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According to Hoyle

According to Hoyle...

WWDC '10: Get Over It

(It's Not Just About the Mac Anymore.)  


June 2010

by Jonathan Hoyle


My Bad Attitude

In the last few years, I have been giving WWDC a bit of heat.  On a grading scale, I even gave last year's conference a D, which many of you have told me was unduly harsh.  Much of that had to do with the eroding of Mac OS X's presence in favor of iPhone.  Well considering what's happening this year, last year's Mac presence positively generous!  Furthermore, I have been received complaints for criticizing aspects of the conference which are not really germane to its purpose.  These are all fair points, and WWDC '10 is forcing me to reevaluate what exactly this conference is supposed to be.

As scandalous as this may be to some, this year's WWDC will be the first ever not to highlight the next version of the Macintosh operating system.  That's not to say that WWDC will be devoid of Macintosh sessions.  Certainly the Mac has a presence, and a very important one at that.  But what Mac-related topics there will be this year remain confined to the release Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard.  But most importantly, this year the Mac is taking a backseat to iPhone development.

To many people, including myself at first, I was appalled to hear that the Mac was being all but excluded from its own conference!  How can you have a Mac conference and ignore the Mac!?!  Then someone challenged me on this very point:  What part of "Apple Worldwide Developer Conference" do you find the word "Mac"?

Ouch.  But a very valid point.  It's an Apple conference, not Macintosh conference.  And Apple is not just the Mac anymore.  There are iPods, iPhones and now iPads.

Now even before all this, WWDC had in the past included sessions on other Apple technologies that were outside the Mac, from the Apple IIGS to the Newton and even the Pippin.  (How many of you even remember what a Pippin is?)  But still, a few sessions here or there never changed the fact that the Mac was still Apple's primary platform.

But that has changed.  It's not a Mac-centric world for Apple anymore.  It's not even close.


Apple By the Numbers

To see my point, let's take a look at Apple's most successful Mac quarter ever: 3.36 million Macs sold in Q1 2010.  This averages to over a million Macs per month going out the door during the quarter.  A million.  That's more than 35,000 Macs per day being sold, or one every two and a half seconds.  That's a lot.  The best ever in the history of the company.

But it's dwarfed by the sales of iPhones and iPods.  Q1 2010 saw 8.7 million iPhones and 21 million iPods get sold.  That's nearly ten million iPods and iPhones per month.  Ten million.  But really, numbers are secondary to dollars.  In Q2 2010, iPhone sales were triple Mac sales.  And even though Macs are much more expensive, the most recent quarter still saw the iPhone's $5.4 Billion revenue dominating the Mac's $1.9 Billion.  Money talks, even at Apple.

And as well as Macs are selling, every time one got sold, 2.5 iPhones and 6.25 iPods got sold.  With respect to iPods, Apple doesn't tell us how many of those iPods are iPod Touches (which can run iPhone apps), and how many are not, but it's safe to say that at least 3 times as many iPhone app-capable devices get sold.  Maybe 4 times.

 With triple to quadruple the Mac consumer base, it does makes sense that Apple should focus this conference on iPhone development, especially given that Mac OS X 10.7 is only in its infancy at this stage.  Mac users, even developers, are not interested in rushing in to something just now, as 10.6 Snow Leopard is still just taking hold now.  There was a 2.5 year delta between 10.4 and 10.5, and about a 2 year delta between 10.5 and 10.6 (with this latter one being a much smaller change).  if 10.7 ends up being a major upgrade (as 10.4 and 10.5 were), I can't imagine it being finalized much before 2012.  Even if the change is a smaller 10.6-ish upgrade, a 2011 release date would still be aggressive.  10.7 has a while of cooking left to do.

The App store is less than two years old, and already there are more than 200,000 applications available for the iPhone/iPod touch devices.  200,000.  If you add up all the Macintosh applications ever written over the past 25 years, including shareware and freeware utilities, how many would that be?  Would it be more than 200,000?  Possibly.  I wouldn't bet on it though.  And even if so, remember that the iPhone reached that number in less than 2 years.  And as for total downloads: more than 4 Billion.  The last Billion just since the start of the year 2010.  Software development for personal computers (including the Mac) had exploded in the 1980's but has since cooled off.  We are now seeing a similarly explosion for mobile computing (including the iPhone).

