WWDC Tips for Newbies [UPDATED]

Update - June 3rd, 2013: I wrote this article, originally, in 2010, so it's just a tad out of date. The keynote this year is on June 10, so ignore the date below.  Steve Jobs is gone. Some of the minor details may have changed. But for anyone who's attending WWDC for the first time, it has some valuable pointers that will make the experience a whole lot better.  Here we go...


If you’re attending WWDC for the first time this year, here’s a boatload of useful tips for newbies that will save time and grief.

The Keynote

The keynote is scheduled for 10 a.m. June 7, and there’s no such thing as getting up too early to get in line. No matter how early you drag yourself out of bed and stagger to Moscone West, you’ll find an appalling number of people already in front of you. The night before a Steve Jobs Keynote is no time to stay up late at the bar. You’ll want to set your alarm for as early as you can manage next Monday. No later than 6 a.m.

You don’t want to be in line to get your WWDC badge Monday morning when you should be in line for the keynote. Get your badge Sunday afternoon by 7 p.m.

wwdc line

The line inside can become, ah, amorphous

Pay close attention to how the Keynote waiting line is formed and what the intentions of the ushers are. History has shown that Apple ushers typically don’t enforce rigid protocols. Lines that were once neatly formed can become messy and merged. If you arrive early enough to camp out inside, make sure you and the people around you pay close attention to shifting currents in the organization of the lines. Or else, suddenly, you could lose hundreds of places in line, and all your efforts to arrive early could be wasted. If you arrive too late, or don’t manage your early arrival positioning, you won’t even get into the main hall to watch live. You could end up in over-flow seating — having flown many miles only to watch the keynote on a large projection display.

Wear something light but warm in line. You may be outside for a long time before the line is allowed to come inside and wrap around inside the hall. Then the restrooms (and possibly pastries) are available.

If you run into the main presentation hall (cinch up your gear and be prepared to run), and it looks like there are not many seats left, try to sit in front of one of the projection screens placed around the hall. Then you can enjoy the stage action from a distance and still see the details of what’s happening on the big screens. At the distance you’ll likely be sitting, forget about getting good pictures of the stage with a pocket digital camera. You’ll need a DSLR with a 500 to 1,000 mm telephoto lens to photograph anything decent on stage. Also, remember that a standard flash on a pocket camera has an effective range of about 20 ft. (6 m.) You’ll be a lot farther from the stage than that unless your name is Al Gore.


Make sure you reserve the evening scheduled for “Stump The Experts.” This is an event not to be missed. Trust me. Rush out of your last session that day, grab a sandwich, stuff cookies in your pocket, forget about a sit down dinner, and arrive early for the Apple (iPhone) Design Awards. This will give you a good seat for Stump The Experts that follows. You may be able to shift seats between the sessions to move farther forward. In fact, always have food and a bottle of water with you so you don’t get hungry and be tempted to miss these events. Go have a nice sit down dinner some other night.

Also, the Stump The Experts session is not available on the Post-WWDC DVDs. You can imagine why — the show can get get fairly raucous.

wwdc stump

Stump the Experts (Mark Harlan and Apple team)

Pay close attention to the music played during the 10 minutes before Stump the Experts starts — while people are getting seated. That’s all I’m going to tell you.

In the past, all attendees were bussed to the Apple campus for a beer bash, but those days are over. However, if you have transportation, you may want to consider visiting the Apple company store — which is accessible without entering the Apple campus. It’s right next to the Infinite Loop #1 main entrance. Apple’s campus is about a 30 minute drive from Moscone. The company store has a nice selection of clothing and souvenirs.

In its place, there has been a section in the Moscone West dining hall that sells a subset of those items, mostly clothing with the Apple logo. These items aren’t cheap, however.

The Sessions

It’s always best to attend WWDC with at least one other colleague. That way, you can each go to different sessions, depending on your interests, and have notes covering the different sessions each of you attended.

Don’t feel bad about getting up and changing sessions. One time, I was sitting quietly in a very technical session with a rather low key, boring speaker, and the room next to us kept erupting with laughter and applause. I got up, left, went next door and saw some fabulous demos in a QuickTime presentation. If a session doesn’t seem to offer what you had hoped, bolt to your second choice.

I have never found it possible to take notes on a MacBook. The speakers go way too fast, and a MBP battery won’t last the whole day. (You might get by with an iPad if you’re an expert typist on the virtual keyboard.) I always take along a 100 page spiral notebook, and I can scribble as fast as the speakers can talk. Plus, typing doesn’t handle those cases when the speaker is presenting diagrams. I type up my type notes on the flight home. (Note: all the sessions at WWDC are covered under Apple’s NDA, except the Keynote.)

