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Will WWDC 2020 Span Multiple Weeks?

29 March 2020

WWDC has traditionally been a five-day event. An opening keynote on a Monday (which has increasingly become more of a marketing and press event over the years), followed by a platform state of the unions keynote which goes into the technical detail of the new features, APIs and technologies available to developers.

In 2019, 6,000 developers and over 1,000 Apple Engineers attended WWDC. For 2020, in light of the coronavirus pandemic, Apple announced an online version of WWDC, but their only guidance for a date was this June.

While the lack of a specific date or date range is almost definitely in part to allow for flexibility while they develop their new plans, it has led to speculation that the traditional 5-day format of WWDC may also be altered.

This post explores some of the reasons why that speculation might make sense.

Hours Clawed Back

If we assume that the 1,000 engineers at WWDC spend the entire 5 days there, which I believe they do, then it is 5,000 days worth of engineering hours ‘lost’ to WWDC.

For some of these engineers, they may be giving a talk about a new feature or API, and they may be involved in a couple of labs throughout the week, as well as getting involved in other activities around the conference.

However, there are inherent inefficiencies built into this approach. For example, in 2019 the AirPlay Lab was on a Tuesday and Friday, and the Core Data Lab was on a Wednesday and Friday. While we don’t know how the labs will be dealt with this year, assuming they exist at all, one approach might be for paid attendees to get access to an asynchronous lab experience, which would help remove the dead time between the traditional scheduling.

This asynchronous lab experience would allow developers to seek technical support (similar to the existing DTS - Developer Technical Support process, but hopefully better) throughout the beta period of iOS 14, with a likely limit on the number of lab ‘experiences’ per paid attendee.

From an engineering perspective, this allows the lab experience to be triaged, protecting the critical engineers, and it also gives them additional breathing space in terms of finding a convenient time to deal with the request. It removes the inefficient ‘downtime’ they would have experienced at the physical conference and allows them to spread out this support over the entire beta period, which also benefits developers.

Avoiding The Crunch

Chris Lattner on a recent episode of ATP described the crunch that happens in the weeks preceding WWDC. Engineers are rushing to get beta 1 available for the opening keynote, but they are also preparing and rehearsing their presentations for the rest of the week.

Apple will likely still want all of its platforms to have beta 1 available on the same day, and we also know that Apple is having to adjust to employees working from home, which could potentially be impacting their ability to keep to their roadmaps. The additional uncertainty might mean Apple is considering the separation of the delivery of beta 1 and the technical talks, to allow for more contingency time.

At the keynote, Apple traditionally announces all the key features of its software platforms. They could still take this approach, but they could spread out the delivery of the features across the betas (which they have done previously), but also time the technical talks to align with the first beta that ships with that feature. For example, ship the completely revamped Siri in beta 3, and then hold the technical talks describing the new APIs shortly after. The related labs could follow a few weeks later, giving developers time to play with the new APIs before seeking support from the Apple engineers.

Marketing Potential

The final reason for spreading out WWDC 2020 over multiple weeks is purely for marketing purposes. Apple gets a lot of coverage on WWDC week, but sometimes there is so much news that things can get lost in all the noise. Last year was a massive year for WWDC, but SwiftUI ultimately stole the show, leaving other equally as important or impressive announcements in the shadows.

As rumours continue to swirl about Apple moving their Mac hardware to Apple-designed Arm chips, this would be the perfect year for spreading out the news over multiple weeks, to maximise the amount of media attention. I can see something like this happening:

  • Week 1 - iOS 14 and WatchOS 7
  • Week 2 - iPadOS 14 and tvOS 14
  • Week 3 - macOS XI? and ARM transition

They could even tie in hardware announcements, for example the new Apple TV which has been spotted in software could be announced on week 2, the first Mac Arm hardware could be previewed on week 3.

Final Thoughts

While it’s true that Apple rarely deviates from their habits, the coronavirus pandemic has forced them to re-assess what WWDC is and all of the assumptions around it. There are definite benefits to spreading WWDC across multiple weeks, especially if they have a full roster of features and potentially hardware to announce, and I think that is exactly what they will do this year.

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