There are any number of ways Steve Jobs could have made an appearance at Apple's developer's conference today. He didn't. Yet the company still built heavy buzz for what could have very easily turned out as a lackluster product refresh.

Speculation had been thick that Jobs would put in a cameo at the conference. Late last week, the Wall Street Journal reported the CEO would likely return to Apple at the end of June, as planned, and might drop by today's event.

Instead, Jobs left senior VP Phil Schiller to handle his second major Apple event without the CEO.

Even barring a brief on-stage appearance, Jobs, at the tail end of his medical leave, had other options. He'd have been great for demonstrating the video camera on the new iPhone, for example, via a recorded greeting for the conference keynote audience.

But if this is Apple without Jobs, it doesn't look so terrible. Early indications are that the company's new products will receive the customary lavish attention in the mainstream press, even though anyone who's got the old model will have to fork over at least $500 for the upgrade (read the fineprint) and the best new software features are still useless for American customers. Just like Apple's stock, the company's products can still muster cultlike interest, even in the cult leader's absence.