Debate about the Quality of WWDC

I recently read Scott Stevenson's In Defense of WWDC 2006 which was a response to Matt Neuburg's The Decline of WWDC. Both articles are excellent reads.

The Decline of WWDC talks about the fact that although Apple's technical presentations and lab sessions were top-notch at WWDC 2006, in more minor matters of courtesy, food and free gifts, Apple fell short this year and has been doing so ever since WWDC 2003. The general gist of In Defense of WWDC 200६ was that all this - the food, the drinks and the freebies - was irrelevant and it's not why so many developers paid upwards of a thousand hard-earned dollars to attend the event. No, it's only the technical sessions and tête-à-tête talks with Apple employees that's really relevant at WWDC.

In the case of Neuburg, it's quite plain that although he greatly appreciates the sessions that are held at WWDC, he also likes the little touches that Apple is well-known for, and I quote him:
The zenith in recent years was the 2003 WWDC. Apple had moved the venue from the isolated, unpleasant San Jose McEnery Convention Center to the west wing of the Moscone Center in wonderful downtown San Francisco. Attendees were given a superb portfolio bag that I still use, a copy of the currently shipping operating system, and a major piece of hardware (an iSight!). The food was terrific (excellent hot breakfasts and lunches), and between talks we were plied with free juices and fruit, and of course plenty of high-quality coffee.

This year, on the other hand, the freebies were the cheapest portfolio bag I've ever seen (flimsy, no padding, few compartments, bad zippers, strap attached in a silly place), a crummy travel mug, and a t-shirt with incorrect Latin on it. (OK, so I spent many years teaching Latin; they could have asked me.) No hardware, no currently shipping software. Lunches were plastic salad and plastic sandwiches in plastic containers; breakfast was nearly non-existent.
And to this, Stevenson replies:
I could dig into this, but the reality is that you're paying $1300-ish for the conference, not the bag. You could either look at it as "hey, I deserve better," or "look, it's is a free bag, if I don't like it I can buy something else for $50." I fall in the later camp because I just don't see the point in wasting energy on it.
This is the gist of his reply and he reiterates it a couple of more times in his write-up. Basically, Stevenson does not care about these minor things because that's not what he's paying for. And many others (as you can see from the comments to his post) think just like him and believe that what Neuburg is doing is just whining about matters that are too inconsequential.

I have to disagree with Stevenson more than Neuburg, though. You see, even though the sessions are the most important part of WWDC - I shall draw an analogy to Apple's Mail here - and sending, receiving and organizing mail is the most important function of Mail, just as when you resize columns in Mail, the format of the date changes to try and accomodate as much as possible instead of simply adding an ellipsis, it's the little touches and niceties that make a huge difference in the "general impression" you derive, whether it's from not having to resize a column just to read the date or from digesting an extremely unfresh pastry.

As a company that wants its developers to keep coming year-after-year to WWDC to attend its sessions and to use its newly-introduced technologies in their software, Apple should endeavour to make WWDC as enjoyable as possible. And yes, since it's charging them upwards of $1600, WWDC very well is a "premium" conference and so it better bloody well act like one. This does mean that the company (that is, Apple) go out of its way to find a portfolio bag that's not cheap, provide food for their attendees that is enjoyable as well as edible and make sure that the staff at the convention centre is not going to be rude to their attendees.

But I beg you, don't for an instance think that I'm saying that developers won't add Time Machine support to their applications just because they ate a dry pastry once or didn't get their choice of pizza - I'm just saying that, if, on top of dead useful and enjoyable technical sessions, Apple also goes the extra mile to make sure most attendees are just plain old "happy" and "satisfied" at their conference, they simply make sure that those attendees will leave with a ton of goodwill for Apple and its conference and will come back the next year. I mean, what real harm is there in just being nice

Comments (1) Posted on at  

  • » I totally agree. This is bassically what I said in my comment on Scott's post; see that in the comments on his post.

    I'll repost it here:

    "I see both points of view.

    I think that what Matt complained about is something that is worth bringing up, but I also don't think it's the end of the world.

    If all we cared about was the core content, we probably wouldn't be Mac users. The Mac OS is so great because of it's great polish – all those little details. The lack of that polish is exactly what Matt is talking about, and I mostly agree.

    However, I find it somewhat hard to believe that people gasped at the pizza.