So this year does make sense to focus the Apple development community exclusively on iPhone development, at least for this year.

(Even if it does break my heart to say so.)


Apple Developers: Who are They?

There are essentially two avenues for Apple developers today: Mac OS X and iPhone/iPod Touch.  Both use Cocoa and Objective-C, and most API's are the same across both platforms.  The iPhone SDK has some features specific to it (touch screen, etc.) as does the Mac (built-in garbage collection).  But on balance, a developer can go between Mac & iPhone with minor effort.  So Apple developers overlap pretty heavily between both domains.

But if you attended the last couple of WWDC's, you'll notice something remarkable.  All the Mac-only sessions are stocked with the usual types: aging males who have been Mac users for a long, long time.  Most of us in our 40's.  Many even older.  Walk into an iPhone session (particularly an intro one), and there are a large number of young (under 30) types.  Both men and women.  And they don't carry around bulky portable computers … they do everything on their mobile devices.  And they are as stoked about the iPhone as much as we were about the Mac more than 20 years ago.

 And despite the lack of Mac OS X information, this year's conference sold out once again in record time.  But this was obscenely fast: sold out in just 8 days.  And looking on Ebay, I am seeing tickets being scalped for up to $3000.  (That's almost double the original starting price!)  It's clear what people want, and we can't blame Apple for fulfilling their demands.  It seems everyone wants in.


What's a Mac Guy to Do?

In the end, we must acknowledge the realities of development, and right now, the demand is on the iPhone.  I hate that the Mac is taking a back seat this year.  I understand that Apple really wanted to make it clear that this year's focus is the iPhone, but that's a tough pill to swallow.  Granted, most of the development specifics (Xcode, Cocoa, Objective-C) applies to both Mac & iPhone, so the Mac is being excluded in focus only.  But still, that's a tough pill to swallow.

And we Mac developers do have some legitimate grievances.  For example, was it really necessary for Apple to remove Mac OS X applications from consideration in this year's Apple Design Awards?  Only iPhone apps get a Design Award now???  Really?  Come on, guys.  That's not just a focus change, that's a slap in the face.

Is this a permanent change of direction for WWDC?  Will all future WWDC's be iPhone-specific?  Is that the message Apple wants to send?  I don't think so, but the answer will not be seen this year, but rather at WWDC 2011.  I expect to see Mac OS X 10.7 prominently exposed there.  If not, then I'll worry.

But having said that, we Mac developers should not see the iPhone as competition, but rather as an extension.  Think of it as Mac OS X going mobile.  Let's look forward, not backward.  It is an exciting time.  Let's not look like the pathetic sour-faced Apple IIGS programmer from 15 years ago, bemoaning how Apple is focusing the future on the Mac.  Yes, it happened that way, but the IIGS programmer should have viewed the Mac as the future of the IIGS.  68K moved to PowerPC.  Classic moved to Mac OS X.  PowerPC moved to Intel.  Now OS X is essentially on cell phones.



Well, time to recalibrate all my WWDC ratings.  It's no longer fair to compare WWDC's with ones from a decade ago.  Even last year, I gave a bad grade to WWDC '09, using the same standard I did for the outstanding WWDC '99.  In the latter conference, there was a PowerBook given away every hour, we had trips to museums, there was a movie night, guest celebrities, gaming stations, vendor booths, ADC reception, Birds of a Feather, Feedback Forums, and on and on.  There were none of those things last year, nor are they expected to be back ever again.  The 1999 and 2009 conferences were as different as night and day.  Sure, it's easy to say that WWDC '99 was a great conference, but Apple will never be holding those kind again.  It's not a fair comparison anymore.  It's like comparing apples and iPhones.

So okay, I take it all back.  The purpose of the conference is for Apple to disseminate information to the Apple development community.  Let's now look at it from this perspective moving forward.


To see a list of all the According to Hoyle columns, visit: