How to Interpret What You Saw in the WWDC Keynote

In the past, the WWDC keynote was not available for public viewing, so if you watched it, you may have been a bit confused about some things that were said and done. Let me explain.

Sold out fast last year. Procces had to change.

The Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) is designed for Apple developers, people who make their living from Apple products. As such, the keynote is traditionally designed to do several things, based on my experience attending 17 consecutive WWDCs.

  • Build confidence in Apple, its products and its future.
  • Demonstrate that Apple is building powerful tools that will help developers build better products and be more successful financially.
  • Promote an atmosphere of technical excellence, indeed brilliance, that developers want to be part of.

The first two are obvious. Apple wants to create a sense of excitement that customers love its products and are snapping them up. That's why the WWDC keynote often starts with graphs of sales data. Also, poking fun at the competition is Apple's way of generating a buzz in the audience.

After all, of the 5,000 people in that hall, only a handful are not fully committed to Apple. Those 5000 attendees are not attending WWDC in order to write software for Samsung, and there's a reason why they love and respect Apple's ecosystem. Keeping them laughing and self-confident is a Good Thing™.

Also, many a company has failed because it didn't provide state-of-the art development tools that are a joy to use. When Apple introduces, say, a new computer language like Swift that eliminates developer headaches, there is unadulterated joy.

Apple SVP Craig Federighi introduces "Swift" computer language.

The last item in the list above requires more explanation. For starters, Apple hires some very, very smart and creative software engineers. They can make magic happen that many others who are simply skilled programmers cannot. An Apple engineer gets a brilliant idea, spends a week of nights developing it, and before long something that was never possible springs into being. It may well end up being a new Apple development tool or an important feature in an Apple software product.

When such an idea, after being well developed, is shown to the developers at WWDC, they are in awe. They instantly realize how this is going to make their lives better. Plus, the Apple engineer becomes highly respected. It's an inspiring family any developer urgently wants to be part of.

Finally, the private event "Stump the Experts" has continued to promote this kind of developer enthusiasm year after year.

Other Views

Those who are new to a public video stream of the WWDC keynote may not have quite understood these nuances. That might have thought that it's a venue for introducing flashy new hardware. They might have thought that they'd rather watch paint dry than see an Apple engineer write code in a demo. They might have expected more entertainment to their liking rather than a sequence of very technical demonstrations.

That's certainly a risk Apple took when it decided to make this keynote public. But it's important to understand that Apple has been doing this for 25 years and has the keynote down to a science. There is a very specific set of goals that I listed above, and that philosophy endures as that Special Thing™ that Apple does to launch WWDC every year.

About 5,000 attendees walked out of that keynote thinking, "Wow! I can't wait to start using these tools, the new language Swift, the new graphics interface Metal, the 4,000 new APIs and also deliver new capabilities to my customers."

Often, right after a keynote, if the new Apple developer tools are immediately available, you'll see developers actually recompiling their app's code on a MacBook on their laps as they sit in the hallways.

This is just part of what WWDC is all about. The keynote is a launch pad for 5,000 developers onsite plus many more watching in the WWDC app. It's all about the jazz, success, the future, the possibilities, the technical wizardry and the camaraderie.

If you watched the keynote, you just got a peek of how all that kicks off the week of fun at WWDC.