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According to Hoyle...


WWDC '08 Roundup

July 2008

by Jonathan Hoyle



This month we cover the 2008 Apple Worldwide Developer Conference, the annual Mecca for Macintosh engineers, techies and overall geeks (and I say that in the good way).  This is the one conference I look forward to each year (being my 11th out of the last 13), and I am pleased to be able to share what took place.  This year's conference had over 5,200+ attendees, the most ever.  It could have probably sold many more tickets than even these, but Apple was forced to declare the conference sold out once the attendee size reached the maximum allowed by the Moscone Center.  In recent WWDC's, the ratio of Apple employees to attendees was 1:4, a very generous number and extremely helpful for engineers who need to make contacts.  This year, however, the number of Apple employees was cut back to 1,000 so as to accommodate more room for paying attendees.  The maximum theater size capacity allowable by Moscone West is 6,080, meaning that the number of Apple employees, conference workers, technicians, security, reporters, celebrities, media moguls, etc. could not exceed 800 at any one time.  Any larger figure would have involved a visit from the San Francisco Fire Marshall.


One Less Thing...


Last month, if someone had told you that the WWDC '08 keynote would briefly mention the Macintosh within the first 3 minutes, and not at all thereafter, would you have believed them?  I certainly would not have.  But that is exactly what happened.


This year's WWDC spotlighted iPhone development.  After last year's blunder of not providing an iPhone SDK, Apple's pendulum swung in the opposite direction, by focusing the entirety of the keynote address on the iPhone and its development.  Although this is great news for iPhone developers, Mac programmers were left feeling like second class citizens, at least during the keynote.  No other references to the Mac were made, no "One More Thing...", not even the usual Mac/PC ad created just for WWDC.  Only the revelation that Mac OS X 10.6 was going to be called Snow Leopard (hey, whaddaya know, I was right last month!) and it would be addressed at the Mac OS X State of the Union after lunch.


Next month we'll devote an entire article on Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard, but suffice it to say that most all the rumors mills (my own included) pretty much nailed it in advance.  However, there are a number of details that were not available before the conference that we will cover in more depth next time.


iPhoney Baloney


At last year's WWDC, Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone, and the cell phone industry has been rocked more in the past twelve months than in any point in its short history.  During this introduction however, Steve made it clear that there would be no iPhone SDK.  He said instead that iPhone development would simply be via Web 2.0 + AJAX programming, calling this (believe it or not) "a sweet solution".  Rather than a solution, it was (as I called it) iPhoney Baloney.  Not surprisingly, this approach completely underwhelmed the development community, and many simply began to walk away from creating iPhone apps.  Although Steve Jobs has found it difficult to admit mistakes in the past (it took him years to reverse the round mouse fiasco), the gently aging Steve Jobs is a bit more pragmatic these days.  He was not going to allow this misstep of his to kill this great technology.  Thus, last March, Apple finally delivered a real iPhone SDK, and with WWDC '08 updated it to powerful levels.


By heavily leveraging Mac OS X's Cocoa API, iPhone application development can be done with Cocoa Touch, a rich object-oriented API, which heavily intersects standard Cocoa.  Using the same Xcode development environment you use to create terrific Mac OS X applications, you can create new iPhone applications, and under some circumstances simply port your Mac apps to it.


Mobile Me & the Decommissioning of .Mac


One part of the keynote that I did not like was the replacing of .Mac with Mobile Me.  Now that Apple is not just the Mac anymore (it's also iPod, iPhone and even Windows-ported iApps), Apple is rebranding everything formerly associated as .Mac or as MobileMe and  Not to worry though, all of us fanatics proud to use their email address may continue to do so.  All current email addresses will work with either domain.


More on this in an upcoming article.


Special Events


Most evenings during the conference, Apple hosts a Special Event.  This year's evening schedule was very similar to last year's, with no real improvements.  The trend over the years has been to cut back on many of these.  Sundays used to be a day dedicated for students, usually finalizing with a big Student reception in the evening; however, Apple has not offered anything like that for the past two years.


Monday: Each year at WWDC, the Monday night is set aside for the big ADC Reception.  And this year, big meant big.  The second floor of Moscone West was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of attendees.  Developers stood in long lines for mediocre food, and everyone was elbow-to-elbow.  The intention behind this event was to allow Apple Developer Relations people to mix with the development community.  But as you can see from the accompanying picture, it was far too crowded to allow for any kind of mixing.  Many chose to simple go out to eat rather than fight the crowds.  I myself left and returned an hour later when the remaining numbers (still very large) were a bit more manageable.



