If you are an Apple fan or follower, then you doubtless have already heard that WWDC will be an online-only event this year. This certainly didn’t come as a shock, as most other tech conference scheduled before WWDC had already been cancelled or moved to streaming-only events. While Apple hasn’t given the dates, we do know that they will stream a Keynote and their typical developer sessions sometime in June.
So other than the fact that this year’s WWDC is online only, there really isn’t anything different than recent years. The time of year is the same. The content looks to very similar. Apple has also been streaming all of the developer sessions for a few years now, so that’s not even new. However, the absence of 5,000 developers at the event and many others in the area to network and attend parallel Apple-focused events still looms large.
That said, Apple definitely made the smart move here. I’m not sure they really had another choice based on current events and the wave of event and sporting league cancellations across the country. Other than holding out longer to make an announcement, there really wasn’t another option. To announce WWDC going forward as an in-person anytime before the news and numbers surrounding COVID-19 changes would both go completely against the grain and be an unnecessary risk for Apple.
Moving WWDC online isn’t just the smart move by Apple, though. It’s also the right one. Aside from the specter of a pandemic, there is the practical aspect of how events work. People make travel plans for such events far in advance and venues and hotels need adequate notice of cancellations. Announcing that WWDC will be online now sends the right message and let’s everyone move forward and plan accordingly.
We can’t know the future. No one can. The best anyone can do right now is work off of what is already known about COVID-19 and how it spreads and affects the sick, and that information says that large gatherings are a completely unnecessary risk. In light of this, Apple made the right call.
I know that there are real elements that go with a gathering like WWDC that will be lost this year. Besides the content that will be streamed, there is a lot of direct interaction with Apple engineers that developers will miss out on. Getting to talk to the people who design and build features in Apple’s OSs is one of the biggest benefits of attending an event like this. There are also the meals, drinks and downtime that developers spend together. I know from similar technical and sales events I attend that you often get as much benefit from these direct interactions as from the session content. The organic nature of all this just can’t be duplicated remotely, so there is a lot being lost due to Apple taking WWDC online-only.
However, as valuable as these in-person benefits are, sacrificing them is a small price to pay for the greater good. Right now, that greater good is slowing the spread of COVID-19 as much as possible and preventing our healthcare systems from being overwhelmed by a hard spike in cases. I have two parents in their 80s who are in relatively good health living next door to me, so I am all for measures that will protect them and others who are most susceptible to this disease. All of the postponements and cancellations happening across the US may seem like a lot together, but they are the responsible thing to do until the situation with COVID-19 changes.