One week inside WWDC 2018
Who should read this: this write up is about my week of WWDC from the day I got on the plane to when Apple waved us goodbye.
I’m not going to go into the developer talks because these are all available here. This is more about my perspective of WWDC as an event and the interesting things that stood out for me.
Saturday, 2nd of June (Melbourne Time)
WWDC started for me on an early Saturday morning. Early enough that a shower doesn’t do justice in properly waking me up, but luckily/unluckily I never really got to sleep the night before due to the overwhelming excitement that felt much like Christmas. This is the part where I want to thank my parents for also waking up at that unbearable hour to drive and wave me off at the airport.
Departing MEL, I had rarely seen this sight looking out of the plane to a very chilly morning dew sunrise.
Then disaster struck.
In the rush to get out of the door, I’d left the airline adapter to my Bose QC35 headphones at home. I would have to find a replacement at Sydney Airport during my layover…
One and a half hours later, I landed in Sydney (there aren’t any non-stop flights from Melbourne to San Francisco… yet) and yet another disaster occurred.
I must have been still mostly asleep, because in the rush to buy a replacement airline adapter (which there were none of), I lost my dear Bose QC35 headphones somewhere in Sydney’s international terminal!
I didn’t think it could get any worse, but it looks like I will be using my backup non-noise-cancelling Apple earphones for the next 15 hours.
Saturday, 2nd of June (San Francisco Time)
Finally arriving in SFO, I couldn’t be gladder to get out to stretch my legs and re-associate myself with the little quirks of Silicon Valley like taking the BART, seeing Teslas everywhere, and sticking to the right-hand side of escalators.
I made my way quickly (which is not quick at all on the Caltrain) south to San Jose where I had booked a dorm room in San Jose State University.
Without any expectations for what I would find when I arrived at my accomodation, I was pleasantly surprised to see a dozen of Apple’s WWDC scholarship winners also checking in alongside me! All the scholars seemed to glow with excitement as they made new friends and discussed new app ideas.
Sunday, 3rd of June
If you’ve heard of what transport is like in the Bay Area recently, you’ll know a few things: traffic is a problem, public transportation is not great, and the latest way to get around are electric scooters (if you’re not tripping over them because of the sheer number around).
I decided to get around San Jose via scooter, and now I sure see why people love them. The scooters are incredibly fun to ride — and are very convenient since they can be found around almost any block in San Jose (that said, they were banned from San Francisco).
The business model is addictively cheap requiring only $1 to start, and $0.15 for every minute after. The two models that you can find lying around San Jose are the Lime and the Bird. Both have the same maximum speed of up to 24 km/h, but you can find others that can go up to 48 km/h for long distance travel!
With my scooter power, I quickly made my way to the San Jose McEnery Convention Centre where I was welcomed by the best of the best Apple Store employees flown in from around the world. Following their hi-fives and cheers, I arrived at a desk where — upon presenting my Apple Wallet pass — I was given an official WWDC badge, denim jacket, and pack of 6 pins to attach to the jacket!
After a bit of socialising, I went off to ISO bar for the official Australian Welcome to drink beers and talk with other Australian attendees about our expectations for the week.
Hot tip: if you are interested in meeting or networking with Apple engineers and other pro developers, then casual places like bars are definitely the best for this. There’s no additional work responsibility for people to focus on. Everyone was just there to enjoy themselves.
Monday, 4th of June
This is the day…
This is what I flew 15 hours to see from the other side of the world…
To wait in a very long line at 4 am in the morning.
Fast forward 5 hours, and after the first 100 people who had lined up, I got to walk through the doors into the conference hall.
It. Is. Enormous.
Several thousand chairs, all perfectly laid out in front of the widest cinema you can imagine.
After those several thousand chairs are filled, the show begins. Tim Cook walks out onto the stage and says “Good morning and welcome to WWDC 2018”.
The keynote featured a variety of new operating systems updates for the iPhone, Mac, Apple Watch, and Apple TV.
While I won’t risk plaguing my work MacBook Pro with beta software (yet), I did jump on the first opportunity to download and install the new iOS and watchOS betas on my iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch.
Getting even far enough to be able to download the betas can be quite a challenge though when several thousand developers are all using the same WiFi connection and are trying to do the same. Luckily, Apple had setup ethernet ports to connect your laptop for a much faster connection.
However, the iPhone doesn’t have an ethernet port.. or, does it? There’s a bit of a trick to this. Simply plug a laptop into an ethernet cable, then share that connection via USB to your phone to give it its own wired high-speed Ethernet.
Betas are always a gamble. That said, the latest iOS beta was one of the best I’ve seen adding a handful of working features and greatly speeding up phones. But as for the watchOS beta, while I personally didn’t see any issues with it, Apple did later pull it offline for breaking various Apple Watches on install.
I hope that all you readers know that WWDC is not just a keynote. If you didn’t know that, then WWDC is a week-long conference that is full of talks, labs and VIP guest speakers from other companies. But all the important sessions are on the first day: the Keynote, the Platform State of the Union ( a more developer oriented dive into the technical details of the keynote announcements), and the Apple Design Awards. The Apple Design Awards also included short demos of each 10 award winners, and all looked incredible. Each demo also explains how they were selected as a winner since the winning criteria are not always the same — similar to how design is not always black and white, good or bad.
