London Airport Terminal 5B was packed that Sunday . It was the beginning of June, and since it was not a working day, the vast majority were tourists. The trip to San Francisco would be made from Heathrow, that huge airport that London proudly built for the Olympic Games as a gateway to the country. The suitcase was rolling with some difficulty and, as always, I can’t help but think that I had brought too many things with me.
“The camera, the tripod – selfie, and the rest of the things would have fit better in a small backpack” – I thought while looking sideways at some traveler with some model that seemed to me more practical than my briefcase . When I arrived at the boarding gate, the families who were going on vacation were replaced by much smaller groups. Some Mac full of technology conference stickers , while its owner was showing something to another very interested person on the screen.
The San Francisco airport was packed with people, and many could easily identify themselves as WWDC attendees19
Someone with a backpack from a previous WWDC , suddenly some more with T-shirts from some apps – that I didn’t know, actually – planning among themselves what they wanted to do in the next three days. That was nothing compared to what I found when landed in San Francisco : the airport was absolutely full of people, so much so that I heard the workers themselves commenting that they hadn’t seen something like that for a long time. In SFO they were changing the method of access to customs and this had been coupled with the arrival of the WWDC attendees19.
“Analyst or artist?” The customs officer asked me while checking my passport, telling him I was coming to the Apple conference . “Analyst. But I see a lot of artists here” , I answered. “Oh. That’s right. There’s a lot of art in these apps nowadays, right? These programmers never cease to amaze us, they’re excited about what they do…” I looked at it while I was saving my documentation and said goodbye “That’s why we’re all here” .
Apple San Jose
The important American city – key in Sillicon Valley on a social and economic level – was already threatening with a heat that would increase over the next two days . The arrival from San Francisco was surprisingly fast, despite the dense traffic to any other place, there it was Sunday at noon. “The registration of the developers has already started” I commented with a colleague. “As soon as I get there, I want to go there” and we both smiled.
It is the first WWDC I attend as a guest and it is quite different from experiencing a normal keynote, it is no longer just a keynote and a product demonstration. Over the next few days, San Jose will become the epicenter of the Apple world and will have one of the most valuable assets in the ecosystem: the creators of the apps that will give more value to the company’s products over the next year.
The city was almost part of the stage of the conference . The banners with the WWDC logo19 overflowed on practically every street light in the vicinity, tram stations or canopies. Restaurants offered special menus to their guests, bars offered unique cocktails for the occasion and shops sold short-sleeved T-shirts in August when temperatures reached 30º.
That afternoon I had the opportunity to go to the McEnery Center to make the first photos and videos , and that was certainly the prelude to something. In the building across the street, two huge speakers were playing a Apple Music playlist with songs from previous events or company announcements. There were devs already registering for access without waiting the next day and the tables just in front of the entrance were already full of people.
Black Eyed Peas was playing at the time, it reminded me of the iMac G5 release. The tables right in front of the entrance were already packed with people. Someone looked familiar, and I had the great pleasure of greeting Xavier Carrillo and Unai Landa from Digital Legends . They were among the first developers invited by Steve Jobs himself to a WWDC more than ten years ago, to present Kroll – a game ahead of its time to which I dedicated a very special interview for me and for Apple.
After taking more than a hundred photos of the banners of the conference that were all over the city , and after finishing writing an article about the prelude to all that, I was done with the day. “Peter, you have to go back to the McEnery” . It was near the hotel, no problem, but what for? “I’m just telling you that you have to go and see him at night” .
“You have to see it at night”
The WWDC19 mural began to glow with LED lights at night
You didn’t even have to turn the corner. When I arrived at San Carlos Street , the place was full of light. What during the day looked like a simple mural with the logos of the conference, at night was discovered to be leds , hidden in a false double bottom so that nobody could guess it at first sight. It gave a striking look during the night and I think that it made people still stand in front of it, talking and even having a picnic dinner with several sandwiches. “We are looking forward to it, although I think they have more” , and someone pointed out three people sitting on folding chairs to my left.
“Are you queuing up to get in?” The answer was more than obvious, so they just explained it to me: “The entrance is more than secured, but we wanted to live this experience as intensely as possible. For us, WWDC is an incredible moment that we share with friends” . The smile on their faces . They had two huge family pizzas, coffee and were extremely happy .
The surprises begin
The keynote started at 10:00 West Coast Time , but by 6:30 I couldn’t sleep anymore. It always happens to me, actually, so I tried to relax before the event with a good shower. With the iPhone in one hand watching the latest news on Twitter, I slid the curtains on my bedroom window, which was facing the McEnery Center and “What… is… happening… there!?!?” .
The illuminated LED icons from the previous night were now “moving”, turning off and on giving the impression that they were coming out of the robot’s head in the image, that they were being drawn and blurred. The letters would appear and disappear. I stood there looking at it and reminded me of an old lighthouse guiding the boats to the coast. It wasn’t quite dawn yet, but I’m sure there was already an image of it in the net. Tim Cook himself posted a video saying good morning. I took pictures, stories from Instagram, published on Twitter and then I realized that that shower was going to be anything but quiet .
The McEnery’s auditorium was gigantic : there were not only going to be Apple’s guests and the press, but also any developer who wanted to attend. This is the only Apple keynote that admits people, as long as you attend as a developer . When we entered the room we were not able to see the side walls, as the stage was very long. This year’s design icons came to life on a screen that practically went from side to side as we all sat down.
It’s the first keynote we shared with developers, and you could see the passion in each of the ads we saw there. For many of them it was their first keynote, and the sight of Tim Cook on stage and the rest of the Apple personalities sitting on chairs beyond, always impresses. When I saw the face of some of them I remembered why at some point I started all this .
