In early June I was lucky enough to be selected to make the pilgrimage to the 2017 edition of the Apple Worldwide Developer Conference, WWDC. This annual conference is the premier event for developers within Apple’s ecosystem, attracting almost 6000 attendees over 5 days at the McEnery Convention Center in San José, California.
The highlights of the Keynote have been covered off in our post from Alt Conf, so I’ll focus more on what it was like to attend WWDC, and my key takeaways from a week in Apple Developer nirvana.
After years of watching the WWDC Keynote addresses at 5am on a Tuesday in New Zealand, Nic and I crossed the Atlantic to the sunny climes of California the weekend beforehand. This year is the 10 year anniversary of the iPhone, and anticipation was high for what would be revealed at the Keynote address.
We dropped by the convention centre the day before to check in and get our passes, and to get a taste of the excitement of the week ahead. As expected, Apple cut no corners fitting out the McEnery Convention Center, going as far as installing their own signage and even covering the floors of the halls with their own thick black carpet.
We’d heard stories of people queuing from 2am to get a good seat for the Keynote, and while we arrived at more congenial time of 9am there was still a pretty massive line out front. It was astounding the scale that this event was operating at, there were approximately 6000 people present for the keynote all seated in a single room ready for the big reveal.
The main event kicked off just after 10am with an opening tongue-in-cheek APPOCALYPSE video about the end of the world, caused by the App Store servers being unplugged. It was interesting to see a lighter side of Apple during the Keynote. For a company with a reputation for being reasonably serious and straight cut, there were a number of times (particularly during Craig Federighi’s presentations) where the humour poked through which made for a great Keynote.
After the excitement of the Keynote it was all about planning the remainder of the week’s schedule now the full lineup had been announced. We managed to get into the Hands-On session later that day, where we were able to spend time using the new hardware and software they had announced earlier in the day. The AR and VR experiences were mind-blowing, particularly when compared with some of the existing tech in this space. iOS 11 on the new iPads and using ARKit to place objects on a tabletop was so smooth it was hard to believe. After playing with the new iPad Pro I was left feeling like it was very close to being a general computing device I could realistically use instead of a laptop.
On Tuesday morning we started early for an informal discussion with former First Lady Michelle Obama. She spoke about her time in the White House and talked about how we can motivate ourselves to build great things and focus on increasing participation and diversity in the tech industry. We also got a taste for the well-oiled machine that the rest of the week would be, every session and break was orchestrated and planned exactly. We were offered a full lunch each day, with a range of options, plus snacks in the morning and afternoon. Everything was open-bar and you could take what you wanted. This in-and-of itself is not new, but I was just astounded the scale it operated at and how seamless the whole event ran.
One thing I hadn’t completely appreciated before I arrived was just how developer focussed and technical the conference is. Given the ‘DC’ of WWDC stands for “Developer Conference” I had expected technical tracks and developer focussed content, but thought there may also be some lighter tracks that would suit someone who didn’t actually write iOS software day-to-day. There were a number of sessions I attended where conceptually the content made sense but someone with more exposure to the toolchain would probably have taken more from it.
One of the things I really enjoyed was the Apple Design Labs, where you can book a 30 minute slot with one of the Apple Design team for them to offer feedback on an App you’ve built. These are highly coveted slots and very hard to come by. You have to book them on the day you want to attend, and registrations open at 7:30am. The first few times we tried to nab one they all booked out in less than a minute, so the last time we went through the registration form as quick as we could and thankfully secured a slot!
We were keen to show off two of our recent projects on iOS, BPMe and the new Hell Pizza App. We crammed as much in the 30 minutes as we could, and the feedback we got was great. It was fantastic to share our work with the Apple team directly and see what they had to say, which was all very positive — not surprisingly 😉
The week wrapped up with The Bash, a fully catered outdoor concert with Fall Out Boy headlining. Yet again I was stunned at the level of planning, preparation and execution that Apple puts into an event like this. There was easily a few thousand people at the venue, and there was a free bar with a range of drinks as well as plenty of food options too.
I’m really glad I got the opportunity to travel and spend a week learning all about what’s coming in the Apple ecosystem for the next year or so. We live in an incredibly exciting time and to be able to attend a conference that’s on the edge of this new technology is both humbling and inspiring, and I’m looking forward to applying these new ideas in the months to come.