Six Colors
Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Stephen Hackett

The Hackett File: Life After WWDC

WWDC 2020 has come and gone, and for the first time in the event’s 31-year history, the conference was entirely online.

In the Ye Olden Days, developers could get copies of WWDC sessions on VHS or DVD, and eventually watch them online. Over the last few years, Apple has worked hard to get session videos online faster and faster.

Of course this year, none of those edit-and-upload-as-quickly-as-possible skills were needed, as the entire conference was done in advance, ready to stream online like content from Netflix or Hulu.

This revised format, forced upon Apple and its community due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, worked very well. Session videos were shorter and tighter, and since they can be watched whenever it’s convenient, developers don’t have to worry about juggling sessions to fit their schedules.

Then there’s the much more important topic of access. Apple has bajillions of developers, but WWDC is impossible to attend for most of them. Ticket availability and the lottery system aside, spending a week in San Jose is prohibitively expensive for a huge number of people, and the social issues around it can be worrisome.

I really have no idea on what a post-pandemic WWDC will look like, but I feel like the scale may be tipping slightly to the new virtual format, both inside Apple and out.

If WWDC goes online-only, the serendipity of running into people in San Jose will be lost, as will fun things like live podcast recordings, meetups and seeing friends from all over the world, but the truth is that these things have been reserved for the fraction of the Apple community that could afford both the time and money it takes to be in San Jose for a week.

A virtual WWDC allows everyone equal access, but it does leave a hole on the calendar, just like the demise of Macworld Expo did years ago.

This, combined with the death of many smaller Apple-focused conferences, leaves an opportunity for people to create smaller relevant, inclusive and exciting events around the world for Apple nerds.

The conference business is notoriously difficult one, which is why I think a regional approach could be the way to go. If Apple was willing to do road shows, touring countries showing off products and connecting with developers and users, it would make this easier, but I don’t see that coming to pass.

That aside, I do think there’s a market for these sorts of smaller events. They just need to be designed to correct the issues that have plagued so many of them in the past.

[Stephen Hackett is the author of 512 Pixels and co-founder of Relay FM.]

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