What Could Go Wrong with WWDC?  Nothing. (Right?)

| Editorial

Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference has always been about giving developers the information they need to build great apps. Along with that, there are some fun events, parties, and Apple Design Awards to stir the imagination of developers. Now, however, Apple’s success in the marketplace has placed immense strain on the WWDC attendees, and only acolyte-fever, for now, can overcome it.

When an event that hosts 5,000 people sells out in one day, that’s good for Apple. Each year, lately, the event sells out faster and faster. Last year, WWDC 2010 sold out in just eight days.

Of course, the crowds, excitement and anticipation are good for Apple. Will Steve Jobs give the keynote? Will the iPhone 5 be announced? (Only rumors say no.) What will Apple have in store for us with Mac OS X Lion and iOS integration? It’s all very exciting, and it looks good for Apple.

Nevertheless, there are downsides. Apple announced the opening of ticket sales early on March 28, and the event was sold out later that day, U.S. time. Developers in eastern European and Asian time zones may have gone home or gone to bed and found, when they woke up, that ticket sales were announced, opened, then closed to them before they could react.

Some corporate developers have to get approval, but that’s hard to do when the event sells out before one can even submit the paperwork.

Apple’s purchase system allows one to buy the ticket, but activate it later by someone else. That means that astute entrepreneurs with credit card in hand could jump on a ticket, then sell it for far more than the face value. TMO reported one ticket for sale on eBay for $2,500. Apple may enjoy the fenzy, those who have to foot the bill for inflated tickets do not.

wwdc crowd

Attendees will find that they’ll have to be in line by 6 am on June 6 to guarantee admission to the main hall and keynote. Maybe 5 am this year. Otherwise, overflow will be directed to another hall where people can watch the keynote on TV displays. That’s a long way to travel at some expense to watch the keynote in another room via TV.

Attendes will find, once they are granted admission on June 6 that the halls in Moscone West will be crowded to the extremes. One has to leave a session early to avoid a long, stressful line to get into the restrooms. (Of course, amazingly, no lines for the ladies.) One has to get in line early for the sessions or risk being turned away. A WWDC badge no longer guarantees that one will be able to attend the session of choice because of SRO, then a lockout. One ends up watching the session weeks later via podcast.

This is all great for Apple PR, of course. It looks good to the press. There are impressive lines, and the Apple acolytes are buzzing with excitement. It’s hard to complain about this kind of success, something Apple sought for so long. I think it’s great.

Even so, upon reflection, the event now seems to have a circus atmosphere that doesn’t reflect well on Apple. When people and events are driven to extremes, like former Las Vegas events that failed, the scuttlebutt eventually sours everyone. Stressing people, no matter how eager and loyal they are, to the limits has its own built-in limits.

I won’t offer solutions here, for solutions are hard to come by. Some developers, however, will start asking themselves if there are better ways, other events, to obtain the information they need at a lower cost. Apple, which traditionally loses money on this event is likely loathe to expand beyond Moscone West, but, hey, if you’re going to lose money, why not lose just a little more and spread out for the sake of the attendees, not Apple’s convenience. But I do know that when organisms are highly stressed, they change and adapt in unpredictable ways.

For now, Apple is all too happy with the fun. Next year, the event will sell out in 60 minutes. When things are going well, it’s hard to forecast what could go wrong. Nothing can go wrong, right?

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Dorje Sylas

With the disgruntled iPad 2 line waiters (me, for my online order), now a over crowding at WWDC, and probably more long lines with the next iPhone (based on iPhone 4), Apple is really starting to come across as either over stretched or a demented fiend.

Neither is a customer friendly appearance. If there are extended and unnecessary (forced by lack of pre-order system) line waits for the iPhone 5 (at least there can’t be scalping there) I think Apple will need to be knocked down a few points on their consumer friendly rating.

I’m not an Apple hater. I held fast with them through 90s and early 2000s. However I can call bull shit when I see it. Apple is riding a rocket, and while its great fun to have that kind of power thumbing between your legs when you haven’t had it in nearly two decades, at some point you need to deal with the fact you haven’t started fitting an oxygen mask in place as you reach the “death zone” 26000 ft.

It’s not like Apple doesn’t have data about how many active iOS developers (and soon Mac) are out there who will be hunting for a seat at WWDC. Even indy game runaway Markus Alexej “Notch” Persson maker of Minecraft knew when he need to bring more people on board. IMHO Apple needs to take some of that war chest and create a dedicated convention/developer support unit that can handle events like WWDC.

Ross Edwards

@Dorje Sylas has it right.  Consumers just won’t tolerate it for long—at some point, “hype fatigue” sets in and people just give up on the product or figure they’ll get it whenever they darned well get around to it.

Look at concert tickets these days.  Back in the 1980s, entire groups of us would camp out overnight to be sure we got into the best shows.  Now there’s no grassroots excitement at all and even large shows don’t sell out.  People just don’t care enough to put up with the hassle.  If you absolutely positively have to take a hot date to a Lady Gaga show, you can buy tickets at an acceptable markup from a scalping website on your iPhone, and then pick them up at will-call.  Nobody cares.

Is that where Apple wants to be?  Hawking “hot” products that are more story than utility?  That’s not supposed to be their way of doing business.


“Some corporate developers have to get approval, but that?s hard to do when the event sells out before one can even submit the paperwork.”

Then, those companies suffer from poor planning and worse management. WWDC is an annual event. The dates have been pretty much known for some time. The cost is roughly the same as last year. Thus, companies could have pre-approved their people attending. Employees could have registered with their own credit cards and been reimbursed. (I’ve done that several times with a non-profit.) I expect that some did just that.

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