It’s hard for me to admit, but I’ve covered Apple’s worldwide development conference for more than a quarter of a century. I saw a sleeping conference in San Jose from an electrically charged event in San Francisco to an event where a ticket could not be found back to San Jose. And, like everyone else, I’ve been remotely participating in WWDC for the past two years via session videos posted on Apple’s developer site.
The lesson here is that WWDC is nothing if not changeable. Apple changes over time and so does its relationship with outside developers. But spending a day on the Apple Park campus this year as part of the company’s restructured WWDC, I can say this: I don’t think we’ll ever go back to the old WWDC, and I think that’s the right decision.
Apple’s success has changed WWDC forever
Before the epidemic, Apple always staged WWDC in a town at a public convention center rented for the occasion. Thousands of developers will attend the event, which began with a keynote address and detailed technical information about Apple’s platform divided into separate sessions. Because only a fraction of the developing community may be present, Apple provided videos of those sessions after authenticity, first on physical media and then finally on the Internet.
But the advent of the iPhone and the App Store has changed how Apple communicates with its developers forever. WWDC has become a hot ticket, and only a small fraction can be lucky enough to be present (and have enough money). Session video became even more important. Apple says it now has 34 million registered developers. Even the smallest imaginable space cannot fit a tiny fraction of the total.
Due to Apple’s success, by 2019, WWDC had lost much of its relevance as a personal event. It was a great party for those who were able to attend, but there was a distinct idea that the audience was just a studio audience, applauding a production and providing good images that were swallowed up by the rest of the world.
The epidemic forced Apple to take a full online event, and the results were impressive. Unlike private sessions, where presenters were tied to a lecture and forced to adhere to hard time slots, Apple’s online sessions could be as long as needed and presented more dynamically in the bright, attractive rooms of Apple Park. Everything was on demand, which was published in the daily Bingz drops, like Netflix’s worst ever show.
Apple has even embraced the online community for WWDC. There are virtual technology discussions and labs. Apple engineers are currently hanging out at the official WWDC 2022 Slack, answering developers’ questions in real-time.
It works very well. There is really nothing to go back to when it comes to the education part of WWDC.
But here’s the thing: WWDC isn’t just about education and developer outreach. It’s also a media event where Apple unveils its operating system strategy for next year – and, yes, it will probably drop some new hardware announcements just for fun.
This is our home
With WWDC 2022, Apple has found a good mix of old and new. It invited the media to the keynote address, as it did in the old days. It invited a small (but still significant) number of developers to watch Apple Park’s keynote address.
Apple is a secret company, and you would think that the possibility of inviting all these people to its campus could be a non-starter. But Apple is also a company that likes to control as many aspects as it can. I can’t believe the company has used their convention facilities with the cities of San Francisco and San Jose, bought hotel blocks, paid for expensive and substandard catering, worked around other conference dates, and enjoyed the rest.
Apple Park North. Apple Park is Apple’s own real estate, its amenities, its schedule, its food service, its parking lot and even its security and crowd control. The company has built a huge theater so that it can host any main event, and it has multiple outdoor spaces that can serve a large crowd. (This last one was seen to be effective in the case of a painful ongoing epidemic that made it harder to sell to get more people into the house.)
WWDC is not like other Apple events because it caters exclusively to developers. (Except for the keynote, which is not really for them but for the general public.) Although this year’s WWDC was very different from previous years and the number of outside participants dropped dramatically, those who were lucky enough to get a ticket traveled for a lifetime.
This year’s participants were among the first members of the general public to stand inside the Ring Building in Apple Park. (This was my first time in the big ring, and it’s much more impressive than it looks in the picture.) They were able to sit in fancy wooden chairs, eat at fancy wooden tables, and climb fancy marble stairs. They were at the center of the Apple world – in fact, at this point in time, when we said that downtown San Jose was the center of Apple World at WWDC Week.
Apple used Apple Park this week to unveil its new Developer Center building, just south of the Visitor Center. Equipped with a meeting room and a small theater, it is clear that Apple wants its Cupertino campus to be a destination for developers for the next few years.
I can’t say for sure what next year’s WWDC will bring, but I have a hard time imagining that it won’t be like this year’s model. The keynote address will be a major media event সম্ভবত perhaps at the Steve Jobs Theater?
Is it less exciting than a crowd of thousands on the streets of San Jose? Similarly, yes. But this is the right approach for Apple and 99.9999 percent for developers who will never trip.