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According to Hoyle...

 

 

WWDC '09 Preview

 

June 2009

by Jonathan Hoyle

jonhoyle@mac.com

macCompanion

http://www.jonhoyle.com

 

For the second year in a row, Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference is sold out. In 2008 when it first happened, everybody was surprised...everybody except Apple that is.  Although there had never been a sold out WWDC previously, Apple was seeing steady surges of attendance over the past few years.  After the long lines and wait times experienced in 2002, Apple was forced to change its venue from the San Jose Convention Center to the more spacious Moscone Center in San Francisco.  However, this merely postponed the inevitable. 

 

After three straight years of record attendance in San Francisco (3,800+ in 2005, 4,200+ in 2006, 5,000+ in 2007), the next jump was easily expected to max out even the capacity of the Bay Area's largest convention center.  What surprised even Apple was how quickly this sell-out took place. 

 

After factoring in the necessary number of Apple engineers, security, media, support personnel, etc, the Moscone West could accommodate not much more than 5,200 attendees.  That number was reached a good three and a half weeks prior to the start of the June 2008 conference.  Apple made its sell-out announcement in mid-May, catching a lot of would-be attendees off guard (not expecting that they could actually be locked out).

 

But of course, that was last year.  The economy was relatively good in comparison.

 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate in April 2008 was at a reasonable 5.0% (and improving slightly from 5.1% of the previous month).  This year is completely different, with the April 2009 jobless rate standing at a whopping 8.9%. 

 

Businesses are laying people off at record numbers.  Companies are slashing salaries, bonuses, cutting back travel, and even asking employees to take unpaid furloughs.  Since conferences and conventions are considered to be discretionary spending, many figured that  WWDC was vulnerable to a dramatic attendance drop this year.

 

Once again, Apple appears to have broken the rules.  Not only were WWDC ticket sales as strong as ever, and not only did WWDC sell out yet again, but the sell-out took place even sooner than it did in 2008: April 28, 2009 (mere days after early registration ended).  All tickets were finalized a full six weeks before the start of the show.  Those lucky enough to obtain their tickets early (including yours truly) were grateful that they had done so.

 

As with last year, WWDC tickets are being scalped on Ebay.  As I write this, the bidding war on three WWDC tickets stand at $2,500 and higher, with plenty of time left to go before these auctions end.  How high they will go it still yet to be seen.  Last year's record was $3,500 for a WWDC '08 ticket.  This is pretty impressive, considering that the videos of all WWDC sessions are made available after the conference for only $1,595. This year has already broken that record with a winning bid of $4000 for a WWDC '09 ticket [Ebay auction #120421105470].  With still more tickets to be sold, and the remaining number of days shrinking, one can only guess how high a ticket price will eventually become.

 

Expectations

 

It's a little bit of a risk to write a preview of WWDC in a monthly column.  After all, what you are reading now will be of interest only for the first week of June.  On June 8th, real WWDC news items will flood the electronic media, making this column all but moot for 23 of its 30 days of life.  You fine readers won't be able to read my words of wisdom about the conference itself until July 1st.

 

Rereading last year's preview column of WWDC, I think my predictions were fairly accurate.  I believe I was actually the first person to publish the possibility of Snow Leopard being the name for the next OS.  Furthermore, I was also correct in that 10.6 would be Intel-only.  However, I did miss out on guessing that Rosetta (Mac OS X's PowerPC emulator) becomes an optional install item with 10.6.  I had privately assumed Rosetta would not be reduced to optional status until at least 10.7, and not dropped completely until 10.8.  It appears now that Apple is further ahead in planning obsolescence.

 

We see that the topic for this year's conference is once again 10.6 Snow Leopard (rather than a 10.7).  In fact, Apple intended to officially launch Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard with this year's WWDC, and it is clear that its management team is very disappointed that this will not happen.  Instead, attendees will be given what is marketed as "the Final Developer Preview release of 10.6 Snow Leopard".  Of course, these are just weasel words for "another beta-release" (plus the added hope that no further release is needed).

 

At WWDC '06, Apple announced some of the new features for its upcoming Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard operating system, which it planned to be released in the summer of 2007.  When WWDC '07 rolled around, Apple added a bit of a surprise with a number of new UI look & feel, and pushed off Leopard's release to the Fall.  Is history about to repeat itself?  At WWDC '08, Snow Leopard was announced with no UI changes.  Yet the rumor mill is all abuzz about a new Snow Leopard look & feel codenamed Marble.  A number of web sites are posting pictures and videos of Snow Leopard, which quickly get removed after legal threats from Apple.  Rather than participate in such risky behavior, I will merely mention it here and rely on my readers' knowledge of Google to see more.


One casualty this year appears to be the Scientific Poster session.  It had been part of Apple's big push into the scientific community, and by all measures it was a wonderful display.  Running since WWDC '06, it appeared to be rather successful.  Sadly, it is MIA in Apple's WWDC Events page. It is unlikely that this is an oversight.  Perhaps the conference is just getting too big to manage so many events, and this one was at the bottom of the priority list?

