State of the Union or State of Technology

Both will have followers hanging on their every word Wednesday

By Owen Thomas
|  Monday, Jan 25, 2010  |  Updated 2:00 PM PDT
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Just Your Average Joe-Bama

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Barack Obama and Steve Jobs are scheduled to speak on the same day.

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This Wednesday, from coast to coast, devoted acolytes will be looking to their savior for the word of truth.

But which one?

In a fluke of scheduling, Apple CEO Steve Jobs and President Barack Obama picked the same date to deliver long-awaited speeches.

In the morning, Jobs is expected to unveil a long-awaited tablet computer before a crowd of panting tech journalists. And later that same day, Obama will address a joint session of Congress with the State of the Union.

One's a market imperative; the other's a constitutionally mandated duty. But both are generating unreasonable expectations of instant fixes to hard problems.

The media industry is looking for Jobs to fix its revenue problems. A portable tablet computer will, executives hope, prompt consumers to spend freely on news, entertainment, and other information that they currently get for free on websites. Apple is reportedly talking with book publisher HarperCollins, and has briefed newspaper and magazine publishers on some of its plans.

Obama, meanwhile, is expected to offer solutions to the country's widening deficit, the widening healthcare impasse in Washington, immigration, and other thorny problems.

It's not the first time they've gone head-to-head: Obama delivered a big speech on healthcare the same day Jobs unveiled new iPods last September.

But there was more optimism in the air in San Francisco and in D.C. This time, I'm betting that both big shows will be met with carping disappointment. Apple's tablet will be declared overpriced and underpowered, missing some key geeky feature. And Obama's plans will get laundered through the D.C. spin cycle at Twitter speed.

In the end, rather than stealing each other's thunder, Obama and Jobs may be grateful for the coincidence. Each can console himself with the thought that he's not getting beat up as badly as that guy on the other coast.

And hey, at least they're not preempting Lost.

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