Apple’s annual conference is going remote — here’s what attendees will miss most

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When Apple’s annual World Wide Developers Conference kicks off later this month, it will look markedly different than its previous 30 iterations. Instead of a in-person conference held in San Jose, California with parties, sushi dinners, and hands-on workshops, WWDC will be held online this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

For the public, the draw is Apple’s so-called “keynote” on the first day of the conference where CEO Tim Cook and other executives reveal the latest version of iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and Mac software, which will come out in the fall. Like in earlier years, the keynote presentation will be streamed online around the world.

But for developers who have nicknamed the gathering “Dub Dub,” a significant draw is the opportunity to receive detailed technical help with their current projects after the keynote ends. This year, instead of one-on-one time with Apple employees, they’ll be watching recorded videos, applying for limited videoconferencing spots and asking questions on Apple’s developer forums.

“WWDC is when developers around the world fly into a high production-quality event, to learn things, ask questions at labs, get the idea and so forth. So if you want to launch a big idea, like moving to SwiftUI, you have to get developers together, to ask questions, and get things solved and move on,” Paul Hudson, author of Hacking With Swift, and a four-time WWDC attendee, said.

Apple is not the only big tech company to move its developer conference to an online, video-first format this year — Google and Microsoft did the same, and Facebook canceled its entirely. But WWDC is a critical event for Apple as well as its only public-facing conference, and the success of its new format will partially determine how many apps optimized for the new operating systems will launch alongside the new software this fall. Apple said in its most recent annual filing that its future financial performance depends in part on support from third-party software developers.

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