This is also a great chance to download a bunch of new awesome apps to play around with for the rest of the week!
Tuesday, 5th of June
On Monday, I spent five hours in the queue. Today, I would spend almost another 2 queuing for the merchandise store. There’s just something about Apple fans that make them queue — for the iPhone, the keynote, even the opening of an Apple Store!
But clearly, Apple was prepared for this. The best Apple Store employees from around the world had been flown in to help run the week of WWDC, and they had done a clever job of splitting the queue into multiple sections — which really felt like torment each time you got to the front of one queue just to find you were at the back of another.
However, the merchandise was worth it. T-Shirts, hoodies, hats, and other items that would only be available to buy at WWDC. By the end of the day the popular items were already sold out. By Friday, the store had shut down due to running out of stock early.
After escaping the merchandise store, I went straight into the developer sessions. These sessions all cover different topics that relate back to the new features announced during the keynote. I attended the sessions for ARKit 2, Create ML, and new HealthKit APIs!
By this time, Apple had done some fair work on improving the WiFi situation, since there were a very noticeable sharp increase of WiFi routers (which looked more like cardboard lunch boxes) on lamp poles, under chairs, and growing from trees. While these somewhat improved the reliability, once a talk started and everyone had their devices open — no luck.
Wednesday, 6th of June
One of the absolute must-dos at WWDC is collecting the pins. These are collected via small real-life achievements, or sometimes just by chance. Always keep an ear on Twitter for rumours spreading about how to get one. When you first collect your WWDC badge you’ll be given six pins plus one flag pin from your country. The rest are up to you to find!
The next one I found was an AR cube pin which was given out at a game of SwiftShot — an AR iPad game Apple had set up to demo the new ARKit. Competitors were given the chance to play 1v1 or 2v2, where each team had to make use of their three slingshots to fire at and knock over the opponent’s slingshots. Only the winning team was awarded the ARKit badge, so there was huge competition just to get one!
Next up I began attending the design talks. Now if Apple’s seemed like a company with an eye for design before, walking out of the talks felt like a whole new perspective on how Apple really approaches design. So much iteration and thought have gone into their hardware and software. Some of the design ideas were so abstracted that even the mention of a UI wouldn’t have made sense. These talks were more about the intention, necessity, and experience of design rather than how pretty it looked at a glance.
Thursday, 7th of June
Today was again filled with fascinating and insightful developer sessions on new APIs now available to developers. But one stood out as ultra-outstanding — Advanced Debugging with Xcode and LLDB.
Debugging tools can be a mystery to many, and Xcode is certainly a mystery to many more. So having an Apple engineer show off clever debugging tips & tricks live in front of an audience really showed some confidence and skill. I barely kept up taking notes and following what each alias of a command did. This talk will certainly be one of many that I rewatch on my flight home to Australia.
The last event of the day on Thursday is always the WWDC Bash. Why Thursday? Because not everyone is able to stay late on Friday due to early flights. When the concert began it sure looked like everyone was in attendance. There were just endless numbers of engineers wherever you looked.
But another surprise to the evening. When walking in, I was handed another WWDC pin to add to my collection — the star-eyed face emoji 🤩.
The Bash is also one of the best times to let loose from a week full of developer talks and exciting betas. Here, food and drinks are free, and Apple Store employees and engineers are mingling and partying with the rest of us. What was most exciting however was the sheer number of developers Apple had actually managed to gather in the one place, and all for a music concert! As the night went on the social awkwardness slipped away and the rowdiness took over. You would not have been able to tell that everyone was a developer, not anymore.
Friday, 8th of June
The vibe was different on the last day of WWDC. Engineers and employees are exhausted, but will ultimately miss what they have gained from every day this week.
Luckily, Pixar Studios came in for an absolutely incredible talk on how they brought their imagined worlds to life. This was one of those talks that seemed almost as popular as the keynote. Apple employees coordinated us into our seats so that every seat was taken. Having the keynote open the week, it seemed fitting to have Pixar — an old friend of Apple — close out the week with a talk just as popular. Photos and videos were strictly forbidden as unreleased works were included detailing parts of the Pixar animation process. In a way, it made everyone appreciate and pay more attention to the inspiring content.
I also collected my Apple Watch rings badge for the Complete Your Rings Challenge. Everyone that had an Apple Watch had been invited to participate in a competitive challenge where you joined a team and had to gain as many points as possible for your team by working out and closing your rings. There were a lot of teams competing, but you didn’t need to be in the winning team to get the Apple Watch rings badge. All you had to do was reach a certain number of points individually to score yourself the pin.
One of the other things to do in preparation for WWDC is to think of any technical questions you can ask a team of Apple engineers. For the entire length of the conference, Apple run a few “Labs” sessions — where different teams can help answer some of the most burning developer questions and improve any issues with your code. There is usually a queue, but the answers are very helpful. I managed to come up with a question around implementing SSL pinning, but given the chance again I would definitely start compiling a list a little earlier.
And that was it — WWDC was over. The last session finished and developers filled the lobby where Apple employees cheered and thanked us for our attendance that week in what felt like an interesting ritual chant.
What a week it has been.