Inside Apple's WWDC, from Mac Pro shock to Wi-Fi meltdown

Commentary: What's the Apple developers conference like? A WWDC veteran and rookie share their wildly different perspectives.

Roger Cheng Former Executive Editor / Head of News
Roger Cheng (he/him/his) was the executive editor in charge of CNET News, managing everything from daily breaking news to in-depth investigative packages. Prior to this, he was on the telecommunications beat and wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade and got his start writing and laying out pages at a local paper in Southern California. He's a devoted Trojan alum and thinks sleep is the perfect -- if unattainable -- hobby for a parent.
Expertise Mobile, 5G, Big Tech, Social Media Credentials
  • SABEW Best in Business 2011 Award for Breaking News Coverage, Eddie Award in 2020 for 5G coverage, runner-up National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Award for culture analysis.
Connie Guglielmo SVP, AI Edit Strategy
Connie Guglielmo is a senior vice president focused on AI edit strategy for CNET, a Red Ventures company. Previously, she was editor in chief of CNET, overseeing an award-winning team of reporters, editors and photojournalists producing original content about what's new, different and worth your attention. A veteran business-tech journalist, she's worked at MacWeek, Wired, Upside, Interactive Week, Bloomberg News and Forbes covering Apple and the big tech companies. She covets her original nail from the HP garage, a Mac the Knife mug from MacWEEK, her pre-Version 1.0 iPod, a desk chair from Next Computer and a tie-dyed BMUG T-shirt. She believes facts matter.
Expertise I've been fortunate to work my entire career in Silicon Valley, from the early days of the Mac to the boom/bust dot-com era to the current age of the internet, and interviewed notable executives including Steve Jobs. Credentials
  • Member of the board, UCLA Daily Bruin Alumni Network; advisory board, Center for Ethical Leadership in the Media
Roger Cheng
Connie Guglielmo
6 min read
Developers in the audience at Apple's WWDC 2019 conference.

Developers at Apple's WWDC 2019 conference. And, somewhere, Connie and Roger. 

Stephen Shankland/CNET

Apple is known for slickly produced product launches and, in Steve Jobs ' time, a singular masterful showman unveiling groundbreaking products including the iPhone and the MacBook Air. But WWDC is when the company lets its hair down and gets geeky with its developers. I finally got a first-hand perspective into what it's all about.

This year's WWDC , affectionately referred to as "Dub Dub," didn't disappoint, with Apple opening up a firehose of news, including privacy tools like the ability to have Apple sign you into third-party apps and services, the new iPadOS platform designed to make iPads more PC-like and the $5,999 Mac Pro which requires a $999 monitor stand (that $4,999 Pro Display XDR accessory is optional).

Watch this: Apple's WWDC brought dark mode, $6,000 cheese graters -- amid antitrust threats (The 3:59, EP. 565)

Oh, and dark mode for iOS 13.

Despite a decade and a half of covering tech and sitting through countless events (including an iPhone launch), I never attended WWDC before. So when I was offered the opportunity to be on the ground in California, I jumped at the chance.

It was wild. Frenetic. At times overwhelming.

I wanted to get another perspective on WWDC, so I asked CNET Editor-in-Chief Connie Guglielmo to share a few thoughts after 20-plus trips to Apple's developer confab. Of course, she came back with more than just a few. Like, way more. So I broke down how our respective WWDCs went.  

A little background

Connie: I don't remember the first WWDC I attended as a junior reporter for MacWeek, a weekly newsmagazine devoted to all things Apple, in the early 1990s. WWDC and Macworld Expo in those early days of Apple's history were big deals for people and "events" you just didn't want to miss if you cared at all about the Macintosh.

That was especially true in 1997 -- the year Steve Jobs returned to Apple after being fired a dozen years earlier. As countless YouTube videos show, Jobs, in his trademark black turtleneck and jeans, knew how to play to the crowd -- telling you how Apple had worked hard on some software or hardware to solve a difficult problem you didn't even know you had. As a reporter for Bloomberg News in 2005, I was on hand at WWDC when he announced the company would switch to Intel chips in the Mac. There were some boos, but most of the 3,800 developers cheered as Jobs explained why the "transition" to Intel made sense.  

WWDC 2019: A quick visual recap of Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference keynote

See all photos

Roger: I may be a WWDC rookie, but I'm no stranger to tech events, having covered everything from the launch of the original Android phone, the G1 to this year's debut of the foldable Huawei Mate X at Mobile World Congress.

But given my background as a New York-based telecom reporter, WWDC remained an elusive event. Developer conferences are largely a Silicon Valley thing, and there was always plenty of local reporters who got priority. As for the telecom companies, there aren't a lot of folks lining up to get into a Sprint developer confab (one of which I actually attended).

