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PAUL BOUTIN — True story in my inbox: "I just went into the Apple store in Soho to buy the Apple TV device. Asked the shop assistant. Clearly not the first. February, he answered, tersely." Hey pal, didn't you pay attention? None of the gadgets unveiled today — the iPhone, Apple TV, the new Airport Extreme with 802.11n — will hit the stores for at least a month. Whatever happened to "and it's available TODAY?"

A big part of the fun of Apple events past was watching the tech press get totally end-run by Jobs and company. Four Macworlds ago, analysts promised nothing but price cuts for the recession. Reporters rumormongered a story buried somewhere in CNET's archives: The new gadget would be "a portable multimedia device, less than one inch thick." Correct if they meant a one-inch thick supersize, metal-skinned, $3,300 PowerBook. Oh, and a 12" Mini-Me version, too. Surpriiiiise!

The other part of the fun was writing about stuff readers could actually order, instead of rewriting long-term promises for, say, Intel's now-forgotten Viiv. The dual thrill of liveblogging a Stevenote was (a) letting 2 million fellow fanboys in on the show, and (b) hitting reload on the Apple Store in another browser window so I could order mine first.

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No luck today. Steve hauled out a TV box we'd seen already but can't have yet, and a phone for which we can only "sign up to learn more." I've made a name by doing hands-on reporting about stuff that's ideally already available. If this is the new face of Macworld, I can stay home and read it on Engadget.

Funny thing is, though the biggest surprise was when Steve's clicker conked out, the press grunts here grouse about the lack of advance briefings (watch Time's reporter rub his exclusive meeting in their faces.) A few drinks into Tuesday evening south of Market Street, it's hard to avoid a boozy Macworld hack who needs to tell you that after fifteen — no wait, twenty years following this industry, he can totally fucking assure you my friend that this is what happened today:

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  • The iPhone and Apple TV are late products the company couldn't keep secret any more.
  • Bloggers have destroyed Steve's leash on the God damned media.
  • Those wet-nosed brats at Google leaked. He had to decloak, he had to.
  • Jobs needs the buzz ASAP to save himself from this stock options ... this .... fiasco! He's a disgrace to the company that built the computer I saved up my pennies to buy back in — [Bartender, cut my friend off, ok?]

Here's what's really going on. Apple isn't competing with Microsoft anymore, or with Dell or with white-box PC makers. The former Apple Computer is now just Apple , a consumer electronics company. The consumer electronics industry already has its own calendar. Sales are geared up for Christmas, followed by next year's new product previews first week of January. Even His Steveness can't buck the schedule.

If Apple were starting from scratch in 2007 we'd have gotten the iPhone demo onstage in Vegas today. But over the years Jobs has garnered a hugely disproportionate mob of fanboys in the tech press (guilty as charged, Jack) who'll fly to Frisco for the occasion, at the expense of skipping part or all of the consumer electronics industry's Super Bowl.

Why unveil the iPhone today instead of June? Because the competition are doing the same thing, same day as they've done every year with their own infuriating "sign up to learn more" preview campaigns. By holding his own mini-CES 500 miles away, Jobs literally stole the show. As I sit here typing in a sulk, an NPR stringer in Vegas just messaged, "CES is dead because iphone is all that mattered today. there is a mood of — like everyone here went to the wrong party."

I hate to say it, but: Genius.