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Reading Into The WWDC App

7 days (and change) before the WWDC 2013 Keynote presentation Apple released the official app to accompany the conference. Due to the (sudden, unexpected, surprising) sell-out of the conference Apple decided on several changes.

For starters the WWDC app allows all registered developers to log in and provides benefits even for developers who did not score a golden ticket. In previous years – if I remember correctly – the app would only let you see its contents if you had an activated WWDC to your name.

WWDC 2013 is even more highly anticipated than any previous Apple event due to the widespread notion that Apple is doomed if they don’t announce many big and impressive new things. For lack of anything better to pick apart, let’s do a bit of tea-leaf-reading on the WWDC 2013 app.



The first thing to notice is the “new flat look” of the icon itself. The purple background reminisces of the Apple internal code name for the original iPhone: Purple 2. When you install the app you get a badge icon with the number 2, as there are two posts in the News section. One to welcome the user, visible for everybody. And the second with a link to install a WWDC pass, only visible for logged in WWDC ticket holders. Might this also reference Purple 2? Either that or this will be first WWDC 2.0.

The logo itself is an even color, entirely white, without any gimmicks, like for example the boot-up logo for iOS 6 which has a curve through it. It communicates in no uncertain terms what the new look should be about: high contrast between background and what is important. To an extent that if you only briefly glance at it you only see the message. No leather background, no brushed metal. The dark purple is as close to black as a color-loving company like Apple dares to go.

The clear statement is that it is a clear statement. Gone are the times when Apple would recommend implementing valuable looking fake materials to spice up the perceived value of your app. Now your apps should be showing their content without distractions.


Consider the evolution of the WWDC app over the last 4 years, 2010 through 2013. What trend do you see? Anything strikingly new?

WWDC App 4yrs

The first two years, Apple had to work with the stock UITabBarController and standard colors for navigation bars. iOS 5 introduced the ability to customize these, and so they went to neutral gray.

Previously buttons and bars had gradients and gloss, those are almost completely gone. Not to say that the UI “looks flat” now, but have a look at the bar buttons. They still look like buttons, but with a flat instead of a convex surface. The typical assumed source of light was always at the top, but the effect is like somebody pulled the lamp to be way closed.

Look at the tab bar at the bottom. This now has a shadow at the top – if that is supposed to be any shadow at all, it could also be seen as a gray line – as to tell the user that the tabs are below the level of the schedule. Previously the tab buttons would be competing with the content either due to their black tint or due to the shadow communicating them to be closer to the user.

I also found the placement of the access to your favorites interesting. 2010 and 2012 this was a tab of its own, 2011 and 2013 it was featured at the top as a segmented control where it makes much more sense. This should be a viewing mode of the schedule, not a section by itself. Also having it at the top means you have 4 items balancing out the top with the bottom. I believe that symmetry is also going to be one of the new design values.

The first time we also see a different look for section headers. It has long been a pet peeve of mine that I felt the bluish tint of the section headers didn’t fit well with normal table views. Also due to the dark tone of gray this required that text on it had to have a shadow to be readable. Now the general preference seems to be for dark text on lighter background, which is also more pleasing to the eye.

Finally, what’s with the placement of the Now button? On the right side it is easier reachable for right-handed people.  Getting to the current session in the list is more important than to filter sessions. Hence this decision.


In 2011 and 2012 there was a Photos tab which didn’t see much use. Granted a few pictures appeared there after much delay eventually. But generally this was a gimmick. Michael Jurewitz will still be roaming the WWDC halls with his DSLR, now that he is back with Apple. But we will no longer see any pictures of his in the WWDC app.

Photos had to be replaced with Videos. To appease the ticket losers Apple – for the first time – will be adding the WWDC session videos to the app on the same day they are held. It will still be recordings – not streams as some had hoped – but still Apple is to be commended for shouldering this enormous logistics effort.

As a placeholder – until this years contents arrives – you get all the videos from the previous 2 years to watch. Which is a very welcome gesture for all developers since watching the videos over iTunes or the web site has always been somewhat tedious. Now you can filter by category and even search for specific strings.

Really really good job on the video viewer guys! I’ll probably keep this app installed on all my devices just for this feature!

Update: Nick S dissected the WWDC app and found evidence of a NIB for displaying a Photo Gallery after all:

Bet you photos appear once the conference starts. There’s a NIB named WWDCPhotosViewController that isn’t in the 2012 app … but that said, there’s no tab bar icon in the bundle for photos. I’m probably reading too much into it.

