Thursday, July 5, 2012

My First Year at WWDC - A Recap

Once every summer, Moscone West in San Francisco becomes the Apple Mecca for a week as people from all over the world attend the Apple World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC). For WWDC 2012, I managed to obtain one of the only 5000 available tickets; this is an unthinkable feat once you realize the event sold out in only two hours. Suddenly it was time to depart to SFO, and for a week I was in tech heaven. As Silicon Valley becomes more and more cramped, the overflow of tech companies and startups like Atlassian, Square, and Google began pouring into the city. The result is San Francisco has become young and techy; driving down the highway I saw billboards that proclaimed “Your CMS is in the cloud, why not your phones?” something that maybe 5% of Americans actually understand.

The kickoff for the week was the Apple Keynote, the only publicized event during WWDC. As I registered the day before, I noticed developers already camped out in line for the event, so the next morning I decided to queue up around 5am which was a wise decision. Eventually we made our way to the top of Moscone and I managed to get a good seat only a few rows back from the front. As some of the top executives of Apple announced and demonstrated this year’s new stuff, the crowd of developers was ecstatic about every new feature. For a few minutes, The Stig from Top Gear showed up to drag race over AirPlay on an iPad. After two hours of shiny new apple, the keynote was over and we were reminded that the duration of the conference was covered under NDA. Here are the three big announcements this year that are changing Apple and its strategy.

First, iOS6 will be the next release of the operating system that runs on our iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad. As Apple went over the new features, I couldn’t help but notice that Apple had suddenly began partnering with other companies; TomTom, Yelp, Facebook, and Twitter are now a part of the entire Apple experience, no longer just apps. This leaves blood in the water as many other tech companies and startups are dead to iOS now that their competitor is integrated. Apple has also officially removed Google Maps and replaced it with their own service, further dividing the line between Google and Apple. Apple consistently brought up “their competitor” a number of times during the keynote and even poked fun, a sign that Apple has something to fear. Many other features appear to be “tacked on” as they are integrated in odd places and are opened with odd gestures like “triple click the home button”. Using the developer preview of iOS 6, I can see that Apple is rushing the release as many bugs are being squashed, so we will see how the public responds when it is available for free this Fall.

Second, OS X Mountain Lion will be the next release of the operating system that runs on our Macs and MacBooks. This is not a major upgrade to the operating system, but brings a ton of new features moving them to a cleaner UI and experience. Notifications have now become wrapped up in a new experience that seems very familiar to the notification system in Ubuntu, for those who have tried the popular flavor of Linux. Every new event, email, comment, IM, phone call, update, etc. will now slide down in the upper right corner instead of creating an interrupting window. All notifications exist in the Notification Dock attached to the right side of the screen, very similar to the dock you pull down in iOS. Without being customizable, many people have noted that this makes every notification the same priority, so expect this to be updated soon. The developer preview of Mountain Lion has been smooth, but there are still some nasty bugs for Apple to work out before it is available for $20 in July.

Finally, the last major announcement was the New MacBook Pro. This device sports a Hi-Definition Retina Display, a thin profile only slightly larger than the MacBook Air, and some of the best Intel and NVIDIA hardware. Apple touts this as the best laptop on the market, designed for photographers, video editors, and power users, but I have one problem with that statement: the display only comes in Glossy which is a huge disadvantage for media editors who need an unobscured editing experience. This new offering means that Apple also silently upgraded the normal MacBook Pros with better hardware, but also officially killed off the 17” model. Each iteration of the MacBook lineup is an experiment to see what consumers like, so only time will tell if this new device is worth the extra money.

Overall, my week at WWDC was one of the best weeks of my adult life. Being surrounded with like-minded enthusiasts and talented engineers at a premiere event in San Francisco was outstanding. We had three guest speakers give inspirational keynotes during the week: actor and author LeVar Burton (Roots, Star Trek, Reading Rainbow), author and Academy Award-winner William Joyce (Moonbot Studios, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore), and screenwriter and director J.J. Abrams (Alias, Lost, Fringe, Super 8). Many Apple engineers held after parties at some of the best bars and restaurants in the area, but the official WWDC Bash featuring alternative rock band Neon Trees was a great time at the Yerba Buena Gardens outdoor venue. With developer previews to all the betas, I've had a bleeding edge look on where Apple is heading and have begun preparing for the release of Apple's new products. But one thing is for certain, I left my heart in San Francisco...

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