WWDC – The End of An Era

WWDC was always a thrilling event. For me, it began on Sunday after a long 18-20 hour journey. Sunday was my chance to explore San Jose or San Francisco, depending on the venue. The excitement would build as I visited Moscone West or McEnery to see the decorations going up.

Monday brought the famous long queue, starting for some the night before, just to secure a good seat for the keynote. Apple kindly provided water and breakfast, creating a unique camaraderie among developers. As the queue moved, you could feel the anticipation building. Once inside the keynote room, finding the best seat was a small victory. At 10 AM, the keynote began. I was fortunate to see Steve Jobs five times and Tim Cook seven times. Each keynote felt like a magical moment. After the keynote, still buzzing from the announcements, it was time for lunch—a perfect opportunity to exchange thoughts with fellow developers. Then came the Platforms State of the Union, diving into more technical details. Depending on the year, the ADAs followed, where John Geleynse and Shaun Prudent showcased their favorite apps. The day concluded with the Apple Trivia Contest.

The days that followed were packed with sessions. It was crucial to choose which ones to attend live. I loved the camera sessions where Brad Ford explained the latest advancements. After each session, you could talk to the presenters. But even more valuable were the labs, offering one-on-one interactions with Apple engineers. You could discuss issues directly with the people who created the operating system or a particular framework. These labs and sessions made Apple feel close and accessible. Often, you would leave with the contact information of the person you spoke to, as they genuinely wanted to help with your issues.

A must-see session was James Dempsey and the Breakpoints. Watching James sing “I Love View” or “Retain Me and When You Don’t Need Me Anymore Release Me,” always in reference to code, was a highlight. Lunchtime also brought amazing guest speakers like JJ Abrams or Michelle Obama.

WWDC wasn’t just about the conference itself. There were numerous events around it, such as AltConf, and various parties that kept us busy at night. Apple’s own party on Thursday, the WWDC Bash, was a fantastic almost-goodbye event with a great location, food, drinks, and live music from amazing bands. Fridays were lighter, with fewer sessions and many people starting to leave.

Over the years, I cherished the connections with other developers and Apple engineers who proved invaluable in the long run. I even had the chance to shake hands with Tim Cook and briefly chat with Craig Federighi and Phil Schiller.

Unfortunately, after COVID, everything changed. The in-person conference was no more. This brought some benefits—the event is now free and can accommodate a virtually unlimited number of attendees compared to the previous 5,000 in-person limit. However, it feels very different. The connection with Apple is gone. Sessions are pre-recorded, eliminating interaction with presenters and fellow developers. The new labs are much less effective. The personal touch is missing, and the experts seem less knowledgeable, likely because Apple has to involve more engineers to handle the vast number of attendees. This year, I attended three labs and left each one feeling I had wasted my time. No issues were resolved, no significant contributions were made, and there was no personal connection.

For those of us outside the U.S., traveling to California was an opportunity to be seen and a great way to connect with Cupertino. That connection is now lost. Local teams handle us, and even if they do a great job, they struggle to push our concerns to the main teams. For example, even if your app’s revenue is primarily from English-speaking countries, if you are in a non-English-speaking country, getting promoted on the App Store in English-speaking markets is now very challenging.

The era of in-person WWDC may be over, and even though the spirit of innovation and community it fostered remains, it is slowly fading away. Here’s hoping that one day we will return to the magic of in-person events and once again feel the excitement and connection that made WWDC unforgettable.