So there might be photos, but probably not accessible through the tab bar which is reserved to the core functionalities of the app.


The only benefit you get from signing in with your Apple ID is access to the maps of the conference rooms. Which kind of makes sense, since if you are not going to the conference you have no need to know where Presidio is located.

When Passbook got introduced last year many people had been speculating that Apple might switch from Plastic Badges to Passbook for access to Moscone West. But if you have been to WWDC a couple of times you know that this is impractical. The badges serve the purpose of allowing security personal to quickly judge whether or not you should be permitted to be there.

This could not be done with Passbook. Even if you could ask developers to have a sufficiently charged iOS device with them, it is simply too easy to produce convincingly looking passes, as some people creating their own fake WWDC passes have demonstrated. Which on the following screenshot is the real pass and which is the fake?

Real and Fake WWDC Passbook passes

The WWDC passbook pass is not meant to replace your badge. Rather it contains a QR code which allows the registration desk to look up your registration. This is a faster and more convenient alternative to the previous checking of long printed out lists. You show your photo ID and let them scan your pass:

“*Beep* Welcome to WWDC. What is your shirt size?”

It is somewhat unfortunate that Apple has adopted such a strict stance on the non-transferability of WWDC tickets. 2011 was the last year when this was really possible because you just needed the activation code and anybody could redeem that.

This year if you tried to activate a code from a different account then you would get an error message. Apple only permits to transfer tickets to accounts which had been a member of your development team at the time of the ticket announcement. What Apple does not seem to see is that developers always find ways …

There will be badges. And there still will be people who miraculously have a different name for the week. If I bump into you and you are one of these, then don’t worry that I might rat you out. I’m also of the opinion that Apple’s stance is counter-productive.


People make it a game to favorite the  “To Be Announced” sessions and labs and then to check what these turned into after the keynote. Apple generally makes anything TBA even if there is only the slightest possibility of something new in there. Less frequently they schedule repeat sessions based on demand. I once heard that they are analyzing how many people favorite what and then use that as input.

The biggest and most important room at WWDC is Presidio. Anything scheduled in there means that Apple anticipates the most interest in that. And here it is of particular interest to us that there are currently 17 TBA sessions scheduled in Presidio. I feel that this is a good sign that Apple has many important announcements to make, announcements that many attendees will want to watch.

There are also 17 topics for labs that Apple doesn’t want to reveal yet. Could those be the same big topics?

Cameron Perry found:

I noticed one of the iOS Labs is XPC (though the session seems to be OSX). Coincidence or typographic error?

Apple seems to lump together GCD and XPC in this year. GCD as being not really that new any more so that most developers probably have gotten a grip on it. And XPC being a technology that already exists on Mac for a while and that is rumored to be coming to iOS this year.

Either way I think that the sheer number of big TBAs is telling that Apple has been saving all great stuff their engineers had been building over the past year to be released in a grandiose fireworks display.

There have always been 3 “sessions” that are non-technical in nature: Apple Design Awards, Stump the Experts and the Bash. But WWDC 2013 has 33% more FUN! Stump the Experts is followed by a new “WWDC After Dark” which promises to be a hybrid hackathon and mingling party:

Join fellow developers and explore the exciting tools and technologies in the new seeds and SDKs. Grab some pizza and snacks, then explore, code, and share ideas with your colleagues and Apple engineers.

Apple only ever referred to OS X builds as “seeds”. And they typically seed OS X versions that are pretty close to getting released.

Update: Sebastian Niesen informs us:

The last time they had pizza was in 2007, then 5 years without pizza, and now it seems to be back. Nice touch.

I wonder if they’ll reintroduce having electronic swag, too. If I remember correctly the last thing we got was the Magic Mouse in what, 2004/5?

Out with the Forstall, in with the Pizza. We like!


The visuals of the new WWDC app seem to give a few hints about changes to the design language of iOS 7, although I feel that it is more of an overall trend the roots of of which can be traced all the way back to the the 2010 WWDC app.

I think you cannot do much wrong if you predict that WWDC 2013 will be the awesomest WWDC ever. In the least Apple will do their best to give us many new shiny things to work with: exciting tools and technolgies, new seeds and SDKs.

If Apple indeed will release entirely new product categories in the fall, then it is highly likely that some of these TBA sessions will cover programming for these new categories.

Categories: Apple


  1. I don’t think there’s a drop-shadow above the 2013 tab bar – if you scroll the tableview you’ll see the grey line you mention is actually the bottom-border of the bottom tablecell, which makes the tab bar look level with the tableview, not below it (imho!).