Home > Apple > Ten Ghosts of WWDC Past

Ten Ghosts of WWDC Past

May 21st, 2010

Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference kicks off in just over two weeks. If you want to get a good idea of what the conference is like, Jeff LaMarche’s guide is a good place to start.

This will be my 12th WWDC. The first one I went to was in 1999, when the conference was much smaller and took place in San Jose.

I was feeling kind of nostalgic, and thought it might be fun to come up with a list of ten things that used to be part of WWDC but no longer are. Come along with me on a random trip down memory lane of WWDCs past.

Beer Bash at the Apple Campus Believe it or not, Apple used to charter what must have been every tour bus in the Bay Area and ship some 3000+ geeks over to Apple HQ for a beer bash and concert in the parklike area in the middle of Apple’s campus. This was a highlight of the week…you got to visit the Apple Company Store, drink beer with 3000 of your best friends, go to various plugfests and other interest areas, and of course, drink beer? Why did Apple put an end to this…it should be obvious…it was a logistical nightmare, and once WWDC moved to SF and the attendance kept growing, it became ridiculous…with several hour waits to board busses and get into the campus. These days, Apple holds the party at Yerba Buena gardens right across the street.

Movie Night One of the nights of the conference used to be devoted to Movie Night. Apple would project a first run movie on the big screen in the main hall, and provide popcorn and snacks. It was a lot of fun, but in an increasingly packed week, I suspect they decided it just didn’t make as much sense to keep the tradition going. I don’t recall when they stopped, but certainly before the move to SF in 2003.

Major-league swag giveaways Every year, you would get some type of laptop carrying case (wanna bet this year it will be an iPad case?) However, Apple has really topped themselves in the past, with expensive and desirable giveaways like the brand new iSight cameras back in 2003 and a really nice leather OS X logoed jacket in (I think) 2001.

Printed conference guides These amazing gizmos were made from processed tree carcasses, and contained a list of sessions and logistical information. Of special note were foldable grids and maps for each day’s sessions the would slide into the back of your badge holder, making quick reference checks super easy. These days, it’s an iPhone app and we’re all better off, but 2000 years from now, will WWDC archeologists be able to run an iPhone app? I think not!

Conference Expo Apple used to have a mini Macworld Expo-like show floor the first three days of WWDC. Companies with a development or IT focus would actually exhibit at small booths. This was actually a really great way to find out about obscure tools and applications, as well as score swag, and it was a shame when the plug was pulled.

Jamba Juice All the free Jamba Juice you could drink. Unless I was blind or am going senile, I didn’t see them last year. I’m guessing it is cheaper to provide the pre-packed drinks and snacks.

Birds of a Feather Birds of a Feather sessions were “out of band” semi informal conference sessions about relatively obscure topics where aficionados of, say, Ruby, GUI scripting, or QA would gather and geek out. Usually held after hours or sometimes during lunch, they were great ways for there ot be coverage of topics for which there wouldn’t be enough interest for a full-on conference session.

Gaming Area Apple used to bring out a few dozen high-end Macs, give them big monitors and gaming mice as well as a few of the best new Mac games, and let you play. It was like a big, floating all-day LAN party, and if you had 15 minutes free, you could relax by fragging a few noobs in between sessions. The last frag in a WWDC gaming area was at least 3 or 4 years ago.

Feedback Forums All of the items so far (except maybe the Birds of a Feather) are ancillary to the purpose of WWDC; not so the Feedback Forums. These used to be an opportunity for attendees to give direct feedback to the various teams at Apple. There would be a feedback forum for each area (such as Quicktime, Core OS, Server, IT, etc.) and the session was basically an open mic where you could talk to the engineers in a structured but informal way. Best of all was the Vice Presidents Feedback Forum, where a bunch of Apple’s VPs would answer questions about anything. Can you imagine that now? Apple did away with “Ask the VPs” several years ago, and gradually whittled the other Feedback Forums over the years until they disappeared entirely in 2008. In these iPhone days, I think it is obvious why they will never return!

Developer Store There used to be a big third-party developer store. Essentially an Apple Store on wheels, where you could buy pretty much any Mac accessory you might suddenly find yourself needing (spare HD, USB cable, etc.). These days, you walk the five blocks to the Apple Store on Market.

