Steve Jobs is paranoid about security. The Apple CEO doesn't just happen to allow strangers to approach him, as during Jobs' coffee with his Google counterpart last week. Just ask anyone familiar with Jobs' high-security New York Times visit.
Journalists, of all people, seemed especially skeptical about Jobs' public appearance in front of a Silicon Valley café last week, Google's Eric Schmidt across the table from him. The intriguing coffee date, first reported by our colleagues at Gizmodo, smelled like a staged publicity event, as Gizmodo noted in its initial reporting.
Word from the newsroom is that Jobs had an advance team on site for days and days before he showed up. The security preparations included planning to ensure that Jobs could immediately enter and exit an elevator car at the Times building without being approached by Times reporters or other strangers. (If you have more details, do get in touch.)
That sort of shielding will sound familiar to those on hand for Jobs' exit from his iPad press event in January. When Jobs left the San Francisco demonstration hall he'd used to demo the device to press, he was accompanied by handlers who deflected the press and insisted they stop taking pictures of the CEO.
So now we're to believe that the man whose team meticulously planned a visit to a New York newspaper office to avoid undue exposure to strangers, and who had an entourage deflecting pictures during his walk across a short stretch of sidewalk in San Francisco — that this man didn't realize he'd be photographed and possibly mobbed at a shopping center in the heart of Silicon Valley, Palo Alto?
"Let's go discuss this somewhere more private," one of the two men reportedly said. Uh, sure, like in one of their highly secure mansions or corporate offices, or in the private dining room of a restaurant, or in the main dining room of a restaurant, or really anywhere indoors, for example inside the very café where the men were sitting.
To be sure, this was no case of direct manipulation by Apple. Gizmodo's Jobs photo was not supplied by Apple PR or even an anonymous source. The photographer was a reader Editorial Director Brian Lam had met at Snowmodo events and brought on to work one such event; Lam traded a snowboard for the photos. After gawking at Jobs with his friends, the high schooler returned to take the pics.
It's also true that Jobs has been seen relatively unguarded in public before, like that time he showed up to a children's soccer game with an iPhone prototype, or that time he supposedly bought a treat from the loose-lipped employees at Fraiche Yogurt. But when there's a likelihood of cameras and/or press and/or mass gawking — at the Times, in front of the iPad event — security has been tight. And a sit-down meeting with Eric Schmidt at the height of the Apple-Google rivalry is one of the more gawkable, photographable moments we can imagine, involving Jobs.
The fact there was no apparent security between Jobs and the cameras tells us as much as the image of the sit-down itself. The only question is why these companies are so eager to tamp down talk of their rivalry. It's hard to imagine the fight is hurting sales.
(Update: Added context about the original Jobs photographer.)