The 26th annual Apple Worldwide Developer’s Conference was held June 8th through 12th in the Moscone West conference center. It was my fourth attendance to the show, with only 2014 being a break in my streak.
I had extensively written about the wrap up of first WWDC in 2011, chronicled my WWDC 2012 days (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) individually and wrote about the lack of women at WWDC 2013. Back then the unofficial percentage of female attendees was at about 4%.
2014 was the first time Apple tried a lottery system for WWDC tickets: you could enter to win the chance to buy a ticket. This marked the end of the second-long-sellout problem. Since the number of developers wishing to attend is growing every year Apple had to start making the session videos available already while the conference was still going on.
Apple tweaked the lottery system for 2015 because it had developed an unintended side effect. Many people ended up not buying a ticket even though they had won the right to purchase it. Others bought the ticket, but found ways to have somebody else attend even though the rules only allowed transfer within the same company.
So in 2015 the system was that you would put down your credit card information and the lottery winners would have the ticket be paid from their card, eliminating the chance to bail out of the deal.
With this change a new problem started, as Ray Wenderlich told me while we were hiking with Sam Soffes. People were fearing that they would end up with too many tickets if every developer in their team would sign up for the drawing. Tickets ARE expensive and you couldn’t afford to be too lucky. So they signed up for only one or two, ending up with none.
According to Tim Cook, 80% of attendees where first timers. That means about 1000 attendees had gotten a ticket once before. I was one of them, because of development teams!
I was sad when I got the letter that I did not win. But then one of my business partners told me that he won, but he’d rather buy a new laptop with the money. WWDC tickets are non-transferable, with one exception: within the same development team. Since I am member of my partner’s development team, this transfer occurred fully sanctioned by Apple.
Therefore my recommendation for future WWDC lotteries is this: try to be member of as many development teams as you can. 😉
Ticket-Lottery: Works for some, fails for others. But no better way. 3 stars.
Moscone West is the only location in San Francisco which is able to accommodate this amount of people. Apple made many improvements in the ground floor lab area to make it more open, more friendly and more comfortable.
Two large viewing areas, “Dolores Park” and “Buena Vista Park” touted massive TV screens which were streaming select sessions from the floors above. Sofas and bar-like seating invited people to mingle, eat, work and watch.
The lab areas where enlarged compared to years before with the download area (with ethernet) being lined along the side of the hall and a smaller size bunch of tables with ethernet ports and power. The lesser amount of download seating was balanced with 4 alcoves each on the second and third floors.
A company store selling Apple logo-ed merchandise was present. Although the selection of T-Shirts was a bit of a let down. The only slogan I could find was “Dub Dub” and it was frequently sold out in my size. With the Cupertino company store being closed for refurbishment there will be some time until you can buy something with an Apple logo.
It was little surprise that the WiFi network couldn’t cope with the masses of people around Presidio. It got much better on day 2, but me keeping away from masses of people might also have contributed to it working for me for the most part.
Somehow I failed to get into the rhythm of when and where I could get food, drinks or coffee. On more than one occasion I was hungry or thirsty but could not fill my need. The times when I snatched a boxed lunch I was usually disappointed. I found those mostly bland and dry compared to earlier years. For drink I would sometimes find various sodas or refrigerators with Odwalla drinks. The greatest new addition there was an Odwalla protein shake. I tried to stay away from drinking too much sugar or caffeine to avoid getting too nervous. So even if I had found more to drink, I probably would not have consumed it.
I suspect that this was my own fault though, I was hectically running around between labs to get my app fixed and published.
The main problem with Moscone Center West as the venue for WWDC is that you cannot get any good rate for accommodation in June. Because Apple is putting up WWDC always around the same time hotels and AirBNB hosts alike are more than doubling their prices. I have heard stories of developers getting their AirBNB reservation cancelled at the last minute because their greedy hosts want to make more money. Even though AirBNB has rules against that, usually blocking the time where you cancelled the reservation for, because this is a thing that only happens once per year the hosts usually get away with it and get the week unblocked with a call to AirBNB support.
