned to the public spotlight Wednesday for the first time since taking a medical leave earlier this year, saying he "wouldn't be here" had it not been for a liver transplant.

Jobs said he now has the liver of a young adult who died in a car crash. "I hope all of us can be as generous and think about becoming organ donors," Jobs said, taking the stage at an event to promote new Apple music products.

His previous major public appearance was at an Apple event last fall, where his thin physique spurred questions about his health. By the end of the year, the company announced he would take a medical leave. He returned in June.

At the event Wednesday, Apple introduced new updates to its iPod line, along with software additions, but much of the attention was focused on having Jobs back on stage. Wearing his trademark jeans and black turtleneck shirt, Jobs was still very thin, a little less energetic than before, but clearly in control.

"Steve made a statement: I'm back, and I'm the leader," says Gene Munster, an analyst at Piper Jaffray.

In a conference room afterward, with new Apple products nearby, Jobs clearly relished his return.

"I'm feeling fine. It's great to be back at work," he told USA TODAY.

The Apple corps

Jobs' medical leave ushered in a wave of concern about whether Apple could survive without him. Few companies are as identified with a CEO as this tech icon, who is credited with overseeing the most minute details of the Apple universe, from the colors of an Apple retail store to the shape of a new iPod.

Charles Wolf, an analyst at Needham&Co., says there is a "Jobs premium" on Apple stock, which closed Wednesday at $171.14, down $1.79, after reaching a 52-week high of $174.47 earlier in the day.

While Jobs was gone, the company was run by Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook. Executive Vice President Phil Schiller filled in on live product demos. Apple survived.

For Wednesday's presentation, Jobs was on stage for about 25% of the one-hour event. The rest of the time was given to other Apple executives. "Apple realized it had too many eggs in Steve's basket," says Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at Interpret. "It's the one lesson they learned: There's more to Apple than just Steve."

Company executives spent much of Wednesday showing off new iPods and software updates, which Munster called a "non-event." Jobs likely is focused on bigger-picture products, he says. "He's dreaming up where things are going, not iPods. (He's focused on) the living room, the iPhone, a new (unannounced) tablet computer."

On stage, Jobs announced the addition of an FM radio tuner, a pedometer and a video camera to the iPod Nano, which will take on the popular and inexpensive Flip camera from Pure Digital. "We've seen video explode in the last few years, . . . and we want to get in on this," he said.

The Nano, the pint-size version of the bigger iPod, is the best-selling iPod in Apple's line. The company has sold 100 million Nanos, out of 220 million total iPods. The new Nanos, available for $149 with 8 gigabytes of memory, or $179 with 16 GB, went on sale Wednesday.

The iPod, introduced in 2001, revived Apple's fortunes and enabled the company to dramatically increase its market share in computers. It also established Apple - thanks to its iTunes Store - as the dominant music retailer.

Apple said Wednesday that it has passed Wal-Mart, Target and Best Buy retail stores, as well as Amazon's e-commerce site, as the major avenue for consumers to buy music. Apple has sold about 8.5 billion songs since 2001.

To keep music fans interested, Apple introduced several software additions Wednesday, including a new version of iTunes (a free download) which has a cleaned-up interface and improved Genius features to help listeners find music and mixes based on songs they like.

A feature called iTunes LP includes album extras, such as photos, videos and liner notes.

You can create a wish list and post recommendations on Facebook. A new sync function makes it easier to organize your apps in iTunes, then sync them to your iPhone or iPod Touch.

Munster says Apple has narrowed its marketing focus on the iPod as three distinct lines: the iPod Classic for music, the Nano for the YouTube generation and the Touch for games.

The iPod isn't the smash hit it once was, but with the refresh, Munster says, Apple likely will sell 20 million iPods over the holidays, about on par with last year.

Analyst Wolf thinks one of the bigger announcements Wednesday was something that got scant attention: a new Genius feature that recommends software applications for the iPhone. As in iTunes, the software learns your likes and dislikes and helps you find new apps.

"This is absolutely crucial to Apple," he says. "If you can't discover the apps, you won't buy them, developers will stop offering them for the iPhone, and iPhone sales will dwindle. Now you have a service that will actually help users find apps."

Jobs' road to recovery

At the Apple event, Jobs' limited time on stage didn't surprise analysts.

"I expected him to do a cameo," says Gartner's Van Baker. "He was more involved than I thought he'd be."

Dr. Richard Goldberg at the University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center says it usually takes liver-transplant patients about three months to fully recover.

Jobs, however, "started in a pretty weakened position," he said. "He was acutely ill, as evidenced by the pictures of him."

Goldberg thinks Jobs is looking at about six months for a full recovery.

By opening his appearance by addressing the liver transplant right off the bat, "He did what he had to do to get it out of the way and focus on the products," Gartenberg says.

Baker says had Jobs not shown up, "It would have raised more questions."

Still, his appearance was the talk of the day. Even singer Norah Jones, who finished the presentation by performing two numbers, had something to say about it.

"Thanks to Steve Jobs for having us here," she said. "I'm really happy to see him doing well."

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