June 4, 2005 / Scott Stevenson
Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference is the event for technically-inclinded Mac OS X users. That's not just hyperbole. There's truly no better way talk to Apple's engineering teams and other developers. This tutorial will help you get the most out of your week in San Francisco.
WWDC used to be a relatively low-key gathering which didn't have much visibility outside of the immediate Mac developer community. Then, in 2003, Apple decide to really crank up the volume. In the impressive new Moscone West venue, the entire energy of the event is different.
The new WWDC is the professional counterpart to the more consumer-oriented Macworld SF in January. In addition to the application developers, the conference now attracts web developers, IT professionals and QuickTime developers, and now features a highly-visible keynote.
It's worth separating Monday from the rest of the week, since it's essentially a conference warm-up day. To save yourself some hassle, though, try to make it to the conference center on before Monday to get your badge and materials ahead of time. Things are much busier on on the day of the keynote.
Historically, the WWDC keynote is not quite the mad frenzy that the Macworld SF keynote is. That is, you're as likely to see lines all the way from Oakland. The keynote doesn't start until 10am, and crowd is genereally smaller and more laid back. After the keynote, most people regroup and get lunch.
There's not too much planning necessary in terms of sessions on the first day. The conference opens with several "State of the Union" presentations in the main Presido hall. After these presentations, dinner is provided at a reception. This gives you a chance to meet up with various people and possibly play some games.
If you want to walk around San Francisco at all, Monday night is one of your better opportunities because the interesting night events are later in the week.
WWDC 2005 changes the structure of sessions quite a bit. In previous years, virtually all of the sessions were presentations by Apple employees on a particular technology or concept.
This year, Apple has decided to add more two-way interaction to the session lineup. In addition to about 80 presentation sessions, there are also 35 hands-on sessions and 50 labs.
Although nobody will know for sure how the new formats will work until the first run-through, the hands-on sessions are designed to be more tutorial-centric than slide centric. The idea is that you bring your PowerBook and follow along.
This could be a big deal for attendees, because it was previously somewhat hard to follow the speaker as code was displayed on-screen at high speed. It would often be necessary to wait for the DVDs of the sessions to arrive to apply the concepts in a practical manner.
One of the best reasons to go to WWDC is to talk to Apple engineers directly for guidance on tough issues. The problem that it is somewhat awkward to simply ambush speakers after a presentation. It seems the idea behind the labs are to apply a more formal structure to getting help with various tasks and concepts.
If you have questions, this is the place to bring them. Make sure your laptop is equipped with any projects that you're working on. You'll like be able to get source-level support on wide variety of topics.
If you do have things you need help on, keep in mind that the labs aren't suited to a republication, but the slide-base presentations are. It's likely that Apple will make the presentations available on the ADC web site in a few months and mail them to you on DVD at the end of the summer. Make sure you orient your time around things that can't won't be recorded for later viewing.
If you can imagine radar (Apple's issue tracking system) recast as a congressional hearing, you have a pretty good idea of what the feedback forums look like. The key engineering team members of a particular tool or API line up on stage and take feedback from audience members. These sessions are fairly loosely structured, but it's not quite the spectacle that British parliment is.
Unlike the labs, the feedback forums are a way for you to give your opinions on where the team should focus its energy. It's not a good format for asking questions.
There are a number of sessions listed as TBA on the site. Updates on these sessions are typically sent after the conference starts or the night before. These updates are mailed to the email account in your ADC account, so make sure that you can get to that email address during the conference. The email updates also announce changes to previously-posted schedules, news about special events, contests, or anything else attendees might need to know about. For WWDC 2005, Apple has set up an attendees-only site which has up-to-date schedules and news.
Apple provides breakfast and lunch to attendees, as well as dinner on select nights. Breakfast tends to be fairly light: fruit, yogurt, bagels juice and pastries. If you're used to something with a bit more more protein, be sure to work this out before you get to the conference center.
Lunches are usually somewhat greasy. There are always options for vegetarians, but they tend to disappear fairly quickly. On some days, you can just grab a bag lunch with a sandwich and fruit.
The Moscone Center is right in the middle of downtown San Francisco, so you also have quite a few options for eating out. The Metreon is right across the street and has a fairly wide variety of high quality food options, though it doesn't come cheap in most cases.
You can walk a few blocks in just about any direction and find more options. Chevy's has great tex-mex, is quite close, and has better prices than Metreon, but they're extremely busy most of the time.
In the past few years, Apple has worked out a deal with Jamba Juice to provide free smoothies to attendees in the afternoon.
The special events are worth attending. Tuesday night's Apple Design Awards and "Stump the Experts" tend to be crowd favorites.
Apple Design Awards are given to applications that best exemplify the high standards that Apple has set for Mac OS X applications. It's gratifying to see developers recognized for hard work, so this event is worth hanging around for.
Stump the Experts (or just "Stump") is simply a lot of fun. A panel of current and past Apple employees field obscure technicaly or trivia questions from the audience.
New for 2005, Wednesday and Thursday feature several "brown bag lunches," which are informal lunchtime get-togethers focused on particular topics.
The Apple Campus Bash is the single biggest special event. Everyone is trucked down from San Francisco to Apple's headquarters in Cupertino. There's tons of food, drink and typically a live band (2004's guest was Jimmy Eat World).
Depending on how much time you find yourself with, there are a few places you can visit which are in walking distance of Moscone.
Metreon is hard to miss as it's directly across the street. This is essentially an upscale mall, with a bunch of restaurants, movie theatres, a PlayStation store, a comic book store, and a variety of other specialty shops. Metreon is connected to a large public park an amazing waterfall display.
If you walk down Howard, past Metreon to Third, you'll run into the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
You can also walk out to the balcony on the third floor of Moscone West and just take a look around. It's a great view, and you may seem something you want to walk down and check out.
Futher out, the Golden Gate bridge is a favorite. There's a parking/observation area to the right just as you pass over the bridge -- perfect for photos. Other places worth checking out are Golden Gate Park and the Academy of Sciences, the Exploratorium, and any one of several beaches.
For a more comprehensive description of places to visit, check out sfvisitor.org.
Cocoa Dev Central's WWDC 2005 coverage will be updated throughout the week. As always, let us know what you think about the article.