WWDC 2011: A First Timer’s Perspective

June 27th, 2011 Posted by: - posted under:Articles » Featured

Hey iCoders,

So I was given the opportunity to attend WWDC this year, and as it was my first time, I thought I would give some of my thoughts for anyone who is planning on making it in 2012. So for some quick background, WWDC stands for the World Wide Developers Conference. It is Apple’s only public conference now that they are no longer a part of MacWorld. WWDC has been going on since 1995 and currently takes place in San Francisco at Moscone Center West downtown, usually during summer. Tickets this year went for a cool $1600 and sold out in 8 hours or so. So my first tip:

1. If you’re planning on making it there in 2012, be ready to drop the money for the ticket the second they become available. I bet they sell out by lunch PST next year

The ticket gets attached to your Apple ID. This can be confusing if like me you are juggling a few for different client needs, cert complications, or whatever else. Just make sure to buy it with the Apple ID that has YOUR NAME attached to it. The company shown on your badge can easily be changed, but the name cannot.

The conference is usually a full work week, with Friday being a day a lot of developers use to travel home. In order to be ready for the big Monday kickoff with the Keynote, it is best to get into San Francisco on Sunday.

Day 0: Sunday

On Sunday you can go over to Moscone and get your badge and accompanying jacket. They seem to be set in giving jackets to developers now, as they did this last year and this year. Once you get the jacket, it sort of acts as a big marker that you are part of the WWDC group. It easily lets you spot other groups of developers attending the conference and you will see them everywhere downtown while you are there. The rest of Sunday I spent meeting other developers around the city and watching the Finals at a bar and grill around the center. It was important to get to bed early though because Monday was the keynote, and trust me, it is a LONG day.

Day 1: Monday

2:00 AM Wake up call. 2:20 leave the hotel. Sitting about 400th or so around Moscone in a line that by 7 AM will be 3000 developers long. The keynote line is a really unique experience. I attended Mac World 2009 where the MacBook air was released, which had a lot of the same feel, but WWDC’s keynote line is a whole different beast. This line contains a huge percentage of all the professional iOS and OS X developers on the planet. Any company offering a service that they want developers to start utilizing recognizes this as the biggest opportunity to get their market informed about their product.

The bigger winner this year in the PR department was TestFlight. An over the air ad-hoc app beta testing service. They had people giving out t-shirts all day Sunday and told everyone that if you wore them in the keynote line you would get a free breakfast burrito. I wasn’t lucky enough to hear about this, but I managed to get a burrito anyhow. They had water, coffee, t-shirts, lots of cards and even their own taco-truck they brought. They were a big hit with the developers and were a common sight around all sorts of events during the week. The line is a great time to get to know other developers.

Everyone at WWDC is serious. Serious clients, serious products. You’ll definitely get to meet some celebrity developers if you look around. For me it was Paul Haddad of TweetBot fame and Loren Brichter of Tweetie Twitter fame.

By 7AM or so you head into Moscone. They bring everyone up the escalators to the second floor where you can get fruit, pastries, coffee etc. Another 2 hours and change later they file as many people as they can up to the third floor where the keynote takes place. Of course, after all that waiting people go kinda crazy trying to get up there. Having done this now once for MacWorld and once for WWDC here is the best advice I can give.

2. Don’t push, shove, be mean, rude, hit, fight or generally get aggressive. It probably won’t help what seat you actually get and you’ll just seem like a jerk to everyone.

3. Have 1 seat buddy. As long as you get in line kind early, 4 – 5 AM. You will get to the third floor, from there you need a seat buddy. Find 2 seats that work, one stays while the other looks for a better one. If you only need to sit with one other person you will get great seats trust me.

The entire first section is reserved for VIP’s and press. However they do need seat fillers up there. So if you are up for a gamble you can head up to the font alone and hope to get a seat filler seat. A guy who I met at the conference did this and sat right behind Josh Topolsky of Engadget This Is My Next fame.

<Random Plug> This Is My Next is fantastic and I highly recommend the site and especially the podcast to anyone with interest in the tech world </Random Plug>.

Keynote was great to see in person. Steve started out slow, but by a few minutes into iCloud he seemed to have his same old energy about him. Lion is spectacular. I have had it installed for a few weeks now and it represents a very deliberate strategy to eventually meld together Apple’s desktop and mobile ecosystems. The introduction of Lion was especially scathing after the somewhat clumsy reveal of Windows 8 only a few days earlier. While Microsoft seems to be kind of floundering in this new technical landscape, trying desperately to find a strategy to hold on to. Apple is ready to release its strongest desktop OS ever, that has some very specific philosophical adoptions from its dominant mobile OS. Oh yeah, and it’s going to be $30. Going to be very interesting to see if Microsoft will make Windows more affordable in response to this pricing decision.

After the keynote you get a few hours before sessions start up. Monday has only one set of sessions to go to, which all represent “State of the Unions” for different technical tracks. The tracks covered at WWDC are

  • Application Framework
  • Graphics and Media
  • Developer Tools
  • Web Technologies
  • Core OS
  • The State of the Unions this year were very enlightening. As many of you already know, iOS 5 and Lion represent radical changes to the very fundamental architectural components of Objective C and UIKit. There will be iOS 5 specific technology articles coming very soon to iCodeBlog.

    After sessions it was on to the parties. WWDC has tons of awesome events all around the center the whole week. Usually you have to preregister for them. This great app called Party List came out this year to let everyone know of the big events going on (http://www.wwdcpartylist.com/). Hopefully this same thing will be around next year. Parties vary in terms of perks. But for most you can expect a free drink or two and usually some antics. Srcibd’s party was particularly interesting this year. It was held in their office and involved go-carts, pogo sticks and at least one broken ankle. Very interesting in deed. The parties are a great place to network, hand our cards etc. But they can get exhausting and you want to have energy for the days.