In recent years, attendees have taken to group note taking with Mac software called SubEthaEdit. Volunteers in the audience (including you) can jump in and take collective notes. The screen fills up fast! Then, at the end of the session, you’ll have complete notes written by many, many people, not just yourself.

After each session is over, there’s a mass exodus to the bathrooms, and there will be long lines. (Unless you are female!) If you want to avoid that, sneak out in the middle of a session when the bathrooms are empty. But be back for the end of the session because that’s when the presenter typically shows a slide with contact information for that Apple team. It’s your way to communicate bugs and, in general, develop a relationship with that product team. Be prepared to write some e-mail addresses very fast — or snap a photo with your phone’s camera — or be on SubEthaEdit and hope for some alert audience members.

The first session Monday afternoon is chock full of goodies, typically titled: “The State of ….” For example, “The State of the iPhone OS.” In this session, you’ll get background on the brief demos Mr. Jobs showed in the morning. The line will form early for this first afternoon session, almost as bad as the keynote. An early lunch on Monday is in order.

When packing your charger, bring the three prong extension cord because the two prongs on the charger base may not fit the power strips provided under the seats.

On the top level of Moscone West, there will be various lounges dedicated to, for example, digital media, development, gaming, and so on. These are good places to hang, sit quietly and have a conference with a colleague. They are also good places to get a strong and under-utilized Wi-Fi signal. There are also some very good daily presentations in these topic lounges. Check the announcement boards.

Weather, Incidentals

San Francisco in June in the daytime will be nice. But make sure you take a light jacket, preferably waterproof with a light liner. The nights in S.F. are damp and cool. You’ll be in for a chilly evening, even in June in the Bay’s sea breeze if you’re just wearing a T-shirt.

Make sure you take business cards. You never know who you’ll run into. Perhaps you’ll bump into Apple engineer or VP you’ve always wanted to meet. Or a colleague from another company. Offering your own business card is a sign of professionalism and allows you to collect the valuable cards of others.

You won’t need to worry about lunches. Apple will feed you every day in the huge dining hall, and the food is generally pretty good. It’s been better in the past, but it’s still fairly good stuff. And you can eat all you want. Drink lots of iced-tea because you’ll spend the afternoon in some warm, people-packed, dark presentation rooms. Watch for afternoon snacks rolled out onto the concourses. They go fast.

WWDC lunch

Even lunch time is jammed

Final Thoughts

In the old days, hotels got the idea that an Ethernet jack in the room was a good thing to replace the need for dial-up. But soon they discovered that pulling wire is expensive. Then they got the bright idea that Wi-Fi is cheaper. The added benefit is that they don’t have to explain why a dedicated wire has such shitty bandwidth. With WiFi, they can just blame it on wireless overload and shove everyone through a cheap 128 Kbps line. Remember, you’ll be packed into a hotel with hundreds of other Apple enthusiasts. Don’t depend on the WiFi in your hotel to work very well. Take care of e-mail before you leave the Moscone Center.

Don’t pack your suitcase too full. Leave some room for all the goodies you’ll be coming home with.

There is a flagship Apple retail store a ten minute walk from the Moscone Center (Market & Stockton.) It’s worth a visit if there’s no Apple retail store in your town. Note that like all Apple retail stores, they don’t sell Apple clothing.

Don’t plan to spend much time on other activities, like Fisherman’s Wharf or the wine country. You’ll be too busy, dawn to dusk, in sessions, meetings, events, and party or two and, of course, the Apple WWDC Bash.

wwdc - bash

WWDC Bash in the park (2008, Barenaked Ladies)

Developers always take their code to WWDC because they get a chance in the labs to do interactive debugging with Apple engineers. However, even if you’re just a customer, if you have special software you’re working on, say, some corporate iPhone code, take the source and compiled along on a Flash drive for instant portability. Also, chances are, some new hardware will be announced, and you may have a chance to compile and run that code on prototype hardware (or the equivalent iPhone simulator) in the labs. Then you’ll be able to compare performance, go back home, and make a convincing argument why you’ll need these new systems. And look very good to your boss.

WWDC is an incredible event. I’ve attended roughly seventeen in a row. It’s highly addictive and provides both developers and customer organizations with an incredible opportunity to meet Apple engineers and executives, develop those relationships, test code, hatch business deals or partnerships, and better understand Apple’s vision and directions. It’s just plain fun.

And, in time, you will find that, just like some of life’s other pleasures, once is not enough.

eedc - john

John on Campus