Tuesday: For the second year in a row, Apple left an evening open with no events.  Perhaps they did this so that people wishing to sight-see would be able to do so?  I don't know, but with three events scheduled to run late on Wednesday, they certainly could have moved at least one of them back a day.  Prior to 2004, WWDC used to have a tradition of a movie night, and this could have been perfect for that.  In 2006, their "open" evening (then a Wednesday) included rebroadcasts of popular sessions, so that those with conflicts could still attend them.  In any case, with all these possibilities ignored, I remain dumbfounded as to what their logistics people were thinking.


Wednesday: This was the long night, with three great events running in overlap form.  Although I would have preferred these to have been split up across Tuesday & Wednesday, if Apple must triple up on one night, it was better that these happen on Wednesday rather than Tuesday, as it was in 2007.  With many East Coasters still dealing with jet lag, getting back to their rooms at 11PM felt more like 2AM.  The extra day allowed adjustment for the time change.



With the overbooking of events on this night, I was only able to really see two of them: the Apple Design Awards  and Stump the Experts.  The Scientific Poster Session, which I greatly enjoyed the previous two years, was one I could only peruse quickly.  The Apple Design Awards, on the other hand, I was able to fully enjoy. ADA host John Geleynse was at his best, with perhaps his most memorable moment in the history of ADA: John playing Slow Ride on Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock, the game winning the Best New Mac OS X Leopard Game.  As for Stump, it too was a good as ever; however, this one began on a more touching note with an audience standing ovation for Stump expert Tom Dowdy who passed away earlier this year.  All in all, Wednesday evening was a lot of fun, the best evening up to that point in the week.



Thursday: For the second year in a row, the Apple Party was held at the Yerba Buena Gardens, just across the street from the Moscone West Conference Center.  Prior to 2007, Apple would host a party (formerly a beer bash) on its campus in Cupertino.  Apple provided buses to transport developers each way, and there would be live music and generally good food.  After moving the conference from nearby San Jose to San Francisco, this bus trip went from a quick 15 minutes to 45.  Worse still, the numbers involved made this a logistical nightmare.  In 2006, when the conference topped 4,000 attendees for the first time, it was an absolute nightmare.  I myself gave up the attempt and did not go that year.


Having moved the party on site to the conference was an excellent choice.  I looked forward to this night, as I remembered how well the party went last year.  I figured that the food would be the best of the week and the music mostly agreeable.  This year I was disappointed by how crowded it was, as it negatively impacted my ability to circulate and visit with other attendees.  The food was also unspectacular as well.  With the exception of the hand rolled sushi station (still excellent), the rest of the food was only barely better than what we had at the ADC Reception.  I was about to write off the party as another casualty of WWDC declines until the surprise band took stage...



Yes, that's right, the Barenaked Ladies!  I couldn't believe it!  Apple actually pulled in a major band for a change, and we were all very impressed!  If you haven't seen the Ladies in concert before, I can tell you they are excellent live.  They do a great job of engaging the audience, and being long-time Mac fanatics themselves, were great crowd pleasers.  What a delight they were indeed.  It was also fun to watch native San Franciscans walking by the Gardens looking in saying, "Hey isn't that BNL!?!"  The lousy scheduling and mediocre food was all worth this one night.  I will always remember WWDC '08 as the year the Barenaked Ladies performed exclusively for Apple developers.



Friday: No, there were no Friday evening events, but how Friday afternoon was managed was the single logistical success of the conference.  In the past, Apple had difficulty deciding how to handle this day, as many people leave early to catch their flights home.  In 2006, they ended the day by noon, with not even a lunch scheduled.  This simply caused the defections to take place earlier.  This year, they kept one Friday session after lunch, but left the labs open until after 6PM.  This had the agreeable affect of giving attendees time to speak with Apple reps without missing a session or fighting crowds.  Well done, Apple!


Size Matters


In case you haven't already gotten the message, this conference has simply gotten too big.  The attendance sizes for the last four conferences (according to Apple) have been 3800, 4200, 5000 and 5200, each one beating the previous records.  Fortunately it cannot get any bigger (without changing venues, due to fire regulations), so it can get no worse than what we saw this year.  Still, Apple should strive for lower attendance at this point.  This year's 5200 may seem like a small increase over the previous year, but that is only because WWDC '07 was very near sell-out size and there was little allowable growth.  Had Moscone allowed it, who knows how much bigger WWDC '08 could have been?


