Apple's Best and Worst WWDCs: a One More Thing special

Listen to the podcast and watch Apple's videos

Next week's Worldwide Developer Conference is not exactly Apple's first WWDC: it's actually the 33rd. In the latest MacNN One More Thing podcast, host William Gallagher takes you through the history of this event as it grew into the compelling form we know today. You'll hear the famous moments we remember, the less-famous ones Apple would have us forget, and you will step into Steve Jobs's reality distortion field.

This is a special edition of One More Thing, as for the first time you can read it here as well as listen to it there. Do both: as you read this account by This Week in Apple History writer Gallagher, you'll also get the full videos of these important WWDC moments. It's a lot of viewing and some of the archive footage is a little ropey, but it's fascinating to see Apple through the years, and especially so as you learn the context behind each video.

Not the beginning

WWDC officially began in 1983, but the details are a little lost. I've found this a lot researching and writing MacNN's This Week in Apple History series: big, important moments are remembered, but when they happened isn't. With WWDC, most sources claim that it began in 1983, and some claim that it was then that we heard this:

However, no. That wasn't WWDC 1983, it wasn't even 1983. It was 1984, and Jobs there was doing his speech about the Macintosh, the same speech he gave at a launch event, and here at an Apple shareholders meeting. That's the reason I can't be too fussed about the earliest days of WWDC: everything we now think of about this event, originally didn't happen at WWDCs. They would happen at these shareholder meetings, they would happen more at MacWorlds, the long-defunct trade show that used to be on twice a year (one in San Francisco, one in New York).

The reason is that the Worldwide Developers Conference was a conference for developers. It still is, it's a week-long event where developers get to work with Apple software engineers on the nitty-gritty of the latest iOS and OS X developments. But that's Tuesday to Friday, or maybe it's Monday afternoon to Friday: Monday morning, 10am local time, is now WWDC's true worldwide part. It's the Keynote which is presented in front of these developers, and a lot of journalists, but is aimed at everyone watching online.

It's now where Apple says everything is great, but today we're going to see new products, software, or updates that make everything greater. Or rather, it usually is: there is an exception. There is one where Steve Jobs is not announcing new products, and he is not saying anything is great, and he is talking to developers, not the rest of us, and he did it on the Friday, at the end of the conference.

That was 1997, and it has become known as "Steve's fireside chat" with developers, yet that's such a cosy word for what was anything but. He was telling a quite hostile crowd that their efforts, their sometimes years, always months of unpaid work developing software to Apple's standards, Apple's instructions, Apple's reveals of what its future will be, were wasted. So much time and work, worthless.

He pulled that off, though. At the time, it's possible the pain even helped, because at last here was someone at Apple who knew what he was doing. In 1997, the developers saw a confident, certain, and as it turns out remarkably far-sighted Steve Jobs telling them the future, the reasons for the future, and drawing a line under the past.


Just to be clear here, I'm not going through every year of WWDC, only the significant ones -- and 1998 was significant. It was a hybrid kind of a year, where Steve Jobs was doing his keynote performance exactly how we'd recognize it, but he was still aiming at developers, and he wasn't introducing new products for the rest of us, so to speak.

It's close, though. The 1998 WWDC came less than a week after the launch of the iMac. At WWDC, though, this is what Jobs presented:


It's a little hard to believe now that Jobs was talking about OS X so long ago, but with a few name changes, what he laid out in 1998 is what happened. We, and the developers, moved to OS X -- and it was an important move. In 1998 and 1999, Jobs worked to persuade developers to come on that journey. In 2002, he was confident enough that it was working that he spent part of WWDC on this, though:

What do you think of that? A funeral for OS 9? Some people found it hilarious, I found it a bit embarrassing. I felt the same in 2010, when Microsoft held a funeral for the iPhone as part of its launch of Windows Phone 7. That was a joke, just not the one Microsoft thought it was.

Let me move back from that Microsoft 2010 thing, and on from Apple's 2002 one. It's 2005.

Why are we doing this?

WWDC for 2003 and 2004 had introduced new versions of OS X, and products like a 30-inch Apple Cinema Display. But in 2005, it was bigger than that, it was huge.

Do watch the entire Keynote presentation: it's very well done. What's most significant about it, though, is how Apple transitioned iTunes into being a podcast engine. Podcasting really began on that stage in 2005. Within a few weeks, I had my own podcast, UK DVD Review, which ran weekly for the next five years. At one point, I was in the top ten of all podcasts, in all categories, across the world. There were only nine podcasts then. But it grew a bit, didn't it?

Still, as big as it became, and as important as it was to me -- how it's also the way you and I can talk on the regular One More Thing show -- podcasting wasn't really the big transition. It wasn't really the big news. The big news was the move from PowerPC to Intel.

