WWDC over the years: How it became a tech juggernaut | Cult of Mac

WWDC over the years: How it became a tech juggernaut

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WWDC has been home to some seismic announcements over the years.
Photo: Daniel Spiess/Flickr CC

As Apple’s longest-running annual keynote event, it’s no surprise that WWDC has played host to some absolutely enormous announcements over the years.

From strategies that changed the company’s course to the debut of astonishing new products, here are our picks for the most important ones. Check out the list below.

System 7 (1989)

Unlike today, Apple hasn’t always been on a yearly upgrade cycle for its operating systems. At the 1989 WWDC event, Apple announced the arrival of System 7, the operating system which lasted in some variant through 1997 when it was eventually replaced by Mac OS 8.

In some ways, System 7 is synonymous with the “bad old days” of Apple since it was the OS found on Macs during a period in which Apple continually lost ground to Windows and launched ill-fated initiatives like the “Clone Macs.” Nonetheless, this was a feature-packed operating system that came so fully-laden with goodies that it was the first Mac OS that required a hard disk drive for installation.

Also worth remembering for anyone who complains about the wait between now and fall to get their hands on the latest macOS, would-be System 7 users in 1989 had to wait until 1991 until it eventually shipped. It was worth waiting for, though.

QuickTime (1991)

Today we take it for granted that we can stream videos via the tiny smartphones we have in our pockets. In 1991, the idea that a home personal computer could play video still seemed a little bit insane.

One of the first pieces of software to make this possible was QuickTime, which was first demoed by Apple at its May 1991 WWDC. The first QuickTime video shown to audiences was Apple’s iconic “1984” ad for the Macintosh. Beta versions of the software began arriving on Macs in July, before the final version shipped to consumers on December 2, 1991.

Copland (1995)

Don’t remember using Copland, Apple’s top-to-bottom operating system refresh that followed System 7? You’re not alone! One of the long-running sagas that anyone who was following Apple in the 1990s will be painfully aware of, Copland was promised as the next-gen operating system that would reclaim the lost ground Apple had given up to Windows.

It included a lot of features which will seem familiar to users in 2017, such as a Spotlight-esque “live search” feature in the toolbar, more comprehensive multitasking, and the (today commonplace, then-unheard of) ability to let different users log in, and each have different desktops and permissions available.

Most of WWDC 1995 was dedicated to talking about Copland, which ultimately shipped in a beta version to a small number of Mac developers later that year. Unfortunately, the project wound up collapsing, and no further versions (including a mass market release) were ever made. By WWDC 1996, then-CEO Gil Amelio admitted that Copland wouldn’t ship as one big release, but as a series of smaller updates instead.

Why is this therefore one of the most important WWDC moments in history? Partly because it showed ahead-of-its-time features that would later become standard parts of modern operating systems. Partly because the collapse of Copland helped bring Steve Jobs back to Apple through its purchase of NeXT. Needless to say, that’s pretty significant!

Beginning of the end for clone Macs (1997)

By 1997, Steve Jobs was back at Apple, on the verge of taking over as CEO. One of his earliest moves as an “adviser” to Apple was to set about dismantling the disastrous “Clone Mac” deals the company had negotiated.

The idea of licensing out the Mac operating system to third party manufacturers like Power Computing and Radius seemed like a smart idea on paper. In fact, the $50 fee (!) they paid per computer sold wound up costing Apple money, because it didn’t come close to recouping the money lost from people choosing to buy third-party Macs instead of more expensive official ones.

Steve Jobs saw this and, during a “fireside chat” at 1997’s WWDC, he called clone makers “leeches” and it made it obvious that he was no fan of the strategy. By the end of the year, the era of Apple-sanctioned third-party Macs were all but over.

The future of OS X (1998)

As part of his mission to turn Apple around, Steve Jobs used the 1998 WWDC to spell out the Mac’s operating system strategy going forward. This included the first mention of OS X, which Jobs revealed was being developed at Apple. In the years since then, Apple has continued to debut new versions of OS X/macOS at the event each summer.

The PowerMac G5 (2003)

Sometimes affectionately called the “cheese grater,” the original Power Mac G5 made its debut at the 2003 WWDC event. At the time, this was Apple’s fastest-ever machine and the world’s first 64-bit personal computer.

The innovative computer was the first Apple computer to have its interior — which most users would never even see — designed by Jony Ive and his team so as to be aesthetically pleasing.

The switch to Intel Macs (2005)

Macs saw three big changes during Jobs’ first few years back at Apple. The first was the arrival of tantalizing new products like the iMac and iBook. The second was the arrival of OS X, which used some of the technology Jobs had developed at NeXT to give users the top-to-bottom OS update they’d been desperate for. The third, announced at WWDC 2005, was the changeover of Mac CPUs from PowerPC processors to Intel ones.

Intel’s impressive road map showed that it was innovating — and particularly when it came to mobile computing, which was where Jobs increasingly took Apple during the second half of his stint as Apple CEO. Jobs’ interest in Intel was an early sign of where his thinking was going with devices like the MacBook Air and others.

The first Intel Macs shipped in early 2006, and the performance upgrade was noticeable to everyone right away.

iPhone launch date is announced (2007)

Although the iPhone was unveiled at Macworld, for the first few years of the iPhone’s life WWDC was an important event for Apple’s breakthrough smartphone. At WWDC 2007, the launch date for the first-gen iPhone was announced. For the next several years, Apple then used its Developers Conference to introduce its yearly handset upgrades to the world.

These included the iPhone 3G, 3GS and iPhone 4. It was only in late 2011, with the iPhone 4s, that Apple moved to hosting special iPhone media events in the fall. Today, the most significant iPhone news at WWDC is the unveiling of the new iOS upgrade.

Enter the App Store (2008)

The opening of the App Store, as announced at WWDC 2008, was nothing short of monumental for both Apple and devs.

Initally, Steve Jobs had been opposed to the idea because he wanted to maintain total control over the iPhone, but the likes of Phil Schiller and Apple board member Art Levinson lobbied for him to make the iPhone a generative platform instead of a locked-down one.

The news of an App Store wasn’t exactly a surprise for people who had been paying attention. Earlier that year, on March 6, Apple had hosted an an iPhone Software Roadmap event, after which it opened the iPhone Developer Program. By the time the App Store was officially announced at WWDC, 500 third-party apps were ready to go, with 25 percent of them being free to download.

Steve’s last keynote event (2011)

Just months before he resigned as Apple CEO and subsequently passed away, the 2011 WWDC saw Steve Jobs make his last public keynote. At the event, Apple unveiled Mac OS X Lion, iOS 5, iCloud, and iTunes Match. Tickets sold out in a mere 12 hours.

Apple announces Swift (2014)

Probably the biggest news for developers at the 2014 WWDC was the advent of Swift, a new coding language Designed to create apps specifically for Apple hardware. Replacing its Objective-C predecessor, Swift has since gone on to crack the world’s top 10 programming languages. At the following year’s WWDC, Apple announced that Swift was becoming open-source.

It’s also formed a big part of Apple’s education initiative to turn kids around the globe into coders — as seen through the recent announcement that six community college systems around the United States, serving nearly 500,000 students, will start teaching a Swift curriculum this fall.

Apple Music (2015)

Folding in a lot of the iTunes Radio tech that Apple showcased at WWDC 2013, Apple debuted its Apple Music streaming service at WWDC 2015. Now boasting a paying subscriber base of more than 20 million users, Apple Music not only offered Spotify-style streaming, but also introduced Apple’s live Beats 1 radio station.