Tim Cook’s Selfie
The product test area was very small because it was absolutely centered on the Mac Pro . It consisted of two side rooms with a small video studio – which even had a model and a photo set – and an area with several Pro Display XDR and a Mac Pro with music program demonstrations . In the central room, three tables: one with the stand that we could explore in augmented reality (which is why there were people with iPads around), one with the Mac Pro and the Pro Display XDR, and one with just the Mac Pro chassis that we could also explore in augmented reality.
Suddenly, Tim Cook and Jony Ive appeared in the room and I snuck into one of their pictures
While I was moving around trying to record some stories and take some pictures for the articles I wanted to write, suddenly, all the cameras turned from the Mac and focused elsewhere. Someone said to me: “Look behind you. You have Jony Ive behind you.” I looked at him and that man who was familiar to everyone there but barely knew anyone returned every single smile. Look, it’s Tim Cook next to him. The same feeling of reconnecting with old friends, only they don’t know you. Later Cook published a Twitter photo of the moment , where I was appearing on one of the sides. I was amazed when people mentioned me on social networks with that tweet:
Now, imagine how stunned I was at that moment that I mistook myself for another boy , just to the right of the picture. I swear that until a couple of hours later I didn’t realize that I was appearing right on the other side, on the left, behind Cook. The other guy turned out to be a journalist who looked like me, and I mistook him for someone else! In fact, I knew it wasn’t me because of the Apple Watch strap : I think I rarely laughed as much at myself as at that. But hey , I have a picture with the boss ! Well, more or less.
Here the rockstars are the developers
The WWDC is much more than the keynote : over the next few days there are workshops and developer-oriented events on virtually every aspect of the app creation world on any Apple operating system . The company also cares and understands these developers who have not only had to pay over a thousand dollars and pass a “raffle” to get access to this ticket: they also understand that for many of them it is an effort to be there and they want the conference to be for and by them.
That’s why everything is limited to the developers. There is a shop with merchandising from the event but it is inside McEnery itself and only they can access it: no press, no guests of any kind . They don’t even sell to Apple’s own employees. Just like the workshops or talks: is only for developers , so that the rooms are not saturated and only those who are really going to benefit from it, the programming and design professionals, come.
WWDC is exclusively for developers: they can access everything, even a private merchandising shop
I loved this decision because of the respect it showed towards the attendees, and I hated it in turn when I realized that had just lost my WWDC T-shirt19 . The press also didn’t get a welcome pack like the developers, so no cool reversible jacket , backpack, pins or similar. We were there to inform the rest of the world and the developers were the real stars of that , as it should be. But I was left without a T-shirt, which I don’t know if I’ve said it yet . And every time I could think of more crazy things with those banners hanging all over San José.
The State of the Union and a Beautiful Story
The State of the Union is a presentation that details each topic presented in broad strokes in the keynote. If the keynote is the menu, the State of the Union is the full letter . I was fortunate enough to be the only one who was able to attend this event, which I enjoyed twice as much: first, because I was a writer in a technological environment. And second, as an engineer involved in the world of mobile development.
Apple’s focus on accessibility enhancements was one of the most talked about news at the conference
I think I’ve seen every single State of the Union from the last five WWDCs at home. But I never imagined that living one in the first person was so important because of the person sitting next to me in that row of reserved seats. She was a visually impaired woman, with whom I had the incredible honour of sharing that moment . It was just when all the Accessibility options were detailed that iOS 13 users would be able to use the devices simply by voice. The demonstrations of this were exciting. For my partner in the row in particular, started to clap so much so that I couldn’t help but look at her engrossed. And I talked to her.
“What do you think about these steps Apple is taking in accessibility, will they be useful?” , I asked her hoping not to disturb her. “Useful? No company in the world takes better care of us than this one. No one thinks of us as they do. Literally, the news of this last half hour may have changed my life” . You can’t imagine how much I regretted afterwards for not asking her name or details for a more in-depth interview .
Whoever you are and wherever you are, for me, you were one of the most exciting moments of those days. And it also serves to put two things in context: the value of the company’s commitment to it and the responsibility of the developers to make their applications accessible. From here I commit myself that we will take accessibility into account in the analysis we make of the apps when iOS 13 is on the market. It will not be optional anymore.
The following days we were able to attend briefings about security, all the new hardware, the operating systems… The amount of information and content that we collected in those days will keep us busy almost all summer. It has even served to record three different podcasts: a Talk by Apple with Francesc Bracero ( head of technology at La Vanguardia ), a Binary by Ángel Jiménez and a Hypertext Dynamo. The place where we did it was mythical: the very Apple Podcast Studio .
I thought it would just be a table with the Apple logo on the back, but no. I had an audio technician with two iMac Pro , and a speakerphone table with four microphones and a pro headset. Everything was perfectly set up so we could just sit there and talk. When we were done, the technician gave each of us a USB drive with the podcast content – a small SanDisk that has both a USB-A and USB-C connector, one on each side, by the way. You can imagine that this was the first thing we tested when we installed iPadOS …
By the way, just when I was leaving the Apple Podcast Studio Federico Viticci ( responsible for MacStories ) entered – whom I greeted and congratulated for his work after reading it sooo many times. He was sitting next to me at the State of the Union as well. I almost told him that the 10,000-word articles sometimes get out of hand , but the guy is very good . Immediately afterwards, Craig Federighi arrived to record a podcast with him. This man is always smiling everywhere.
These days were so dense that the overwhelming amount of experiences and information needs time to contextualize them . After all, I understand today that WWDC has little to do with what happens outside and a lot to do with what happens inside . It is an event more special than any other, where the company’s connection to the developers is celebrated . It also makes them happy and teaches others that technology goes beyond cables, devices or hardware. Because if it were only that, we wouldn’t be talking about Apple . Neither would I, nor would you. Thanks for sharing it and living it together .