Managing WWDC Demand or Tipping Their Hand

This year Apple made a change to how they sell tickets to WWDC: They pre-announced the sale date.

At the same time, they also announced session videos would be available during the conference. Historically, they've been available after the event, but increasingly quickly of late.

The natural assumption most seem to be making is that Apple announced this in an attempt to mitigate demand for WWDC tickets. The hope by many seemed to be this change would make WWDC tickets a little bit easier to get.

If that was the plan, it failed.

The more I think about it, though, the more convinced I am WWDC demand had nothing to do with it.

Why WWDC Demand Wasn't the Motivation

Everything Apple does is in Apple's best interest. So what is Apple's interest in WWDC?

  • Teach developers the new technologies Apple is introducing and will be focusing on in the next year
  • Provide an environment for developers to get access to key Apple engineers so developers can get answers to tricky questions
  • Build a developer community that is engaged, enthusiastic, and committed to developing Apple software

All of this, of course, is in service of selling more Apple hardware.

So how does reducing demand for WWDC tickets address any of these objectives?

Indeed, I only see one positive Apple gains: They score some points with developers that are now able to attend. This seems to me to be a fairly minor PR victory, and since when has developer sentiment been the primary driver of any action Apple has taken?

Better yet, what would happen if Apple did manage to lower demand for WWDC tickets? Apple would be crucified in some corners of the press if WWDC didn't sell out quicker this year than last. I can almost see the WSJ headline now: "WWDC fails to sell out faster than last year; indicates dropping enthusiasm for iOS platform".

Setting aside the press, Apple wouldn't be able to achieve two of the three objectives for WWDC if fewer developers attend. Developers that aren't present can't ask engineers questions. The fewer developers that attend, the less the community is strengthened and the less excitement is generated.

With few benefits and many potential downsides, I'm not convinced reducing demand was the primary motivation. At best, I think it was a secondary concern.

How Apple Tipped Its Hand

If reducing demand for WWDC tickets wasn't Apple's motivation for announcing rapid availability of event videos, what is?

Let's return to the first interest I identified Apple having in WWDC:

  • Teach developers the new technologies Apple is introducing and will be focusing on in the next year

This is the one interest that can be served, to some extent, by videos alone.

In recent years the videos have become available increasingly quickly after WWDC. This has coincided with an increased pace of change in the Apple ecosystem. OS X is now on an annual release schedule. iOS has become the hot new thing, and it also is on an annual release schedule. Apple has, and will continue to, enter new markets with new devices.

Therefore, the best explanation in my mind is that Apple has so much to announce, with so many additions and changes they want developers to react to, that they feel they need to get the information in developers hands as soon as possible. Any delay is considered unacceptable. To keep pushing Apple's ecosystem as far and as fast as possible, every developer needs to get on board as quickly as possible. Every week, every day is critical.

Apple tipped its hand. You may have thought past years were big. You haven't seen anything yet.