WWDC is all but confirmed not to be happening this year, at least not in the usual sense. Whereas Apple corporate employees may not be wholly prepared to work remotely this week, Apple is well equipped to run a venue-less WWDC for the community.
The day-one keynote will surely be held at Steve Jobs Theater, maybe inviting only a few dozen press and retail staff to fill the seats. The general media attention for the WWDC keynote may pale in comparison to the September iPhone event, but it’s still big enough that Apple will want to give its new major operating system updates the proper justice of a prepared presentation unveiling.
Apple has recorded WWDC sessions and put them online for ever, and in the last few years began live-streaming sessions for anyone not in the room to follow along with. This year, with no physical presence, Apple engineers due to present developer sessions in-person can instead rehearse and record videos in advance. In fact, they could publish all of them immediately following the keynote, alongside the beta OS releases. They don’t have the usual scheduling constraints of the convention centre.
The biggest question mark is how does Apple replace the labs experience. You are never going to truly replace one-on-one chats with Apple engineers but you can get close. Apple could dedicate some time for the rest of WWDC week to hosting webinars or online Q&A sessions. They could also ramp up documentation and sample code efforts to mitigate the lack of face-to-face labs.
Also, WWDC does not have to be confined to the one week in June. In the past, Apple has held one-day “Tech Talks” conferences in countries around the world, at all sorts of times of the year. For instance, the last Tech Talks were run in early 2016 to discuss how to develop tvOS apps; the Apple TV was announced in September and therefore skipped the WWDC cycle that year. I can definitely see Apple planning Tech Talks-esque events as a WWDC substitute, whenever the coronavirus risks subside.
I’ve seen some people ponder if Apple would change their product schedules because of the the lack an in-person WWDC, like whether Apple would postpone announcing the Intel ARM to Mac transition because they need the physical sessions and labs to get developers onboard. Personally, I doubt Apple has any reservations of that nature. WWDC holds outsize importance in the tech community because so many podcasters and influencers of said community are privileged enough to attend. The reality is WWDC caters to a very small slice of the overall Apple developer ecosystem. The conference hosts 5000 people, but Apple has over 20 million registered developers. It’s worth remembering that the vast, vast, majority of App Store apps were made by people who have never attended a WWDC lab in their life.
Selfishly, I am quite happy that Tech Talks 2020 are likely going to be a thing. The UK was one of the countries they visited last time they did them, so no reason for them not to come back here. That means I will be able to go to an official Apple developer event for the first time ever.