The early crowds

Connie: What I remember is the sense of excitement -- and the lines. Fans would queue up for hours, if not days, ahead of the events to make sure they got a spot in the auditorium to hear what Apple had to offer. I remember standing along with the crowd, waiting for the doors to open, when someone, anxious with anticipation for one year's event to start, shouted out: "This is like Disneyland for propeller heads."  

Roger: Pictures of early lines outside of the San Jose McEnery Convention Center littered my Twitter feed around 6  a.m. PT, but by the time I walked to the building at 8 a.m., much of the crowds had filtered in. A handful of stragglers strutted up to the main entrance, high-fiving Apple employees on the way in.

It was a low-key re-creation of an iPhone launch at the Fifth Avenue Apple Store.

But similar to Connie's experience, there was the excitement that came from walking through the hallways inside toward the keynote hall entrance. As members of the media, we were ushered in first, drawing stares from the long, snaking lines of developers who had waited there for hours.

Getting into the keynote

Connie: Developers' enthusiasm doesn't seem to have waned any -- as measured by the metric I started using all those years ago: How long does it take an auditorium to fill up with over 5,000 Apple developers? Typical load time: Less than four minutes.

A lot of things have remained the same since those early WWDCs. At WWDC19, I saw the rush of developers eager to take their seats and applaud new software features. There are the demos of the new version of Mac OS -- once named after cats, now named after places in California -- and iOS, slated for a fall release, but everyone knows that means September, which is when the next iPhone will be revealed.

Roger: There was no rush into the auditorium as the crowds slowly made their way through the doors in the keynote hall. The reason: Virtually everyone was raising their phones to capture the moment.

YouTube reviewer Marques Brownlee, standing in the same scrum waiting to get in, cracked, "You think of this is going to end up on the internet?"

Also slowing things down once we got inside: the near complete darkness of the room, save for the large displays at the front, which flashed small colorful objects that did little to illuminate the space.

CNET editor Scott Stein later told me Connie had to cling to his sleeve to make sure they stayed together. 

I did what I do in every other event and instinctively ran ahead to get seats. In case I never come to another WWDC again, I wanted to make sure I had a good view.

The keynote, and the aftermath

Connie: Especially memorable are the videos Apple so expertly crafts to make developers feel like they're part of something special, including Jony Ive's British voiceover narration of new products.This year, Apple's design chief gave us a tour of the new Mac Pro desktop and Pro Display XR in his smooth British accent.

There's also the welcoming video, which for WWDC19 is a black-and-white homage to late-night coders called "Goodnight Developers" that features the closing line, "While the world sleeps, you dream." It's already been watched more than 265,000 times since Monday's keynote.

Roger: The most memorable element of the keynote was the total meltdown of any connectivity with my MacBook Air . The WWDC Wi-Fi didn't work, and my laptop seemed to reject every Wi-Fi hotspot offered to me.

I spent most of the time trying to cover the event via my phone, while simultaneously trying to absorb the torrent of information coming fast and furiously. I remember the shrieks of joy when even wonky news like updates to programming language Swift got announced. Then the gasps when Apple unveiled the price of its Mac Pro . And that $999 monitor stand.


The Mac Pro was probably the most divisive announcement at WWDC. 

James Martin/CNET

I also saw how much developers adore Craig Federighi, senior vice president of software and a fan favorite due to the humor and color he injects into his presentations. (His nickname, thanks to his mane of silver hair, is "Hair Force One.") I noticed developers subtly taking photos of him while he sat down with Connie and fellow CNET editor Jason Hiner for an exclusive interview to discuss why the iPad can replace your computer.

Yep, at every tech conference

Connie: I saw the long lines for the men's bathroom after the two-hour-long keynote, while we women can just breeze in.

Roger: I can confirm the long wait for the men's bathroom. It was… not fun.

Final thoughts

Connie: I once wrote a column trying to explain the fascination with all things Apple, saying "Steve Jobs and Apple are like Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead. If you have to ask why people think they're great, you just don't get it." CEO Tim Cook has ably stepped in for Apple's co-founder since Jobs passed away in 2011, giving developers the show they need to continue to invest in creating new apps and services for Apple devices.

There's no question. The company is a success, whether you get it or not.

Roger: WWDC proved to be exhausting, but definitely memorable. Yes, developers were shouting "Dub Dub" to the cues of Apple employees hyping up the crowd, the venue was larger than in years past and the cheers for all things wonky were there.

But I get the sense from Connie's dispatches that the excitement and the moments felt more epic back in the day.

And then there's the Jobs factor. Cook has wisely avoided trying to imitate his predecessor. But that just means there's a little less magic in the halls of WWDC. 

The story originally published at 5 a.m. PT. 

Update, 1:35 p.m. PT: To include additional background.