With Macworld going on hiatus after the 2014 Expo, there was a lot of talk about that being “the end” of Apple conferences. Much like Apple leaving Macworld Expo, Macworld leaving the schedule made way for other conferences, each serving Apple users and fans in different ways.
CocoaConf is one of the oldest, setting up for a few days in various locations around the US since 2011. This is a conference specifically for learning, with hands-on training in both iOS and Mac OS development, and in-depth talks about some topics, as well as some less technical presentations. Another set of events to watch for is from MacTech, called MacTech Pro Events. These are usually single-day events with deep dives into topics near and dear to Mac consultants.
Another conference, now in its second year is CocoaLove. This is a less technical conference, more about community and passion than about code or text editors. Last year included talks about when to ship, why mentoring matters, and how it's important to design something for everyone, not just sighted people or a specific gender. In fact, right on the CocoaLove site it declares that you should leave your laptop in your hotel room.
I love these conferences. In fact, I have attended a number of MacTech events, CocoaConf twice, and I'm working out how to make it to others. There is a very compelling reason why Macworld Expo mattered, and why it is missed, and that's the community. Apple people at Macworld, Mac User Group meetings, developer gatherings, and any other event where a group congregates in the name of Apple is a great place. I've been to my share throughout the years, and I've always been welcomed and included.
I've attended other types of events and felt intimidated or put off by the closed nature of the group, or made to feel not welcome because whatever cred I had wasn't enough or the right kind. Part of why I love my computer and my phone is because of the people I get to talk to about them.
Sure you can watch videos of talks after the fact, and you can learn things by downloading slides or examples from a talk someone gave, but that all pales in comparison to the "Hallway Track." Conference usually have some sort of "track" system for what you're attending, and the meetups and conversations that happen in between - the hallway track - are always my favorite part.
I got to meet Andy Ihnatko on the hallway track and ask him to take a picture of with a couple of notable gentlemen. I had a lovely conversation with Merlin Mann about the internet and we speculated about the future of the iPhone. I shook the hand of Steve Wozniak. All of these things came about because of the random and glorious nature of the Hallway Track. And no amount of virtual attendance will ever take its place.
So if you have an idea for a conference or an event or even just a casual meetup, make it happen. If you're considering going to a conference, pull the trigger. You will get far more out of it than the sessions you attend.