This year, I had the chance to attend WWDC, Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference in San Francisco. While the conference is mostly known for its opening day keynote, it’s actually a full week of sessions and events.
I’ve never thought about attending previously, but this year I got an E-Mail from Apple announcing that registration was open. Knowing that the chances of actually getting a ticket are quite low - they used to sell out in minutes, but since 2014 Apple holds a lottery to assign the around 4000 tickets - combined with the fact that it just takes two clicks to buy a ticket on Apple’s online store, I went ahead and registered. Surprisingly, I found myself waking up to a confirmation E-Mail two weeks later, which meant I had to sort out flights and a hotel. Luckily, I had to be in Austin the week after for HITEC, hence a US trip was already on the cards.
I flew in on Emirates from Dubai on Saturday before the conference on the longest flight I took so far - almost 15h. The flight interestingly takes the route over the north pole, another first for me. I arrived on Saturday afternoon and went for a quick walk through the city to get some dinner, before heading back to the hotel early - 11h jet lag was catching up with me.
Having fallen asleep at 6pm and woken up at 2am, I went out to collect my badge early on Sunday morning after a breakfast at the Ferry terminal and got a nice Apple jacket as well. I spent the rest of the day wandering through San Francisco and shopping a bit, before heading to bed early. On Monday, I got up at 5.30 am to stand in line for the keynote - I really wanted to see it live and I knew that not everyone can fit into the room. Judging from what other people said, it probably would have been enough to get there at 8 am or even later as well. Seeing an Apple keynote live was a great thing to have experienced. While nothing groundbreaking was announced, the first 115min were spot on and well executed, with OS X, iOS 9 and watchOS 2 all showing a lot of potential. Personally, I'm very excited about the watchOS, I think the wrist truly has a lot of potential for technology, far more than glasses for instance.
Things got a little out of shape with the Apple Music announcement. That holds true for the presentation itself for sure and remains to be seen for the product. Jimmy Iovine was just not able to bring the point across, followed by Drake, who wasn’t really able to either (but was sporting a cool Vintage Apple jacket). Eddy Cue was his usual self, but spent way too long demonstrating an application that looked overly complex and with no clear focus. I am skeptical if Apple is on the right track here, but agree it was time for them to change something.
The second session of the day was the Platform State of the Union, where Apple’s product people give a deeper dive into some of the announcements of the morning and how they affect developers. Definitely some cool features coming that will no doubt make their way into Apps we are using daily. Lastly, the annual Apple Design awards showcased some of the best apps for iOS and Mac that were released in the past year, among them my favourite calendar App, Fantastical, and a very cool demo of Accessibility within Apps, where two blind Apple Accessibility QA engineers were using the Workflow App. That was truly impressive.
In the evening, I attended two of the many events and parties surrounding WWDC each year. I was a bit late registering for the parties and events, so the RSVP list for many of them was closed. I did manage to get into the Pinterest party - which wasn’t particularly great - but also got an invite from Jim Dalrymple of The Loop to attend his AltBeardBash at the W hotel. Great location and a nice event with Karaoke from some of the more (or less) talented Apple followers in the industry. I also managed to chat to John Gruber of Daring Fireball briefly and secured a spot for his The Talk Show event for the Tuesday - which was absolutely worth it, more on that below.
Tuesday was a day with a few interesting sessions around UIWebView, WebKit, CloudKit and Enterprise deployments - much of them is at just about the right level for me - not being a developer - to still get a lot of value out of them, and addressed a number of points that are relevant for what I am doing in my current job. I also couldn't resist snapping a photo with Craig Federighi - Apple's SVP of Software Engineering, who is gaining fame in the geek world with his appearances at Apple's product introduction keynotes.
After the sessions, I headed over to John Gruber’s Talk Show event, who amazingly had Phil Schiller, Apple’s SVP of Marketing and known from many of the presentations, as his interviewee. Funnily enough I had seem him a few minutes earlier at Moscone and he was talking to someone about “walking over” - I had a hunch he might be part of the Talk Show. While the interview wasn’t groundbreaking, it was great to see them discuss some of the recent controversial topics in a somewhat private and casual setting and really shows how Apple's approach to PR has changed in the last years.
My highlight on Wednesday was a presentation by Debbie Sterling called “Think Audacious” about her journey as an Entrepreneur and the goal to bring more women into Engineering and Technology, as well as sessions on Safari and Webkit, since we work a lot on web apps at iRiS, and many of the our ongoing issues are being addressed in the upcoming releases. I also briefly attended Pebble’s / Atlassian’s WWDC party in the evening.
On Thursday, I had to take a care of a few work related things, so could not attend as many sessions as I wanted. I did see the lunch session with Disney's animation legend Floyd Norman, who gave a nice talk around how Disney's techniques evolved over time. In the evening, Apple had its yearly Bash at the Yerba Buena Gardens, with free food and drink as well as a performance by Walk The Moon, which was pretty neat. Surprisingly, developers are actually capable of enthusiastically enjoying a live performance!
Friday was the last day of the conference, with a few interesting sessions, among them new features in UI Dynamics, Notifications and the new system fonts in Apple's Operation Systems. I found topics like UI Dyanmics or the system font were particularly interesting, as many of the concepts involve bring together other disciplines - it's very typical for what Apple calls the intersection of technology and liberal arts. While my knowledge on typography is limited at best, it's easy to take good looking fonts for granted, when in fact there is an incredible amount of thinking, design and research behind them. The lunchtime session was a great talk on planet discovery. It's great that Apple is breaking up the presentations and labs with some broader talks on science, creativity or entrepreneurship.
After a short night's sleep, I headed to the airport to fly over to Austin for HITEC. More on that later. All in all, I'd recommend to attend WWDC at least once to anyone who is working on a product in Apple's ecosystem in some technical capacity. While there is most value for developers, even if you are not actually writing the 1's and 0's there are many sessions and labs that are useful on a higher level. I am not sure I'd fly in from Dubai just for WWDC every year, but since I had to go to the US anyway, it was a no brainer.