You usually cannot find any hotels at less than $200 per night, some people I met would have spent up to $270 per night. My advantage is that I can make myself comfortable in almost any setting, so I found a cheap hostel run by Chinese in Chinatown where I paid $500 for almost two weeks. Albeit with crappy WiFi, which is why I am now sitting in a Starbacks down the street which touts “WiFi by your friends at Google.”
The only way Apple could improve in this would be to not do WWDC in San Francisco any more. Wouldn’t it be awesome if it instead were held at the new spaceship campus in a few years?
Venue, WiFi and Nourishments: Apple is making the best of the only available venue, but logistics are hard, and expensive. 3 stars
Line in the Sand
Queuing is ever-present at WWDC. Though, as somebody pointed out: “Americans don’t queue, they get in line”. There are lines for the keynote, lines for the (men’s) toilets, lines for getting an appointment with an Apple Designer, lines for the lunchtime sessions, lines for most sessions.
For people like me, who don’t like to wait, this is a big drawback of WWDC. Fortunately some of the lines you don’t need to get in anymore. The App Store labs have established a nice iPad-based reservation system that would give you 15 min slots. The sessions are better in MP4. And if you time it right, you get good seats at the giant TV screens on the first floor.
I was uncertain if I would queue for the keynote but I must have been anxious to get to the keynote, so I woke up around 3, unable to get back to sleep. Shortly thereafter I joined my queue buddy in line. When it came to turning the corner at the main entrance, people largely forgot their manners and tried to cut the corner by climbing through the rails there. Then there was the “no running” dash to get good positions on the second floor…
Record amounts of garbage were left behind once the keynote queue had cleared. Those 80% of new attendees apparently had not gotten the memo that Apple had abolished automatic garbage collection a few years ago.
Even though the building was supposed to open at 7 am, security would only let people enter around 8 when a massive queue for the design labs had formed. To the detriment of normal people who only wanted to get on the WWDC ethernet for downloading videos and playthings.
The support staff did their best pointing out the tails of lines with hand-held signs. In summary, if you only got into the lines for something that you would not get any chance to get to otherwise, then you could tolerate a little bit of queueing.
The queues, the lines and the ugly: I managed to only get in line 3 or 4 times. 3 stars.
As usual the sessions themselves were on par with the benchmark set forth by previous years. For a long time they will be the de facto reference of choice to quickly learn about certain concept. ASCIIwwdc provides a searchable transcript of all WWDC sessions since 2010. On many occasions I found myself looking up which talk would treat a specific subject and then go and watch the talk on Apple’s videos website.
Much to the surprise – and delight – of everybody, the 2015 session videos – for the first time in recorded history – feature video of the speakers. However animated the keynote slides might have been previously, without seeing the human presenter they would remain slightly dry.
The first talk I watched in the new format was What’s New in Xcode. Seeing Ken Orr on stage made me think that he reminded me of somebody famous, maybe an actor or movie star. He was just as brilliant a presenter as Kate Stone who talked about debugging later in the same talk. Apple has some veritable stage talents amongst their engineers.
At the Apple Design Awards session I saw two blind guys demonstrate how well a certain app would work for them. That gave me chills and made me think “damn right, why don’t more blind people do the accessibility talks”? I got the strong impression that Apple is actively trying to get more diverse speakers to hold sessions, including a greater share of woman. Both the Keynote as well as the Platforms State of the Union talks had way more women speakers than ever before.
Now that you can see the presenters, everybody has the best seats in the session. So the only reason for me to actually go to certain presentations was to meeting Apple celebrities. One notable example was the Advanced NSOperations session given by Dave DeLong. There he explained how you could use dependencies in NSOperations to chain preconditions. Blew my mind.
In previous years there was always a Stomp the Experts session, which was not being recorded. This year this show got cancelled. Maybe because it didn’t fit the fresh new style of WWDC. I had seen one instance of it in 2013, but I thought it weird and not very funny. Newbies like us don’t derive much entertainment from obscure factoids from Apple’s early history. It was a good call to terminate that.