    Day 2 – 5: Tuesday – Friday

    The remaining days are very similar in terms of what you can do while there. There are basically 3 activities:

  • Sessions
  • Labs
  • One on One’s
  • Sessions

    At first look through WWDC’s offerings, sessions seem like the main attraction. They go on all day every day, and cover every topic imaginable. You get to see real Apple engineers, show off the new API’s they have just finished working on, and get excited about all the new things you’ll be able to code with the coming release. With this said, go to as few as possible. You get all of them whether or not you went to WWDC a few weeks later, and in the case of WWDC 2011, the stuff you learn won’t be able to run on consumers device till “Fall”, IE. whenever iOS 5 drops. Because of this, most WWDC veterans I met advised against spending a lot of times in the sessions.

    In previous years sessions also included Q&A’s which were not included in the videos of the sessions. However this year there wasn’t a Q&A at and of the sessions I attended, giving even less of an incentive to attend them. With all that said, I did enjoy the sessions I went to this year immensely. If you are an iOS developer, please watch them! They will improve the quality of the code you write and philosophies you bring to your architecture, guaranteed (HINT: If you’re not using Core Graphics somewhere in your app, your probably doing it wrong).

    4. Sessions are available in HD for no cost 3 weeks after the conference. If there is something else you want to do over a session, choose that.

    Labs

    Labs are located on the first floor of Moscone. There are 5 labs, one for each of the WWDC tracks. The labs were kinda hit and miss. It seemed like they were best for people who had incredibly specific issues they wanted to talk through with an engineer. The labs had scheduled times for specific topics, IE. Core Data Lab, UIKit Lab and so on. If you showed up for one of these, you usually needed to wait in a pretty decent line, but one you got to the front an Apple Engineer would be assigned to you and do their best to help with your problem. While many people seemed to get a lot of value out of these labs I had a great experience and a crappy one.

    On the second day I was itching to get Lion running on a seperate partition on my machine. One really cool thing about WWDC is the type of internet access they provide down in the lab. There are probably near 1000 ethernet plugs all over the room where I got the fastest internet I have ever seen. I was able to download Lion, iOS 5 SDK and Xcode and iOS 5 Image for iPad and iPhone in about 15 mintues. I had some install difficulties and this awesome engineer in the Core OS lab was able to help me repair my disk and get Lion installed. That experience with the labs was great.

    On the other hand, on my last day there I went over to the Core Graphics lab for some assistance with a rendering problem I am having with my new Twitter app Bird’s Eye, the experience was not as good.

    <Sameless Plug> Check out my new iPad app Bird’s Eye. It is a real time, Twitter browser with a location context. And it’s free! </Shameless Plug>.

    The problem I’m having involves a MKAnnotationView rendering when I am adding them to my Map. When I got to the front of the line and explained I was having rendering problems involving Map Kit, 3 different Apple Engineers looked at me with no idea what MapKit was. Disappointing to say the least. I eventually did talk to someone but wasn’t able to get any solid advice out of the time. I guess this problem did walk a thin line between Core Graphics and UIKit, but come on. MapKit is an old and popular API, I would expect better from Apple engineers.

    5. Labs pay off big time if you have a specific hurdle you can’t get over. There will be a line, but stick with it, the personal attention will be well worth the wait.

    One on One’s

    The final thing you could fill your days with were One-On-One’s. This year Apple provided a WWDC app for all attendees. It showed you a schedule for everyday, photos and also had a section to make reservations. These reservations allowed developers to schedule one-on-one meetings with different Apple employees. There were sessions for Mac/iOS UI/UX consulting, App Store Approval consulting for both Mac/iOS, iTunes Connect, Developer Program Services and Developer Publications. I know these are hot tickets from other articles I have read about attending WWDC. This year you would use the app to get reservations. The app only said check back after Monday’s keynote to make reservations for these sessions. Right after the keynote I checked with no luck of being able to make reservations. I continued to check all night with no change.

    Waking up early on Tuesday morning there was some change, but clicking the reserve button caused nothing to happen. I couldn’t help but reflect on how I heard several speakers during Monday’s sessions say something like:

    “Users expect your app to responsive when you click around, so make sure network connections and other operations occur outside of the main thread and to continually update your user interface.”

    So it turns out their system got overloaded and allowed many people to get resevations and confirmation email for the exact same time, sometimes without the people at the one-on-ones even having a record of it. After hearing all the Apple engineers boast nonstop about how “Magical” all of the conflict resolution stuff was in iCloud it didn’t exactly give me a warm and fuzzy feeling. But I digress.

    I did eventually get an appointment with both an iOS App Reviewer and iOS UI/UX engineer. I will be having a separate post in the next few weeks about a little app I tried to get into the store but have failed to do so. I decided to open source it. I’ll keep you all posted. The UI/UX engineer was great. Lots of great ideas on enhancement and updates to my user interface and general app usability.

    6. If you think your project would benefit from one of these One-On-One’s make this your primary mission at WWDC before anything else. They will fill up, and probably within a few hours.

    Wrap Up

    So that is my somewhat lengthy first time reflection on WWDC. The one thing that I think is hard to capture is the excitement that fills downtown for that week. I got to interact with people who make some of the applications that are major setpieces in modern culture, and I consider that to be a real privilege. Everyone you talk to is excited about their apps, the new technologies and the general future, and I consider myself lucky to be in an industry where I get to experience that. In the world of OS X and iOS developer there are two kinds of conferences. WWDC and the other ones. I can’t wait to get my ticket for next year and head back. I hope I see some of you there.

    Thanks for reading. Follow me @cruffenach