For developers, WWDC going online-only ticks all the boxes

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Apple WWDC 2020
Most developers are just fine with WWDC 2020 being online-only.
Photo: Apple

Apple’s decision to cancel the 2020 Worldwide Developers Conference in San Jose, California, and move to an online-only format was not only a good idea but a no-brainer, according to an international survey of more than 2,200 independent software programmers.

The 2019 iOS Developer Community Survey — taken even before Apple opted to move WWDC exclusively online earlier this month — showed most developers don’t attend the physical conference for a variety of reasons. Those devs would rather see all the planned seminars and announcements streaming online, as Apple has done for a number of years.

The survey, a first of its kind conducted independently by freelance iOS developer and author Dave Verwer, found almost 78% of respondents previously watched videos online from WWDC instead of physically attending the weeklong event.

The results paint a clear picture that Apple’s decision to switch WWDC 2020 to an online-only event due to the coronavirus pandemic was one a majority of developers agree with. The move came after the rise of “social distancing” and the concern of large crowds gathering became the norm.

“The results of this question surprised me in terms of the fact people do not think it’s important to actually go to WWDC, to even be in the city, to be in the country,” said Verwer. “It came out as overwhelmingly not a priority.”

For some 2,200 iOS developers surveyed, watching videos from past WWDC conferences is almost as good as being there.
For some 2,200 iOS developers surveyed, watching videos from past WWDC conferences is almost as good as being there.
Photo: iOS Developer Community Survey

For developers, attending WWDC is mostly about cost

The survey shows that for many developers, attending WWDC and learning about new techniques to create more and better apps is cost-prohibitive. Those surveyed who don’t attend WWDC gave a variety of reasons. Most involved the high cost of travel, housing and tickets to the high-profile event.

“Even if you don’t want a ticket to the conference, just being in San Jose for that week is an enormous cost,” said Verwer. “If you’re outside of the U.S., it’s even worse. So it is absolutely a huge diversity issue in terms of that conference being central to how Apple can communicate with developers.”

Especially for small developers, attending WWDC is cost-prohibitive
Especially for small developers, attending WWDC is cost-prohibitive.
Photo: iOS Developer Community Survey

The luck of the draw

Even getting a chance to purchase a ticket poses a problem. Each year, tickets are in such demand that developers need quite a bit of luck just to get an invite in Apple’s lottery. In 2019, WWDC hosted an estimated 6,000 developers. With limited seating and Apple trying to make it so attendees can share ideas easily with others, being invited to WWDC has become somewhat of a luxury, according to Verwer.

“It’s a very tough problem for Apple, to not have enough capacity at WWDC,” said Verwer. “They have a limited number of engineers that they can bring on site. The [lines] in the labs at WWDC, which is where the engineers are, to ask them questions can be hours long. If they increase that number of attendees, those queues just explode. It’s not a trivial problem for Apple to solve.”

For developers, streaming WWDC as is good as being there

Over the years, Apple has dramatically increased the availability of videos from the various conference sessions. For many developers, streaming the sessions proves almost as good as attending WWDC. Yes, they miss out on the opportunity to interact with other developers and engineers. But the compromise is good enough for many, according to Verwer.

The majority of developers surveyed said the availability of content online was extremely valuable. They also indicated that the content and topics were of great importance.

“Apple has made dramatic strides in improving WWDC online,” Verwer said. “It’s a matter of minutes from the presentation ending to the video being available [online]. It’s like maybe an hour at most for most videos to be online. Certainly, by the end of the day, the entire content from that day is available. So yes, I think that is a fantastic kind of improvement over how it was a few years ago when tickets were still selling out, but the videos would take a week or two.”

For many of the iOS programmers surveyed — small, independent developers trying to improve their passions — WWDC 2020 online will be business as usual.