The lunchtime sessions however remained and were great. Those also usually don’t get recorded and so you have got to see them live as this is your only chance. With Apple streaming the video from all shows they had set up two viewing areas on the first floor where you could watch in awe without having to queue.
It was only befitting with this “more women” theme that the first lunchtime session was given by Debbie Sterling who is disrupting the “pink aisle” in toy stores with her GoldieBlox toys which teach engineering to girls. If anything, then it is audacious goals like her’s that would increase female interest in technology-related jobs.
There also were talks by Disney Legend Floyd Norman, who told us the history of animation technology. Friday’s lunchtime session again knocked my socks of, when “Pluto Killer” Mike Brown, a Cal Tech Professor, showed us the history and future of finding planets.
The only negative thing I might have to say about the sessions were that important presentation like the one by Mrs. Sterling, should also be made available, even though they don’t really fit with the rest of the WWDC tech content.
Sessions Live and Canned: Great reference material. Great seeing the speakers on video. 5 stars.
I attribute it to experience that I only went into a handful of sessions. The biggest value for an experienced developer are the labs and so I spent almost my entire time zig-zagging between the various lab locations. I had started a labs-questions list in my Evernote about a month before. In retrospect that was probably too late. I could have sucked out even more value from the labs if I had kept a list of my bug reports and other mysteries throughout the year.
The WWDC app on the iPhone had failed me largely until I had figured out how to work the filters. Unlike on the iPad there was no graphical representation of the temporal distribution of events on the phone. This left me disoriented for the most part, so I ended up looking at the lab schedule on the monitors on the ground floor and semi-spontaneously deciding to pop by various labs.
Inspired by the accessibility-focus I got myself an introduction and accessibility-review of the prod.ly app. This made me promise to myself that I want to try to make app my apps accessible in the future.
I was in the process of publishing an app with auto-renewing subscription for the first time. The availability of the iTunes Connect and App Review teams in the app store lab made it possible to get all problems with this app fixed and the app published within 2 days. Suffice it to say, the who process might have taken me several weeks in real life.
What I learned about auto-renewing subscriptions in productivity apps will be the topic of a future article. Suffice it to say that I wondered how I am even getting any work done outside of WWDC.
If you disregard the boost in motivation you can take home from WWDC, you can view it in terms of ROI. A 5-pack of tech problem tickets cost you 249 Euros, WWDC around 1400 Euros. So you are getting your money’s worth if you can speak with at least 25 Apple people. If I count people from iTunes Connect and App Review, I think I easily surpassed this mark.
Generally speaking, most value will come from interactions with engineers if you have a sample, a Radar or a concrete problem with actual app code. Even if the problem is a spontaneous one. I was desperately trying to upload a build of my app in time for an appointment with App Review, but I kept getting cryptic error messages. Speaking with two helpful iTunes Connect engineers we found that precisely at the time when I tried 5 times there were connectivity issues in Apple’s backend.
Labs like nothing else: Come prepared, organise yourself and keep track of what questions you want to get answered. 5 stars.
I loved it and think I made the most of it what I could with my limited preparation. WWDC is more and more turning into a luxury vacation for most people, but if I am going on vacation I’d rather go to a nice beach.
As alluded to early I was able to get a great deal questions answers and – most importantly – was able to fast track the release of a productivity app with auto-renewing subscription. This saved me several weeks of stress and waiting.
Apple gets highest marks for items they can control, but they lose stars when it comes to queue management and for sticking with a location that causes people having to spend ridiculous amounts of money on accommodation.
I would subtract one star for Apple delivering a yawning-inspiring music section of the keynote. But to be fair then I would also have to award them a bonus star for their renewed focus on gender-balancing and diversity. So these balance each other out.
Tickets: 3 stars
Venue: 4 stars
Queues: 3 stars
Sessions: 5 stars
Labs: 5 stars
The final verdict … 4 stars “would buy again”