Apple's WWDC Isn't All About the iPhone

Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) is more than splashy iPhone announcements or an opportunity for Steve Jobs to announce his return.

Although speculation over the return of Steve Jobs to Apple and multiple rumors of iPhone announcements have dominated coverage of this year's Worldwide Developer Conference, the event's focus is squarely on providing hands-on learning and in-depth technical information for developers and IT professionals. As the company announced it would cease to participate in the annual Macworld event in January, WWDC is Apple's only major in-house event.

Thus begins a possible new era for WWDC, one where the focus on development may be tempered with the larger, and more spectacular hardware debuts such as the iPhone (in fact, the iPhone 3G debuted at the conference last year). The five-day show has steadily grown in importance in recent years, particularly after Apple said the 2009 Macworld Conference & Expo would be the last in which the company participated.

"Since MacWorld went away as their premier regular event, it has increased in importance," says Michael Oh, founder and president of Apple-specific solution provider Tech Superpowers. "Apple's always been a company that likes to control what they say about Apple products, so they brought product events into their own fold, like with the dev conference. The transition to WWDC as their premier site was obviously very specific."

The number of WWDC attendees varies between 2,000 to 4,200 developers, and Apple reported that this year's conference sold out in late April. Rumors of the return of Steve Jobs (on medical leave) and the expected release of the iPhone OS 3.0 software announced to developers in March has generated a barrage of media attention. That was not always the case with WWDC. "The developers conference was a little-known conference, only populated by real dedicated developers - it was chalk-full of technical folks," Oh says. "The developer site and WWDC were pretty irrelevant until Apple announced the SDK release for the iPhone."

Oh says Apple's ability to capitalize on the media frenzy allows the company to use the conference in order to train and nurture developers while simultaneously drawing coverage in by fueling speculation over product launches. "In that sense, they're getting both sides-mass market consumer media and a great selection of developers," he said

The event also draws interest in the development community with the annual Apple Design Awards, which recognizes developers for the best iPhone OS applications and the best Mac OS X applications. Winners will receive two 15-inch MacBook Pros (best configuration), two 30-inch Apple Cinema Displays, two 16GB iPhone 3Gs and two 16GB iPod touches, among other things.

The evolution of WWDC also mirrors Apple's success with the release of the iPhone SDK and Apple's ability to turn the iPod concept into a powerful mobile device. "The iPhone couldn't be better timed," Oh said. "They pulled away from a one-trick pony hardware device to a mobile device. If they'd had to ride the iPod into recession, they would have been in trouble."