My first WWDC was 15 years ago. I was part of a few youngsters who were selected for the student scholarship, and back in the day, there were a lot of empty seats during the sessions. It was in San Jose, and my friend Alex was kind enough to let me crash on his couch for my very first overseas “professional” business trip. Not that I made any money on that trip, but it was beginning to be my career and I was there in that capacity. A month later, I would be hired at Apple in Europe, and Alex would be hired by the Californian HQ a few years later, but back then, what mattered was to be a nerd in a nerd place, not only allowed to nerd out, but actively encouraged to do so.
I was 20, give or take, and every day, I would have lunch with incredible people who not only shared my love of the platform, and the excitement at what would become so huge – Mac OS X, Cocoa, and Objective-C-, but would also share their experiences (and bits and pieces of their code) freely, and for the first time in my short professional life, I was treated as a peer. I met the people who came out with the SETI@Home client, and were looking for a way to port it from Linux to 10.0 (if you’ve never seen 10.0 running, well… lucky you), I exchanged tricks with the guy who did the QT4Java integration, and met my heroes from Barebones, to name a few.
Of course, the fact that I was totally skipping university didn’t make me forget that, like every science, programming flourishes best when ideas flow easily. No one thought twice about opening a laptop and delving in code to geek out about a specific bug or cool trick. I even saw and maybe had a few lines of code in a Lockheed Martin hush hush project… Just imagine that!
Over the years I went regularly, then less so, and in recent years not at all. It’s not a “it was so much better before” thing as much as a slow misalignment of what I wanted to get out of it. Let’s get this particular thing out of the way, so that I can move on to more nerding out.
Randomness played a big part for me. I met people who were into the platform, but necessarily living off of it. Academics, server people, befuddled people sent there by their company to see if it was worth the effort porting their software onto the Mac, it was that easy to get in the conference. These days I dare you to find an attendee who has a paid ticket and isn’t making a living from developing iOS apps (either indie or contractor, or in-house). The variety in personnalities and histories, and uses of the platform is still there, but there’s zero chance I’ll see an astronomer who happens to develop as a hobby… As a side note, the chance that a presenter (or Phil Schiller, who totally did) will give me his card and have a free conversation about a nerdy thing, certain in the fact that we were part of a small community and therefore not abuse each other’s time is very close to zero as well. Then again, who else was interested in using the IRdA port of the titanium to discuss with obscure gadgets?
So, it felt a little bit like a rant, but it’s not. I recognize the world has moved, and Apple went from “that niche platform a handful of enthusiasts keep alive” to the biggest company on Earth, and there is absolutely no reason why they should treat me differently for that past role, when there are so many talented people out there who would probably both benefit more from extra attention, and prove a more valuable investment. Reminiscing brings nostalgia, but it doesn’t mean today is any worse from an imagined golden age, when the future of the platform was uncertain, and we were reminded every day that we were making a mistake by the rest of the profession. Today is definitely better, even if that means I don’t feel the need to go to the WWDC anymore.
So, back to this year, the almost live nature of the video posting meant that I coded by day and watched sessions by night, making it almost like those days when sleep was few and far between, on the other side of the world. I just wasn’t physically in San Francisco, enjoying the comfort of my couch and the possibility to pause the video to try out a few things the presenter was talking about, or the so very important bathroom break.
All in all, while iOS isn’t anything new anymore, this year in particular, I was kind of reminded of the old days. It feels like we’re on a somewhat mature platform that doesn’t revolutionize itself every year anymore (sorry users, but it’s actually better this way), the bozos doing fart apps are not that preeminent anymore, and we can get to some seriously cool code.
2016 is all about openness. Gone are the weird restrictions of tvOS (most of the frameworks are now on par with other platforms, and Multipeer Connectivity has finally landed). WatchOS is out of beta. We can plug stuff in first party apps that have been walled off for 8 years. Even the Mac is getting some love, despite the fact it lost a capital M. And for the first time in forever, we have a server session! OK it is a Big Blue Man on stage but we may have a successor to WebObjects, folks! What a day to be both a dinosaur and alive.
Not strictly part of the WWDC announcements, the proposed changes to the App Stores prefigure some interesting possibilities for people like me, without an existing following or capital that can pay for a 6 months indie project. Yes, yes I know. There are people who launch new apps every day. I’m just not one of these people. I enjoy the variety of topics my customers make me confront to, and I have very little confidence in my abilities to manage a “community” of paying customers. Experience, again, and maybe I’ll share those someday.
Anyways, Swift on Linux, using frameworks like Kitura or Perfect right now, or the future WebObjects 6.0 might allow people like me, who have a deep background in languages with more than one type to be able to write fairly rapidly and consistently a decent backend, and who knows maybe even front end. Yes, I know Haskell has allowed you to do similar things for a bit, but for some reason, my customers are kind of daunted by the deployment procedures and I don’t do hosting.
The frills around iMessage stickers don’t do much for me, but being able to use iMessage to have a shared session in an app is just incredible. So. Many. Possibilities. Completely underrated in what I heard from the fallout of the conference doesn’t even begin to describe it. Every single turn based game out there, playable in an iMessage thread. I’ll leave that out here. See? I can be nice…
MacOS (yes I will keep using the capital M because it makes more sense to me) may not get a flurry of shinies, but benefits largely from everything done for iOS, and Xcode may finally make me stop pining after Codewarrior, or AppCode, or any other IDE that doesn’t (or didn’t) need to be prodded to do what I expect it to do. Every time I have to stop writing code or debugging code to fix something that was working fine yesterday, I take a deep breath. Maybe this year will grind those disruptions to a halt, or at least be limited to the critical phases of the project cycle.
I like my watch. I may like it without having to express an almost shame about it, come September. Actually, while I’m not tempted in the least to install iOS 10 on any of my devices just yet, I might have to do it just to have a beta of the non beta version of watchOS.
In short, for not quite defined reasons, I feel a bit like I did, 15 years ago during my first WWDC. It looks like Apple is shifting back to listening to us developers who aren’t hyper high profile, that the platform is transitioning to Swift at a good pace, but not just bulldozing it over our dead bodies, and that whatever idea anyone has, it’s finally possible to wrap your head around all the components, if not code them all by yourself using a coherent approach.
Hope feels good, confidence feels better.