Ah, nostalgia.

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  1. Lavona
    May 21st, 2010 at 16:44 | #1

    Ahh, but earlier times were even neater …

    The lobbies in San Jose had jugglers giving lessons, a good line-up or real pin ball machines all set to free, the parties had huge name guests and more.

  2. Markus Kirschner
    May 21st, 2010 at 16:51 | #2

    last year there has definitely been lots of Jamba Juice!

  3. Alex Rosenberg
    May 21st, 2010 at 17:13 | #3

    Let’s not forget the evening guest speakers like Douglas Adams and Mike Okuda. Or the themed parties like the 1990 “rave” or whatever year was “retro” with bell-bottoms and Ken Kesey (1994?).

  4. May 21st, 2010 at 17:17 | #4

    Well, at least they have the unlimited Naked Juice cold cases around…

  5. May 21st, 2010 at 17:18 | #5

    @Markus Kirschner
    Not last year (2009) but maybe 2008.

  6. Michael
    May 21st, 2010 at 17:23 | #6

    1,4,6,7,8,9,10 and the heavy iPhone OS emphasis are pretty much why I stopped going.

  7. Mark Hernandez
    May 21st, 2010 at 17:52 | #7

    I started going three years ago and my first impression was how “sterile” WWDC was. I thought it was that way by design. I expected there to be a lot more fun stuff happening. But now I appreciate the “strictly business” focus within the conference center.

    Already, though, in my short two years, there used to be battery recharging stations so you could drop off your extra battery come back for a recharged one (Apple solved that by having 7-10 hour built-in batteries I guess 🙂 and then in the afternoon they would make cappuccinos for you. But that’s gone too. Gruber suggests that Moscone may impose restrictions on the food and services they offer, but if Apple really wanted to do something, they could probably find a way to do it. Let’s see… 5,200 attendees X $1,800 each = $9.3M.

    But the quality of the information and the presentations and the quick two-week turnaround for session videos just keeps getting better and better.

    I want to see more 3D imagery in their presentations. Pixar is in arm’s reach of Apple. Last year’s Mac “Concurrent Programming in Cocoa” was pure words on the slides, not a single graphic. That’s so not 2010. Let’s make flat 2D mostly-word representations of a 3D object-oriented world one of our “memories.”

  8. May 21st, 2010 at 18:19 | #8

    I was there in 2003 when the conference moved to SF and I distinctly remember a movie night on Wednesday. I think it was one of the LOTR, or some Pixar creation.

    This will be my fourth WWDC (2002, 2003, 2007 & 2010)…

  9. Owen Hartnett
    May 21st, 2010 at 18:42 | #9

    Do they still have stump the experts? My funniest moment was standing in the registration line watching John Draper (aka Cap’n Crunch) try to register without an ID. Everyone in line knew who he was, except the girl in the booth who didn’t have a clue.

  10. May 21st, 2010 at 18:43 | #10

    I’ve attended in 2000, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2007, and I’ll be there this year.
    I think 2000 was the last year that they did an Apple Masters event. I’ll never forget watching Bryan Adams play guitar while Gregory Hines tap danced. Sinbad was supposed to attend, but couldn’t make it, so they piped a phone call over the PA.
    WWDC isn’t what it once was, but I do think that going back to a more developer focus (i.e. no IT conference track) is a very good sign.

  11. Dan hamilton
    May 21st, 2010 at 19:23 | #11

    I was there in 2003. Movie night was finding nemo presented by pixar big wigs. Oh and we all got a free iSight webcam (the tune external one before they built it into everything. Mine still works great)

  12. May 21st, 2010 at 20:19 | #12

    They were even more opportunities to rub elbows with the deep-down internals engineers whose names you never knew in the days before OS X. I think the amount of fabric required to make shirts that would fit the NeXT guys simply cost too much, so they decided to keep them locked up in IL6 where no one could hear them gasping for air as they chewed with their mouths open.

  13. Mario
    May 21st, 2010 at 20:38 | #13

    Yeah… Good times, very good times indeed. Apple is now a very big company, back then many of us wanted that many people could enjoy the Mac experience. Now that is a reality. I had the opportunity to go to 2001(San José), 2003 (I was lucky enough to win an ADA http://www.palomera.mx/design_award/) and 2006… I ended up being a WebDev, still love the Mac and the iPhone. I just hope that the developer community keeps growing and getting stronger. Best Regards

  14. Andy Richards
    May 21st, 2010 at 20:50 | #14

    #11 after this year: Macs.

