Apple confirms WWDC 2020 will go ahead in June with ‘all-new online format’

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Apple WWDC 2020
WWDC 2020 will go ahead, but as an online-only event.
Photo: Apple

Apple on Friday confirmed that its annual Worldwide Developers Conference will go ahead in June with “an all-new online format” and not take place at a conference center as has happened since the first WWDC in 1987.

The high-tech giant said the approach was essential amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but that it was determined to deliver a full program with an online keynote and developer sessions. Apple has also confirmed it will commit $1 million to local San Jose organizations to offset revenue loss as a result of WWDC going online-only.

The coronavirus has had a profound impact on the tech-giant since January with Apple delaying the production of new products, canceling travel and closing Apple Stores in China until today.

Now, with the virus advancing on American soil, Apple is moving to an online model for what is arguable the biggest event of the year for the first time since its inception.

“We are delivering WWDC 2020 this June in an innovative way to millions of developers around the world, bringing the entire developer community together with a new experience,” said Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing, in a prepared statement.

“The current health situation has required that we create a new WWDC 2020 format that delivers a full program with an online keynote and sessions … We will be sharing all of the details in the weeks ahead.”

It is not known at this time whether or not large parts of the conference will be streamed live as well as be available on-demand. As in the past, it is expected the keynote address will be broadcast live, but it remains to be seen how many other conferences will be available live to possibly take questions from an online audience.

Apple hasn’t set a date for when WWDC 2020 will begin online or exact detail of the format. The company said it would provide further details between now and June through an email, updates in the Apple Developer app and progress reports on the Apple Developer website.

WWDC 2020 live’s on

Questions surrounding WWDC’s feasibility this year have circulated for weeks as the coronavirus outbreak spreads its reach. Apple has already scrapped an event it had planned for March, a source on Monday confirmed to Cult of Mac. Its rumored iPhone SE 2, which would have been the star of the show, is delayed indefinitely.

Fans will be pleased to hear WWDC won’t suffer the same fate. It’s one of the biggest events in the Apple calendar, delivering our first official previews of the company’s next major software updates. This year, we expect to see iOS 14, watchOS 7, tvOS 14, and macOS 10.16 for the first time. It could also bring new hardware.

WWDC ‘is going to be big’

“With all of the new products and technologies we’ve been working on, WWDC 2020 is going to be big,” said Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of Software Engineering. “I look forward to our developers getting their hands on the new code and interacting in entirely new ways with the Apple engineers building the technologies and frameworks that will shape the future across all Apple platforms.”

This announcement is great news for developers and the wider Apple community, but moving WWDC online will have a negative impact elsewhere. Apple recognizes that without an actual gathering, businesses in San Jose will miss out on the huge influx of visitors WWDC brings every year. The company wants to help by donating $1 million to help make up for the revenue they will now miss out on.

A tough decision

Conference experts recently told Cult of Mac it would be a tough decision for Apple based on various factors, including letting attendees know sooner rather than later if there would be an actual physical event or not for their own planning purposes.

Ian McGonnigal, a marketing executive with Experiential Executive, who has consulted on conference and convention planning with more than a dozen Fortune 500 companies, said Apple’s decision was a prudent one.“Many are taking a streaming or a virtual-event approach to things where they can still accomplish their goals without having to have a lot of people in a single space,” he said.

WWDC isn’t the first event to be hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Tech giants Adobe, Amazon, Google, Microsoft have all switched to web conferences this spring to prevent contact with a fast-spreading virus that has killed more than 5,000 and infected nearly 136,900 others worldwide.

Organizers for South by Southwest, the annual tech, music and film conference in Austin, TX, were forced to call off the event after city officials declared a health emergency.

More than 6,000 attendees from 77 countries attended WWDC in San Jose last year. Every year the conference kicks off with a keynote address featuring key Apple team members rolling out new hardware and presenting upcoming changes to the operating systems for iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, Apple TV and Mac computers.

Those not able to afford the travel, afford the $1,600 price tag, or were not picked from the online lottery for spaces to the conference last year, were able to view presentations streamed live on the Apple Developer website.

Public health officials in Santa Clara County, where Apple is headquartered, announced on March 5 recommendations for companies and organizations to call off mass gatherings.

All eyes were on Apple as fans, developers and the tech media wondered if it would pull the plug completely on WWDC or go to an online-only format. In the past, Apple has announced details for the upcoming conference no later than mid-April. Last year, Apple sent out details for WWDC 2019 on March 14.

Virtual WWDC useful – mostly

With most of the world’s iOS developers streaming WWDC sessions, an online-only event is still productive for software and app engineers.

But regular attendees say a virtual conference won’t give them the valuable facetime with colleagues and company engineers, who can help developers get the most of Apple’s technology.

Joseph Cohen, who founded the website-building app company Universe, told the website Fast Company that the access to engineers is extremely important.

“The talks and announcements are great, but the real value is the conversations we have with Apple employees, other developers, and potential recruits,” he said. “Apple’s in-person resources are especially helpful. They have labs with engineers who built the APIs we use, designers who set the platform’s standards, and editors who curate the App Store.”

Additional reporting by David Pierini.