Tim Cook began the WWDC 2014 keynote promising “the mother of all releases for developers” and “the biggest release since the launch of the App Store.” He was not exaggerating. In a 30 minute span, Apple knocked nearly every item off the community’s list of wishes and complaints. As I said on the Debug podcast last week, it’s as big a Monday as I can remember for developers. And I can remember quite a few.
Releases like this don’t come often, because the decisions and effort behind them aren’t applied lightly. The massive technical and political change required and subsequently generated by things like extensibility, third-party keyboards, and a new programming language, bears massive risk both inside and outside of Apple. That risk — to security, to battery life, to a consistent experience that customers know and trust — was constantly evaluated when I fought for SDK enhancements as a Technology Evangelist inside Apple. And more often than not, it was decided either that the risks were too high, or that there wasn’t enough time to solve the problem while sufficiently containing those risks.
Apple caught up with itself this year. As with the first iPhone OS and SDK, the consumer experience (iOS 7) took priority, and developers had their day a year later. Apple has decided that moving iOS forward is as much in developers’ hands as it is in Apple’s. Consider that all this is happening at a time when Apple has more money and is hiring more engineers than ever. If anything, Apple is more suited to shut the doors and go it alone. But that’s not what’s happening.
And it seems to be coming from a place of confidence rather than concession. It wasn’t just the announcements themselves, or the energy behind them. It was the energy from first-time attendees who made up 70% of the crowd. It was the energy from employees when I spoke to them in the conference halls and after hours. It was Craig Federighi sitting on the floor during sessions and taking pictures with everybody who lined up. It was the easing of the conference and pre-release NDA. Apple seems just as excited as developers about this new era. And yet despite this shift, true to old form, nearly everything remained secret until showtime.
This was my first WWDC since 2011. That keynote was Steve Jobs’ last, and it lacked the excitement needed to counter his visible lack of energy. Responses to the events since (and perhaps even a few prior events) paled in comparison to the response we saw last week from press and developers alike. Apple has needed time to cope not just with losing Steve, but with the idea that Apple wouldn’t be his company anymore.
The “Continuity” suite of features says more to me than anything else announced last week, naturally blurring the line between Mac and iPhone and iPad while still accepting each product for what it is. Recent updates to OS X seemed intent on forcing iOS down the Mac’s throat. Last week, for what felt like the first time ever, the two were on equal footing: an Apple device is an Apple device is an Apple device. This shot of creativity, connectivity, integration, and inclusion points to drastic change from within. When I wrote “Regime Change” in 2012, nearly everyone assumed the title referred to the fall of Scott Forstall. It in fact referred to the rise of Tim Cook.
What we saw at WWDC 2014 was built by thousands of people. The leadership at the top empowered those people to not only proceed, but to succeed. The attitude behind WWDC 2014 was one of increased openness and increased confidence — an attitude that managed to depart from the worst of the past while staying true to the best. Apple is undeniably the new company it deserves to be, and Tim Cook’s stewardship is on full display. I’m as excited for the future we haven’t yet seen as I am for the one we were just shown in San Francisco.