  15. Chris
    May 21st, 2010 at 20:56 | #15

    My first: “Why 1994 won’t be like 1984”. Cool pen, stylish printed schedule, and a small group (30?) formed a “netter’s dinner”, for the few attendees from across the globe who met & communicated on the Internet. My last was 2008, and it was sad to see the place so overcrowded. I keep hoping they’ll move to a bigger venue.

    They still had stump in 2008, right after the H.E.I.D.I.s (Apple Design Awards, started by Heidi Roizen). (Mahboud still gets awarded the night’s first T-shirt.) It’s also sad to see the Mac going the way of Pink/Taligent, OpenDoc/CyberDog, etc., but I do hope to attend a future WWDC. They are quite fun, as well as educational, and still seem to allow access to Apple engineers not available elsewhere.

  16. May 21st, 2010 at 21:31 | #16

    Movie night definitely survived the move to San Francisco. Finding Nemo played there.

  17. Zac Samuel
    May 22nd, 2010 at 02:15 | #17

    And we students used to have “Student Sunday”, a special full-day event with different speakers, prior to the start of WWDC on the Monday.

  18. Jeff
    May 22nd, 2010 at 12:09 | #18

    I remember a “movie night” where they played the season finale of Voyager– but that wasn’t a first-run movie so it might not count. I miss the campus trip the most, followed closely by “stump the experts.” Now who can I talk to at Apple about the correct timings on the Apple II digital board?

  19. Eas
    May 22nd, 2010 at 19:39 | #19

    Interesting list. Clearly Google is the go-to company if you want expensive gifts. It is interesting to consider that the iPhone was launched into what many already thought was a crowded smartphone marketplace (WinMo, PlamOS, RIM, Nokia) with some big deficiencies (no MMS, no cut-and-paste, no 3rd party apps) and ended up with people lining in up overnight to pay good money for them. Google on the other hand is buying good press by giving android phones away by the truckload (which is not to say that it’s not a credible product).

    But what I was going to note is that to some extent the lack of things like Apple organized BOF sessions, and Q&A with engineers is probably, in part, a product of the world we live in. We are so far past the days when Apple and a few magazines and book publishers were the only real channel for learning about Apple products and technologies. People can organize their own BOF sessions at WWDC, or elsewhere. They can drop in to web communities and IRC channels to unravel API mysteries. They can send Steve Jobs email, and may even get a response. Conversely, Apple can monitor these channels to get a sense of what sort of information or features developers want or need.

    This isn’t to say that it wouldn’t still be a good thing to have Apple engaging in more public conversation with it’s developer community. I wonder if their tendency towards draconian NDA terms, etc, is in part an attempt to claw back the control they used to have.

  20. May 23rd, 2010 at 01:01 | #20

    WWDC this year is so entising.

  21. Dan
    May 23rd, 2010 at 04:35 | #21

    Gee… this year is my first WWDC and, after reading this, I’m a little bummed out.
    I’ve been to a couple of other conferences and there were always several ‘extras’ to make it feel a little more memorable.

    One of the big benefits to me would seem to be able to mingle in an informal way with other Mac developers. There are only 5 Mac developers at my company and sometimes I feel a little isolated. I was looking forward to some fun events were I could mingle with like minded individuals. Now I’m worried I’m just going to get burned out with information overload!

    Also, why wouldn’t they have a store and expo? I can’t remember *ever* being to a conference that didn’t have these features. Seems like you’ve got 5000 Apple lovers in one place you’d probably want to sell them some stuff. Plus, I see it as a service to your loyal ISV to offer them an opportunity to market some smaller software products directly to Mac developers.

    Finally, (and I realize this is just a greedy statement), but for $1600, you think they’d give the attendees some kind of promo product/swag/gift… something like a an iPod Nano preloaded with some additional information video sessions would be appropriate.

