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Jobs faces shareholders

The interim Apple CEO hosts a "town hall" meeting and promises to step up efforts in the consumer market later this year.

CUPERTINO, California--Apple Computer's acting chief executive Steve Jobs addressed shareholders in a "town hall" setting here today and promised to step up efforts in the consumer market this year.

Jobs didn't provide specifics, but told shareholders to stay tuned. As reported, Apple has been working on a low-cost, easy-to-use device code-named Columbus. The interim CEO didn't mention it, however.

He did say that Apple and Intuit soon will make a joint announcement, without getting into specifics.

Jobs also disclosed that Apple is considering licensing its Newton technology to some companies, but cautioned that no announcements are yet on the horizon. The Mac maker had been approached about selling the technology outright, but was put off by the fact that the amounts were for "small sums of money," he said, adding that Apple is still considering using the technology itself.

The gathering marks the first time in years that Jobs has met with shareholders at the company he started with Steve Wozniak. In 1985, Jobs left Apple after losing a power struggle. Last year, he returned, and since has returned the company to profitability with a strategy of cost-cutting and a focus on high-margin products. Some analysts, however, are cautious about declaring a full-fledged turnaround until the company's sales grow steadily.

One of the questions today involved Jobs's own status as acting CEO. One shareholder asked: "I don't fault your performance, but the word 'interim' is of concern. I see that as being unfinished [business]."

Jobs responded: "Some people worry about the word 'interim,' but they weren't worried about the last CEO [Gil Amelio], and he wasn't interim."

After the meeting adjourned, Apple director Ed Woolard told CNET's NEWS.COM that there is no "active" search is under way for a permanent CEO. He said Jobs was firmly in charge.

In turn, Jobs assured the audience the he wasn't solely responsible for the improvements in Apple's financial performance. "Don't be fooled into thinking this is a one-man show," he said.

Jobs summed up Apple's strategy as follows: to build great products at healthy margins that people want to buy. He provided no details on the company's upcoming Rhapsody operating system.

Some analysts and shareholders had hoped to receive more detailed information. Scott Hudson, a former Apple employee who now is an analyst with the research firm In-Stat, commended Jobs's turnaround efforts, but added: "Now they have to build on that base. A year from now, if things are the same, shareholders will not be happy."

Hudson said he wanted to know more about Apple's plans for addressing the need for low-cost computers, but he could understand why executives might be holding back details for competitive reasons.

The shareholders' meeting was held in building 4 of the Apple campus. Apple at a glance Last year, it was held in the auditorium of a nearby community college, with then-CEO Amelio standing at a podium. Jobs, who eschewed making a long speech, was joined on stage by Apple's top executives to answer questions.

Apple said in February it would stop work on Newton, upsetting many users. In an open letter to Apple's management today, the Newton Developers Association stated: "Since the cancellation of Newton, at least two companies have made offers to purchase the technology from Apple. The sale of Newton technology will increase Apple's bottom line. This is beneficial for Apple investors and the Newton community."

Intuit intimated earlier this week that it was discontinuing a version of its popular financial software Quicken for the Mac because of declining sales. Jobs said it was Apple's fault for not getting "in Intuit's face" enough. Intuit said it was still committed to the Mac, though.

NEWS.COM reporter Jim Davis and editor Jeff Pelline contributed to this report.