Apple’s WWDC will be a free stream. RIP, personal events?


One day, a tech giant might hold a big event in person again. But this year’s Apple Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) won’t be.

now officially on the schedule From June 6th to 10th, the venerable event will be broadcast live free of charge, as in 2020 and 2021. As a little nod to the virtue of face-to-face meetings, Apple is inviting select programmers and students to its Apple Park HQ at WWDC on a first day to see the keynote address and State of the Union session. But even that will be a video-watch party, not a return to live on-stage presentations.

Apple’s announcement came shortly after Google and Microsoft said their own major developer conferences would be held virtually (at least for most of us: certain Googlers and Google partners will be able to attend the I/O conference in person). A new meta conference, conversationswill also be online.

If COVID-19 appears to be waning as fall approaches, we could see some tech companies opting to host a flesh-and-blood confab, as was the standard up until March 2020. But after two years of virtual conferences, it seems entirely possible that the industry – by and large – will decide so likes Holding streaming first events and not wanting to go back to the old way.

This is not a remarkable insight on my part. My colleague Mark Sullivan said something similar back in June 2020 after Apple held its first virtual WWDC keynote. I wasn’t immediately convinced, partly because I have a conflict of interest: As a member of the press, I often have hundreds—thousands? – Attended live tech events in person. There was a time when such events often not streamed live at all, giving us journalists in the space a fortunate opportunity to break the news in real-time to people who were dying to get it as soon as possible. (Apple seemed to have mixed feelings about this arrangement: In the early years of live blogging, it didn’t offer Wi-Fi and wasn’t keen on reporters snapping photos from their seats.)

By pre-recording everything, it’s possible to brush it up in a way that’s not possible with a traditional stage performance.

For some types of events, attending in person is always preferable. CES is all about the physical stuff-out of tiny wearables to huge honking televisions– which cannot be gauged just by staring at a screen. At SXSW, exclusivity is part of the draw, and at least half the fun is in the random conversations you have in hotel lobbies and other unofficial venues.

Developer conferences are different. The fact that personal WWDC used to be sold out in minutes may have been tangible evidence of the buoyant health of the Apple ecosystem, but it was also a concern for the company. The whole point of educating developers is to encourage the creation of as many great apps as possible, thereby strengthening a platform; By limiting attendance to the capacity of the San Jose Convention Center, Apple cut off the vast majority of its developer base.

And since developer conferences tend to focus on software rather than hardware issues, remote attendance is less of an issue. When Apple introduces a new iPhone or Mac, it’s still nice to see in person if you get the chance – but upgrades to iOS and macOS can be adequately demonstrated via a video stream.

Packed and perfect

Apple in particular raves about another benefit of virtual presentations: by pre-recording everything, it’s possible to polish it in ways that a traditional stage performance can’t. Like all of the company’s events in the pandemic era, last year’s WWDC keynote had a Hollywood-like sheen, with fancy camera shots, background music, digital transitions, and other details that made it feel more like a high-end commercial than a press conference. And if one of the moderators screwed up their lines, the evidence was eliminated by repetition.

Again, my interests are not the same as those of Apple, Google, or Microsoft. I’ve seen some memorably weird unplanned scenes at Steve Jobs tech events Asking bloggers to turn off their WiFi hotspots to director Michael Bay Exit from a running Samsung CES launch. When Google co-founder Larry Page answered questions at an I/O, he said pondered about technologists who need safe spaces where they can test the impact of their inventions on society without consequences. Arguably the most iconic moment of any Bill Gates presentation was a scanner that crashes Windows 98.

I love this kind of stuff – not because I enjoy other people’s pain, but because it reminds me that people are unpredictable and technology is oh so fallible. But if I were one of the people responsible for planning tech events, I would probably take every opportunity to eliminate surprises of any kind. So kudos to Google for streaming the I/O live from the Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View. This is now considered to be working without a network.

If the tech industry never brings back splashy face-to-face gatherings at scale, I won’t brood. Instead, I’ll remind myself that the vast majority I’ve attended weren’t particularly dazzling. (After all, there was only one Steve Jobs.) And even those of us used to being among the privileged few should recognize the democratizing effect of making events available in exactly the same form to all who wish to experience them will. Ultimately, it’s a positive development for the tech world.

See you – at least metaphorically – at WWDC. Apple’s WWDC will be a free stream. RIP, personal events?


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