WWDC 2009 journal (part 2)

Monday, August 24, 2009 at 11:05 AM

by Mike Morton, Google Mac Team

Every year, Google engineer Mike Morton becomes intrepid reporter Mike Morton as he ventures to Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference. Apple doesn't allow attendees to disclose the technical bits of the conference, so Mike writes about other important observations and details: general survival tips for the week, how to figure out in advance when the conference will be held, and insight into how WWDC is like the Soviet Union. Once you've read part 1 of Mike's annual report, you can continue to the thrilling conclusion here in part 2.

Between the lines

Wednesday morning, I discovered the gym in the corporate apartments, and found that 20 minutes on the elliptical goes a lot faster when there’s no TV intruding.

Eating the minimalist breakfast provided at Moscone, I looked over a web page of WWDC-related parties. I think I’m probably too old to go to a club called “Harlot”. In fact, I’m even too old for the music they play before sessions; there's nothing that was written before the turn of the millennium. Several other folks commented that they didn’t think much of the music either. I told them about my neighbor’s bumper sticker: “It’s Not That I’m Old. Your Music Really Does Suck.”

Two guys at the breakfast table seemed to be forming a business on the spot. They weren’t too far along, though: one said to the other, “Let me give you my card”, ripped a page from a notebook, and wrote his contact info on it.

The session rooms were the same size as last year, but with more people trying to crowd in. The poor Apple engineers, who don’t get to go in until all the paying customers have, must have been even more frustrated this year. I wonder how Apple will handle the growth next year. Some rumors claimed that this is the last year at Moscone, that Apple has met some contractual obligation.

Despite the larger crowds, there seemed to be more power outlets in the sessions. You can often spot clusters of them from a distance — those seats are more densely filled. I went the whole week without having to pull the spare battery from my pack, a first.


For me this year, the most interesting part of the week was in the labs, not the sessions. Apple said that they brought in over 1,000 of their engineers, and I can believe it. Lots of attendees (n00bies and not) queue up for help from an Apple expert in the area they need help with. At one point, an iPhone performance engineer was helping one person, with four others (including me) in line with questions.

Attendees lined up for other things, too: to get good seats for sessions, for snack tables set up between sessions, for the fridges with Odwalla juice. It felt a little like the old Soviet economy: you see a line and you figure it must be worth waiting in. Of course, the Soviet strategy has its downside: you might find that the line turns out to be a bunch of Apple engineers waiting to see if a session has seats.

iPhones everywhere

Walking to Moscone, I noticed just how many iPhones there are in the city, and not just near the conference. Maybe this platform really is as big a deal as Apple keeps telling us. I think I saw more iPhones than Zipcars, which are also plentiful.

Earlier, I mentioned the importance of the labs for one-on-one access to helpful Apple engineers, but I should say that most sessions were good, too. Sitting for that many hours was tiring – when will they introduce premium seating? I’d pay more for Herman Miller – but mostly worth it. The only time it’s not worth it is when the talk is too elementary or too advanced. Alas, that does happen. Apple has a difficult challenge because attendees have experience ranging from near-zero up to decades of Cocoa development. It’s a balancing act, and Apple did it fairly well. At least as an old-timer I thought they did. I wonder what newcomers think. All those folks focusing on their laptops in sessions: are they tuned out, or just trying the examples from the session?

Even though some sessions miss the mark, the week as a whole is useful. I think the importance of this conference is demonstrated by a Googler I know who doesn’t work with Apple products enough to justify Google sending him, so he took a week of vacation and paid his own conference fee and travel expenses just to go.

Show’s Over

I confess I blew off the last day of the conference to go to my godson’s college graduation. In the BART station, waiting for a train to the airport, I chatted with someone who was also skipping the last day of his conference, some non-Apple thing. We agreed that the last day is usually the most boring, and that we felt sorry for anyone who has to speak on the last day.

Sitting on the flight home, I had to focus on work because, again, I had no window. I tried to go through all my notes. It was a frantic week, and I had notes in my laptop, in my iPhone, in emails to my team, on scraps of paper big and small, and it was good that I made those notes, because the conference feeds me so much information, I for one have to write it down or lose it. Now it was time to look at all the cool new things in the OS and the hardware and figure out how and when we can take advantage of them!