    But, yeah… now I’m bummed…

  22. Mark Hernandez
    May 23rd, 2010 at 17:56 | #22

    Aw Dan, don’t be bummed. In spite of what everyone might be saying, why did I just plunk down $1600+ to go again! That says a lot. Plus, I’ve met some amazing people simply standing in line like Jens from Denmark. And on the plane back home to San Diego I sat next to a guy with a WWDC bag and it turned out to be the guy that wrote PocketTunes and now we’re buddies.

    I guess one could say that WWDC boils down to a multi-faceted way of “reaching” many things besides developers. It’s a marketing event, a keynote speech that’s talked about in your local paper, all the session videos are made available to all, the engineers get to help some developers but still get feedback from that sampling of developers as well. All this, regardless of whether 5K or 25K attendees can come, seeing as it’s still a fraction of the possibly 85K developers currently out there who would benefit from the event.

    It would also be difficult to expand the venue without making it unwieldy and possibly upsetting things in other ways. The main room is humongous and but can only hold 1500 people and requires multiple screens, and the keynote is overflowed into another room. You’d practically need a stadium.

    Apple also now has it’s traveling version of WWDC – the Tech Talk World Tour.

    As I have said many times, all conferences are becoming a thing of the past because they can only reach the privileged few and you must consider reaching a planet-wide audience AND acknowledge that your developers all have multiple points of internet access – in their pocket, on a tablet and on multiple screens. Apple has left behind Macworld and puts on a mini Macworld 365 days a year in 200+ stores in 10 countries.

    So, WWDC only really needs to physically reach “some” developers to be successful on the whole, and if they sell out in 8 days they don’t need to do many of the things of the past to get people to show up. I don’t need much to make me happy — I love my black fleece pullover with the understated Apple logo sewn in silver thread. 🙂

  23. Mark Hernandez
    May 23rd, 2010 at 18:22 | #23

    I made a mistake in my math in my first post…

    Last year Bertrand Serlet (WWDC09 Session 700) announced there were 5200 attendees so that’s correct. And interestingly, he said 60% of attendees were first-timers. Incredibly, there are actually three generations of developers attending, from twenty-somethings to sixty-somethings. Think about that!

    But this year the ticket price is $1600 not $1800 as I posted. So that’s a million dollars less. 🙁 So, only $8.3 million from the tickets, and even less since there are some promotions and VIP guests.

    But the publicity it generates is, well, priceless!

  24. Mark Hernandez
    May 23rd, 2010 at 18:26 | #24

    After hearing the details about Google’s I/O conference just held in the same Moscone West venue, I felt exhausted just hearing about all the details — kinda like having bees living in your head.

    But when you leave WWDC, your brain is definitely full, but you still feel there is tremendous order and organization to it all. Interesting. It’s so Apple.

  25. May 24th, 2010 at 08:51 | #25

    I still fondly remember playing Bolo in the Gaming Area, me vs 7 others (I lost – very slowly).

    There was also the Netters Dinner – back when being on the Internet was highly unusual!

    Metting such luminaries as John Norstad (one of the reasons the Mac has no viruses on it today); Steve Dorner (“The email client recognized by Steve Jobs”); Jon Pugh (“That’s Mister Geek to you!”); Kee Nether (“Sure, I can process your payments for you”); Quinn The Eskimo; Leonard “StuffIt” Rosenthol; Rich Siegel (“You’re a genius”); James Thompson and many other friends!

  26. Janey
    May 25th, 2010 at 16:33 | #26

    Just for comparison, the earlier LinuxWorld Expo events had some of the same cool freebies. Then it became “corporate” and a lot of the freebies went away.

    It’s just the nature of trade shows in today’s Internet age.

  27. November 16th, 2011 at 03:54 | #27

    Wonder what the coming year holds, without Jobs and all..

  28. January 31st, 2012 at 04:07 | #28

    Hello there! This is kind of off topic but I need some guidance from an established blog. Is it difficult to set up your own blog? I’m not very techincal but I can figure things out pretty fast. I’m thinking about creating my own but I’m not sure where to start. Do you have any points or suggestions? Many thanks

  29. April 9th, 2012 at 02:36 | #29

    My understanding regarding the much-missed Jamba Juice is that Moscone screwed them out of it — Apple’s stuck offering food and beverages through Moscone’s vendor list, and Jamba Juice isn’t on it.

  30. September 24th, 2012 at 22:26 | #30

    Nicely stated Andy!

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