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WWDC 2012 – Day 5 Impressions

The last day at WWDC is almost only a half one since there is no structured program after the lunch-time talk. I attended a killer-design-talk that explained some of the design processes that Apple went through when designing the revolutionary interface for iPhoto for iOS.  That was awe-inspiring because gave us many pointers on how to approach designing ups more like they do at Apple.

In general I’ve been hearing the message that it might be more important what you don’t ship versus what you do. One should not be overly attached at the so called “sunk costs”. That is code you’ve been working on for several weeks already. This invested time should not prevent you from throwing it away if it is not truly great.

A similar thing is true for designing user interfaces. The iPhoto talk showed several throwaways and you totally understand the transition from mediocre to beautifully simple and usable. The focus on what is really important and the passion to develop new user interface paradigms around touch and gestures is what makes apps on iOS potentially magical.

For the second session I just had to attend a talk by one certain Apple engineer that I admire greatly. Front row seating was the thing to do as I was mentally sending him good thoughts and energy to aid him in doing a great talk.

Speaking of Magic …

The best speaker of all 3 lunch-time speakers in my humble opinion was J.J.Abrams who shared his history in storytelling with us. The main message was how his passion for magic and story-telling fuels all this work. And how he still is astonished what kinds of opportunities he gets by just simply stepping forward. He’s a sucker for visual effects but he also loves to combine these with the use of low-tech. Besides being an (apparently) awesome guy he has a certain boyish giddiness when he surprises himself.

There was a Q&A but unfortunately the other people before me queueing up at the microphones were wasting too much time with useless blabbering so that questions were ending at the guy right before me. That made me slightly angry, the question I was planning to ask was way more fundamental and of interest for all Star Trek fans: whose idea was it to blow up Planet Vulcan?

Though I think I might have gotten a hint at an answer for this question just a little earlier. JJ spoke on how nowadays people are almost never suprised by movies, because of trailers and all the reporting that spoils the experience. I think he opted (or at least liked) the planetary destruction because of the simple reason that most people watching the movie prequel would probably have a set notion as to the course of events. Hell, that’s canon, right?

By destroying Vulcan he achieved the sense of surprise that he was talking about. Very fundamentally so, because I don’t see any way how they could easily undo the giant explosion… unless there’s time travel involved which is always an option in Star Trek. But the real point is that JJ achieved that the moviegoers are leaving the theater with a sense of emotional involvement, especially because something unexpected happend.

JJ also mentioned the Movie FX app that his production company Bad Robot is selling on the app store. He is also fascinated by modern technology enabling almost everybody to be a story teller. And by letting users record their own video but then add totally crazy effects (crashes, explosions, bazooka, etc) allows everybody to feel a bit like JJ feels every day.

The coolest thing was that JJ told us about an easter egg in the app, “we put that in just for you guys”. To activate it you launch the app, shake the device and then tap three times on the center selector button. This unlocks a special effect where a old style Mac drops on the target with a large “Good-bye” on screen, a play on the “Hello” that the first Mac.

Thanks JJ for making us feel special and getting this rare chance to glimpse behind your scenes.

More Labs …

Apparently most people consider the WWDC over at lunchtime as one could tell by all these people leaving the premises. But actually they had open labs between 2 and 4 to continue picking some engineer’s brains, provided you could find any that had not been picked clean before.

I used this opportunity to ask a couple of questions that I spontaneously thought of. One was about container view controllers and why you couldn’t present a full screen VC from a non full screen container VC. Turns out that this is not what they think might happen because why would you want to mix that?

But I actually have a use case for that. In an upcoming major update to one of my apps I have a container VC that always shows the status bar. In a modally presented sub-VC however I want to have the ability to hide the status bar. The only workaround in my case is to have all VCs be wanting full screen layout and then offsetting the UI 20 pixels from the top to leave enough space for the bar.

But you know what’s great? After having found an engineer “in the know” I got this riddle I’ve been gnawing on answered with a single sentence. Followed by the explanation why this is and praise that my workaround is “probably the best one”. And we agreed that I should file a Radar with a sample showing this and a good use case to show where this might be used.

Something to do for me on my trip back home.

Square Townhall Party

I saw a tweet from an iOS engineer at Square, the company that does this audio-plug credit card reader. This was only one of two companies that were getting the WWDC banner love from Apple. So I guess the fruit company might really love the square company.

Up until today I had though of Square as a small startup, maybe a dozen people or so. When you enter their lobby (which humorously is totally square … as in rectangular with even sizes) you would never expert how their offices look like. When you exit the elevator you end up in a gigantic open space office with rows of tables in different directions. Big ceiling-mounted monitors give an impression of a control room at NASA. I dare not post any picture because we had to sign an NDA at the reception. Funny though, even the NDA was an iPad app with the typical Square signature field where you sign with your finger.

They have a combined kitchen/meeting area where already great deal of people where mingling. Two barkeepers were mixing drinks (I drunk myself silly on Shirley Temples) and I got the most amazing small portion food that I had ever seen at a WWDC party. Sorry Scribd, but Square is outdoing you.

It turns out that Square is doing these townhall-style meetings every week for their employees to gather and their CEO Jack is always presenting who the new hires are and often they also go through the slide deck from the latest board meeting. Square praises themselves when it comes to their openness, a stark contrast to Apple.

I talked to several of Square’s engineers and the general consensus is that everybody loves Square. They agreed that this is probably aided by Square seeing themselves as the “good guys” working against the “evil empire” held by the incumbent payment processing companies.

You can almost infer this without me writing it, but Square is hiring like crazy and their pace of growth is mind-boggling. Just as boggled as my own mind had become from this visit.

Conclusion

Once you are asked to leave the Moscone Center at 5 pm or when you leave any of the WWDC parties afterwards you begin to realize that we will soon return to our daily app developing routine. Apple hinted at an accelerated availability of the session videos due to the fact that the  “video gnomes have been busily at work all week”.

Once the videos are available a branch event of WWDC will have to take place at our own homes because of all the video material that we have to catch up on. Then there are the Radars that are showing as needing us to provide some sample code or to verify that iOS 6 has in fact resolved our issues. New Radars will have to be filed (preferable already with samples) based on things that we now know to be actual bugs, or feature requests that we want to see included in iOS 7.

Some hope still remains for people who missed out or who are in need of a second does of DubDub this year. If history can be extrapolated then there might be another Tech Talk World Tour this year in a couple of cities, even in Europe. Apple does not comment on unannounced conferences, but I think that this is a safe bet.

If anything then the knowledge that there will be a Tech Talk World Tour or WWDC 2013 should strengthen your resolve as early as you wake up from the coma induced by the travel and recuperation of this exhilarating week. Namely the resolve to get really good at filing Radars and to start collecting questions for the next time you get some lab time.


Categories: Apple

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