That was 2005's move from PowerPC to Intel, and you can argue that it should've happened sooner, you can argue that PowerPC was pretty good for a time -- some of my favourite Macs used it -- but you can't argue that Apple didn't pull of this move well. It was as big a move for developers as the switch to OS X. It was as big a move for us, too. Over the move to Intel and the move to OS X, we had sea changes: we had to buy new software, and then new machines to run it on. And yet, by 2007 we'd done it.


We had seen this with the iPod in 2001: it wasn't launched at WWDC, it got its own event. Yet that was quite a small gathering, and it was on its own because, arguably, it was quite a small product to launch. That changed, of course, as the iPod become a hit later, and after that it's become a trend that new products are at WWDC, but new categories of products are at their own event.

So the iPhone wasn't launched at WWDC either, but you need to see it: this is probably Steve Jobs at his very best. This is what the WWDC keynotes built to, and this is what they've all strived to be ever since.

That year's WWDC did get the excitement that is, or was, or never really would be, iPhone Web Apps. It also got Safari for Windows. However, it got this, too:

At last, the iPhone at WWDC

In the following year, 2008, we got the second iPhone, although it was called the iPhone 3G. Watch Steve Jobs explain this at WWDC:

Alongside the iPhone 3G, though, WWDC 2008 also brought us something else. Something that should've been more successful than it was.

Phil Schiller introducing MobileMe. Back in the day there had been iTools, then there was dot Mac, now there was MobileMe -- and fortunately as soon as possible after, that there was iCloud. Apple's iCloud isn't perfect, except it is when you compare it to MobileMe. Speaking of iCloud, though, take a guess where it was announced.

Steve Jobs's last keynote

It's hard to believe this now, since 2008's MobileMe was such a flop, but iCloud was announced at the 2011 WWDC. We don't tend to remember that, we just tend to use iCloud without much thinking about it (unless it's down). And unfortunately, if we think of 2011's WWDC, it's because of how ill Jobs was:

Somehow it's even harder to watch that -- and to listen to his frail voice -- after you've just seen all the WWDCs before it. This was June 6, 2011, and Jobs died 121 days later, on October 5.

One thing about that. The day before he died, Apple held an event, and again it was the type of launch we associate with WWDC's opening keynotes, it was where Siri was unveiled. Steve Jobs didn't appear, and on the day, you could sense that Apple wasn't its usual hyped-up embullient self.

Finding its way

Let's move on a year, to 2012. Siri comes to the iPad: isn't it weird to think there was a time when it wasn't? Then 2012 also unloaded a smorgasbord of products, both hardware and software:

In 2012, Apple ditched Google Maps for its own service. No doubt, it was a big mistake for how inaccurate the service was at first, and how angry users were. No doubt, though, that it was essential: Google had been keeping its best Maps features, most notably turn-by-turn driving directions, for Android. Now who made the big mistake?

OS X Sea Lion

Fifteen years since Steve Jobs laid out the roadmap for OS X, the WWDC of 2013 made a big change: this is when the operating system would stop being named after cats, and begin being called after places in California.

Unveiling the new naming system for OS X in that keynote video was Craig Federighi, and in the next year, 2014, he got his own song. The Craig Federighi Show is a summary of the entire 2014 WWDC keynote in three minutes and 25 seconds, by musician Jonathan Mann.

Sorry. That's in your head now. Do check out Jonathan Mann's other work: he's writing a song a day, and has been forever. A surprising number are about Apple, too.

Is that the best thing to come out of WWDC 2014, though? There was Swift, though, the brand-new programming language that is now widely used for developing apps. Grief, Developing; we forget that's what WWDC is about.

Developers, developers, developers

This event always was for developers, and most of the week it still always is, but in 2015 we got the WWDC keynote devoted to the rest of us. Apple Music, arguably a great success, and Apple's News, arguably not so much. Then iOS 9, watchOS 2 -- which ushered in a new era for apps on the Apple Watch, which hasn't made that big a difference yet, and OS X El Capitan.

I worked with a guy once, a technology journalist, who complained that some particular WWDC event went on for ages, just as he'd expected, and that he could've just got all the news at the end. Why didn't he? Apple did exactly what we now know it always does, it did everything he predicted, why didn't he just take the morning off and read MacNN's coverage at the end?

Because there is something compelling about WWDC and all of Apple's Keynotes now. I was really struck, while I was researching This Week in Apple History, by Mikeleh. This fella wrote some Apple keynote speeches, and he's done a video about the 1997 when things went fascinatingly wrong. But in that video, he also defines all the keynotes today.

I'm uncomfortable at the idea of WWDC being a mass, but he makes a really good point. And I'll be in attendance, at least watching online, for this year's service. Will you?

-- William Gallagher (@WGallagher)

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