I’ve been attending The Apple Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) in one way or another since 2011, when Steve Jobs introduced iCloud and Scott Forstall introduced iMessage. It has been great to see the conference gradually evolve over the years. But 2020 brought drastic changes with a new remote WWDC, necessitated by the global Coronavirus pandemic. I wanted to take a minute to review my thoughts on this year’s conference, in the context of my past WWDC experiences.
Here’s a quick record of my WWDC attendance:
- 2011 - in person
- 2012 - in person
- 2013 - in person
- 2014 - working nearby
- 2015 - at the Layers Conference nearby
- 2016 - in person
- 2017 - remote
- 2018 - at the Next Door Conference nearby
- 2019 - remote
- 2020 - remote
Pre-recording the keynote 👎
While I loved the level of video production in this year’s WWDC keynote, there’s still something exciting about a live event. The news appears to be happening right there before your eyes or on the screen. When the global health situation permits, I really hope that Apple brings back the live keynote style for their press announcements and the WWDC keynote.
Lack of a live schedule for developer sessions 👍
As a remote attendee, these were phenomenal on many levels. In past years, it was difficult to schedule my work and personal life around the sessions being broadcast live. This was especially true living on central time, where sessions go into the early evening here.
Presenters reading off teleprompters 👍
I would bet that this took less time than rehearsing lines for an on stage presentation. This also allowed for the sessions to be very compressed. Written scripts can often get to the point a lot faster than spoken rhetoric, and these developer sessions were often a great example of that. Just go look at the duration of a lot of the talks. They are much shorter than previous years. I also love the inclusion of desk pets and other things developers added to bring personality to their talks.
Not confined by physical space 👍
Before 2020, WWDC was always in a convention center. This means Apple had to group a collection of talks that happen in parallel, and are a similar length to let people out around the same time. As a restful, you would see sessions that are a collection of multiple smaller topics, like this session from WWDC 2016 on “Live Photo Editing and RAW Processing with Core Image”. This year, many of those sessions were separate videos. For example, the Photos team had two separate, shorter talks about the new photos picker and the new limited Photo Library API.
Developer app for Mac 👍
Attending remotely, the Developer app for Mac made it very easy to put sessions on and take notes or work with related code. There are also some great recent additions to the app like quick access to code samples and transcripts. On the Mac, Developer is not Apple’s greatest Mac app, but it’s a lot better and faster than using Safari for the same tasks in previous years.
Code-along sessions 👍
Another thing that’s easier to do remotely with video is a code along tutorial. This way users can stop and work on their own code in steps with the presenter. Apple did this with a series of code alongs for their new Widget API. They are fantastic and a great way to get started building widgets.
Remote labs 👎❓
I did not have a need to try the remote labs this year. In the past at WWDC I’ve had some great experiences in the labs. I really hope they are able to bring back the in person labs some day soon. While I’m sure the remote ones were helpful, it doesn’t change the fact that it is often easier to talk through difficult technical problems in person.
Not seeing other developers in person 👎
Whether it’s meeting up with long time WWDC attendee friends, or meeting new people, the connections you can make at the conference are invaluable, particularly for someone new to the field. While this can sort of happen on Twitter and other social media, nothing compares to being in-person.
Imagining a future WWDC
I really hope Apple continues to host a WWDC event in San Jose when this pandemic is over. WWDC has the power to bring lots of people together, which is helpful for the developer industry, and spawns many parallel conferences around it like Layers and AltConf. If Apple doesn’t ever do an in person conference again, I bet many satellite watch-party conferences will start up across the globe. This is good, but fails to bring together the amount of people that a single conference in San Jose can.
I would love to see Monday sessions return as they were with live events. Then the rest of the week could be any number of rooms screening pre-recorded videos of different sessions. You could use the app to see what’s playing in each room, or just pull up in one of the lounge areas and watch one on your own with some free coffee and Skittles (how else can you get through WWDC?!?). The labs would be ongoing throughout the week. Engineers from Apple would hopefully need to spend less time preparing their talks, and could focus on the labs during WWDC week.
Admit more attendees
One of the challenges with WWDC for years is that way more people want to go than Apple can admit. This has created parallel conferences that are nearby, so people can come to the area to learn, have fun, and network with the broader Apple crowd around WWDC. I think pre-recording the developer sessions would allow Apple to make the conference attendance larger. They could stagger showings in each room like a movie theater. This would help with crowd control. The Monday large events could scale to larger audiences, and then its just a matter of getting more conference rooms to increase the number of attendees. Right now WWDC is roughly 5,000 people. If they went to 8,000, are there enough hotel rooms in San Jose? Maybe they would need to move back to Moscone in San Francisco? 🤔