WWDC: The conference

I arose at 3 AM on Monday to make my way to the conference center and get in line for the 10 AM keynote, meeting up with another Phoenix based developer to stake our spots. During the several hour wait, multiple software and hardware vendors buzzed the line, offering either t-shirts or coffee. Several TV stations descended on the line to gather interviews and opinions. They were especially interested in one guy who was near me in line, since he had strolled through Steve Jobs’ neighborhood the day before. By the time the doors opened, the line had wrapped around the building and the buzz was mounting. Entering the auditorium, I immediately noticed the media presence with dozens of TV cameras lining the walls, all trained to center stage.

And, depending on what you were wishing for, Steve Jobs did not disappoint.

Introducing the new iPhone 4, Jobs quipped “stop me if you’ve seen this before,” referring to the test device that had been lost by an Apple engineer and leaked by the Gizmodo blog several weeks before. Jobs ticked through all of the relevant features of the new phone: a high-definition display, a 5 megapixel camera with a front-facing companion, a bigger battery, a gyroscope. As expected, Jobs had “one more thing” up his sleeve near the end of his presentation: the iPhone 4’s first killer app, FaceTime, a video calling system.

The remainder of the conference sessions were much more technical in nature, delivered by the Apple engineers that worked on the components. With only one exception, the presentations that I attended were very well prepared and the presenters were able to answer any questions posed by the audience. Most of the sessions were geared toward features made possible by the new phone hardware or new and expanded features of the API frameworks.

In addition to technical sessions, the engineers (reportedly 1,000 of them) were very accessible in the scheduled labs where you could take your code and work with them one on one to get answers on particular topics. One of the more popular labs was the “User Interface Review”, a 30 minute session to get an in-depth assessment of an app’s user experience. I’m glad I got up early on Thursday to get a spot in that lab, it was an eye opening experience.

One of the best sessions I attended was “Future Proofing Your Apps” which gave quite a few tips for making sure your apps don’t experience problems when a new iPhone OS is released. Another good one was “Animation Driven Interfaces” which provided tips for creating very rich user experiences which are also smooth and performant.

All in all, this conference is well worth the price of admission for those in the iOS development space. The main takeaway that I have coming out of the conference is to utilize the advantage of the lab time. I didn’t have a lot of “code in progress” apps going in, so I concentrated on attending interesting sessions. If I were to attend again, I would definitely try to have more “irons in the fire” just to get more face time with the engineers. Since attendees receive the conference session videos as part of their ticket, those can be reviewed after the event, whereas the labs are a once a year opportunity.

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