WWDC17 — A Retrospective

Two of our developers, Tim and Niall, hit the lottery and got tickets for this year’s WWDC, Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference. Michael, one of their less lucky iOS colleagues, interviewed them about their WWDC experience and what is new in iOS 11 and Xcode. Jessica, another less lucky colleague, joined in as well.

Niall, it was your first WWDC, so why don’t you start of by giving us your overall impressions of WWDC?

Niall (ND): It was very easy to get caught up in the hype, I thought it would peter off but the energy of the place and the amount of people who were very excited about it around you kind of keeps you going. I thoroughly enjoyed it, the event on the whole, the speakers, the venue.

It was in San Jose this year, was it your first time there?

ND: Yeah, I was a little bit sad it wasn’t in San Francisco, because I think it’s a slightly more interesting place than San Jose but you don’t really get a huge amount of time outside the venue anyway — it’s pretty much full on.

Tim, it’s your second WWDC having gone last year too, how did it compare?

Tim (TC): I liked the venue better in San Jose. Everything was on one floor, kind of compact but really big.
Michael (MB): That doesn’t make sense …
ND: It felt like everything was close together, you never really had to go far to get somewhere but whenever you got in any place there was loads of space — the halls were huge.

“… stuff that you felt should have been there a long time ago is finally here.”

What was the biggest take away for you, in terms of developer tools?

ND: I think the biggest thing that will make a difference for me are some of the changes to Xcode 9, the new refactoring tools especially and just some quality of life changes that were introduced, some stuff that you felt should have been there a long time ago is finally here. Running multiple simulators, wireless debugging which will be especially handy for developing for Apple TV, and there was a few other things that stood out like greatly improved code folding.
TC: I was really impressed by the new iOS 11 features for iPad. It’s basically a full on computer now. The drag and drop between apps, improvements to split screen.
MB: Do you think it makes you want to write iPad apps more?
TC: Yeah, I really want to try out that drag and drop stuff and it doesn’t work between apps on iPhone. In the first beta I’ve been able to make it work in a test app, but they’ve disabled this in the second beta.

“I think for people who don’t live in the command line they might not need other git tools like Tower or SourceTree for too much longer.”

Well me and Jessica weren’t at the conference, but we were playing along at home so for you Jessica, what was the biggest thing for you?

Jessica (JC): I do quite like the refactoring improvements as well, and that’s the main thing I’ve been using so far. Obviously Xcode is much nicer, but there was some basic stuff I was doing in Android Studio that you just couldn’t do in Xcode, and for Swift you couldn’t even do basic renaming. It’s quite simple stuff but it makes such a big difference.
MB: The thing I’ve been liking most so far is the new git features in Xcode 9. Being able to easily browse all your branches and tags, viewing all your commits and viewing the diffs in the full side by side editor is a big improvement. I think for people who don’t live in the command line they might not need other git tools like Tower or SourceTree for too much longer.
TC: I thought it was too much focused on GitHub though — it would be better if it was more generic.
MB: Yeah, the stuff I mentioned works on all our git repos though, and we don’t use Github for most projects, but there certainly were a lot of other features just for GitHub, I wonder if they might add similar stuff for BitBucket in future years.
JC: So you’ve been using git from Xcode?
MB: Yeah, and actually the nicest feature in it, I think is the background fetching, and highlighting where files have changed on the remote. Not having to think about that, and just seeing a little icon next to a file is awesome.

Anything else in Xcode or other dev tools that you think deserve a mention?

ND: Xcode 9 feels quite a bit faster and searches feel a lot faster in big projects.
TC: And scrolling in the editor has really been improved, scrolling in bigger files is way faster.
MB: One other thing, that I didn’t see, but you mentioned Tim, that I thought sounded amazing, was snapshotting debug state, can you tell us a bit about that?
TC: Sometimes you find a bug, but you’re not the one to fix it, so you can pause execution, take a snapshot of it and send that to another developer. They can import it and run it and continue from that state. This only works for SceneKit debugging unfortunately, still pretty cool though.

Every WWDC I’ve been at, one of the biggest cheers has been when they’ve solved all our code signing woes once and for all, and you mentioned they’ve done it again this year Niall?

ND: Yeah, they’ve removed the ability to revoke distribution certificates from within Xcode, so hopefully that will result in less accidental revocations. They also changed the accounts tab in code preferences. If you manage certificates in there, it will give you the status of the various certificates and call out specific issues like if a certificate isn’t in your keychain or if it’s been revoked etc.
MB: No “Fix Issue” button this time then?
TC: No, although they’ve made really cool improvements to the fix it button in the source editor. Now for example, if you have a protocol conformance declared, but you haven’t actually implemented it, you get a “Fix It” button and it just automatically implements it for you. It’s another simple thing, but makes life much easier.

“… all apps should be made accessible by everyone and by us not doing the small amount of work required to implement accessibility features we’re actively choosing to exclude her and other people with disabilities.”

One of my favourite things from the WWDCs I’ve been to have been the lunchtime speakers — what were those like this year? And Michelle Obama was there this year, not as a lunchtime speaker actually, but that was a new session for this year.

TC: Michelle Obama was there at the beginning of the week and talked about her initiatives like letgirlslearn.gov. She pretty much was there as a motivational speaker.
ND: The one I thought was most interesting was the one with Todd Stabelfeldt, he’s a C4 quadriplegic and was really interesting for a number of reasons. Apple had a number of talks about accessibility and did have a number of new features around that this year. His message was really how important using those kinds of features are for people like him so I thought that was a very interesting talk, and he himself was a massively entertaining speaker, a really funny and engaging guy.
MB: That always seems to be big topic at WWDC, at least the 3 years I’ve been there. Apple seem to genuinely care about accessibility and talk about it quite passionately. One of the lunchtime sessions I recall from last year was with Haben Girma, she’s an amazing person who happens to be deaf-blind and she was promoting app accessibility and I can’t remember if it was her that used the term inclusive design rather than accessibility, but it was definitely her who was talking about how all apps should be made accessible by everyone and by us not doing the small amount of work required to implement accessibility features we’re actively choosing to exclude her and other people with disabilities.
TC: I really liked Dr Darden from NASA. She was one of the people the book ‘Hidden Figures’ was based on and she talked about her career at NASA, going from being a computer to being a senior director, and she was the first African American woman to enter senior management in NASA.

So they were the highlights from our developers from this year’s WWDC. If you want to find out more about the things that were mentioned check out the recorded sessions at: https://developer.apple.com/videos/

Thanks for the chat guys and let’s hope all of us get to go next year!