One suggestion is to split WWDC into two conferences: one for the Mac and one for the iPhone.  Unfortunately, this is not likely solve the problem.  After all, the iPhone track is new only this year, whilst the conference has been ballooning in size well before then.  Moreover, there is sufficient overlap in development technologies that it would not make sense to divide it up.  Another is to find another venue.  That may be difficult as well, as it is my understanding that the Moscone Center is the largest conference facility in the Bay area.  It was in fact the basis behind Apple's decision to move there in 2003, away from the smaller (but more convenient) venue of the San Jose Convention Center, which hosted WWDC's throughout the 1990's and up to 2002.  Without moving the conference to another city, I do not think it makes sense to talk about accommodating any larger numbers than what we already have.  To make the conference both enjoyable and actually useful for networking, the conference size ought to be capped to no more than 4500 attendees.


Other Products


Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference is not just a milestone for Mac developers, but many Mac software vendors use this time to launch new products.  This year was no different, but there were two products updated at this year's conference that are especially worth noting that you might not have heard of.


PGP Enterprises, known for their data protection software, announced that they have added pre-boot authentication to their Whole Disk Encryption product for Mac OS X.  This is great news for those very concerned about the security of their hard drives.  With the increasing risks of data breach and escalating costs of protection, this meets an essential need in the marketplace.  It works great with Time Machine (although incompatible at this time with Time Capsule) and will work on Intel formatted hard drives.  Multi-boot OS partition drives, such as 10.4 Tiger and 10.5 Leopard, work just fine, since the authentication is pre-boot.  The current release is not compatible with drives partitioned for Boot Camp, but plans are in place to support this in a future release.  Visit this link for more information.


Aquafadas, the makers of the incredibly fun and powerful PulpMotion, has upped the bar with PulpMotion Advanced, a next generation animation utility that creates some of the coolest slideshows.  One of the problems that many of us have with our powerful new digital equipment is that we don't have the slightest idea of how to merge and present our pictures and movies other than using the boring templates available on the web.  PulpMotion Advanced gives you very powerful effects at the touch of a button, making videos and slideshows a breeze.  This killer app is to slideshows what Photoshop was to digital images.  Take a look, you won't regret it.



Does WWDC '08 Make the Grade?


So, how would I rate WWDC '08 overall?  In recent years, the conference has been going downhill.  Today's conference is unrecognizable from those of the previous decade in which third party companies would host lavish events, T-shirts and other giveaways were to be had by the asking, and developers were treated like royalty.  Since the move to San Francisco in 2003, each conference has grown in size but gotten decidedly worse with respect to food and amenities.  Movie night was dropped in 2004 and the vendor booths were removed in 2005.  2006 was the last year with a serious Student track, and 2007 was filled with logistical faux pas.  There used to be over a dozen feedback forums scheduled in older WWDC's, but have been trimmed over the years, down to only one in 2007, and finally done away with completely this year.  In 2007, there were 159 sessions available.  Subtracting out the new iPhone track, WWDC '08 had only 119 sessions dedicated to Mac developers, a huge 25+% drop.


Combining all this with the offensive dismissal of the Macintosh in the keynote address, this year's might have been the worst conference since the depressing 1997 WWDC.  Thankfully though, many of the events this year remained as enjoyable as always, including Stump the Experts and the Apple Design Awards.  And of course the Barenaked Ladies were a wonderful surprise at the Apple Party.


Despite the downward trend, the conference continues to grow in size, the each year breaking the previous year's attendance record.  And though far less than the celebration and party it used to be, the information made available is indispensable for the Mac developer.  And with Apple revealing less and less about future OS directions, attending is now becoming nearly mandatory.  Perhaps this is why Apple is now planning to sell these sessions over iTunes.


With regard to technological content, WWDC '08 was excellent.  Apple representatives made themselves available for the future directions of Snow Leopard, and sessions were very well done.  I am very much looking forward to viewing other presentations once they are posted on iTunes.  I think that Apple's direction with Snow Leopard is a good one.  I only wish that Apple would have taken this conference more seriously.  Seriously for Mac users, that is.


Overall Conference Grade: C-



Coming Up Next Month:  A preview of Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: What no one else will tell you.  Hey, you can't miss this one.  See you in 30!



Article PostSctipt: The author also gave a presentation on WWDC '08 at Eastman Kodak.



See a list of all the According to Hoyle columns