 

Losing Jobs

 

With the economy the way it is, people are concerned about the loss of jobs.  The same is true at WWDC: we are concerned about the loss of Jobs:  Steve Jobs.  (Okay, okay, feel free to groan here.)  Anyway, after 11 straight WWDC keynote addresses, Steve Jobs will not be giving the WWDC keynote this year.  For 2009, it will be Phil Schiller, who is on the whole a better choice than Bertrand Serlet (who typically hosts the Mac OS X State of the Union). 

 

Rumor has it that Steve might make a brief video appearance, so he can wow the audience.  This would indeed be a welcome surprise to developers if it happens.  Sadly though, that possibility is heavily dependent upon how healthy Steve can continue to appear.  He didn't look great last year, so I can only imagine how he must look now.  If his appearance, even over video, does not convey a sense of optimism and confidence, then no appearance (video or otherwise) will happen.  The rumor mills suggest that his health is deteriorating worse than is generally known, and if true, Apple will need to plan a near-term future without Steve Jobs.

 

Contrary to these rumors, Apple is speaking openly about Steve Jobs' return in late June to introduce a new set of iPhones.  Would Apple be so reckless as to publicly speak of Jobs' return if it were not confident that this was likely?  If we are to believe this report though, Steve Jobs will be fine in late June, yet still choosing to miss WWDC, Apple's single most important developer event.

 

Whatever the truth is, we know one thing now: Apple is publicly stating that Steve Jobs will not be giving the WWDC '09 keynote.

 

The big question is: can Phil (or anyone) bring the same level of excitement and interest that Steve Jobs had in previous WWDC's?  Hard to imagine anyone being able to do what he did.  Let's face it folks: Steve Jobs saved the company.  But did he save it well enough so that it can survive without him?  And will conference goers react with the same level of enthusiasm under Phil Schiller?  We shall see.  But it should be noted that WWDC was filled with rabid Apple fans every year, even prior to Steve Jobs' return.

 

Topics

 

Apple has publicly posted a partial list of 118 sessions and 102 labs on its WWDC web site, with the same three tracks as last year: Mac, iPhone & IT.  Once again, the iPhone track appears huge: 64 sessions, 45 labs.  However, this is a bit misleading as about half of those are actually Mac sessions that are cross-listed as iPhone sessions.  There are only 33 sessions and 21 labs that are iPhone-exclusive.  When looking at the Mac track, we see 72 sessions and 74 labs. Not to mention another dozen or so IT sessions & labs.  In other words, this remains primarily a Macintosh conference, despite the media blitz about iPhone.  Moreover, Mac developers can easily adapt their software to work on the iPhone/iPod with little effort.

 

Since the iPhone's Cocoa Touch API is primarily a subset of Mac OS X's Cocoa API (with a few extensions), one can loosely think of the iPhone as another Mac platform.

 

Looking at the session list, I see that Grand Central Dispatch (Apple's new multi-core API) appears to be getting some special attention, as is OpenCL in general.  As processor speeds begin to level off, concurrency across processor cores becomes the next great opportunity for performance improvements.  I also see some interesting sessions on advances in Objective-C Garbage Collection and some well-needed updates to the creaky NSImage object.  Of course the most interesting will be advances in Xcode.  Last year's compiler session detailed the alternatives of gcc 4.2 and LLVM compiler technologies, and how this advances will be of particular interest.

 

With Xcode 3.1's release last year, we have seen continued improvements with dot releases (version 3.1.2 is the latest).  But it's the improvements in newer versions of Xcode that will be of greatest importance to developers at this year's conference.  One presumes that Apple will keep gcc as its default compiler in Xcode, but LLVM may become more compelling in the not too distant future.  gcc 4.0 has been Apple's default for quite a while now, so it is of no surprise this default changes to version 4.2 under Snow Leopard.  But gcc is not standing still either, with version 4.3 having been released a little over a year ago, and 4.4 this past April.  And as we speak, gcc 4.5 is actively being developed.  Perhaps future version of Xcode will become compatible with these latest versions of gcc.

 

Memories

 

It's funny how memory works.  People tend not to remember the bad things as much as they think they will.  Even in such a short period as one year.  I found this to be true with me.

 

Case in point: I re-read my review of WWDC '08 from last July, and I am surprised at how negatively I described it (I gave it a score of C-).  My feelings now are a bit more relaxed about last year's experience there.  All of the negatives I cited (no Mac info in the keynote, over-crowding, lousy food) all remain valid, but they seem a bit less important now looking back. 

 

Changes with Snow Leopard are evolutionary, not revolutionary, making me feel less frantic and more optimistic about the Apple's future.  With the huge changes on the face of the Mac over the past few years (new features dumped in Tiger, then an entire processor switch to Intel, followed by another massive feature dump in Leopard), it's nice to be able to worked with improved API's on the current feature set (rather than have to rewrite everything from scratch once again).  A grade of C- seems a bit harsh in retrospect, considering I gave WWDC '06 a grade of B+.  The food was no better in 2006, it was nearly as crowded, and we were staring down at a lot more work with the upcoming 10.5 changes.  A C+ may have been a more objective grade to give it.

 

Coming Up Next Month:  Your intrepid reporter makes his annual pilgrimage to WWDC to report on his findings!  See you in 30!

 

To see a list of all the According to Hoyle columns, visit:

  http://www.jonhoyle.com/maccompanion

 

http://www.maccompanion.com/macc/archives/June2009/Columns/AccordingtoHoyle.htm