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Apple needs to rethink its WWDC approach

Philip Michaels | April 27, 2012
As a company, Apple gets a lot of things right. It built a phone that set the standard for an entire industry, with handset makers still playing catch up with the iPhone five years after that product's debut. With the iPad, Apple created a product we didn't even realize we needed and now can't possibly imagine living without. And, lest we forget, it also does a respectable business making computers.

On Tuesday, during Apple's quarterly earnings conference call, Apple executives boasted about the more than 600,000 apps currently available for download from the iOS App Store. Those apps didn't wind up there as if by magic. They were built by developers, some of whom probably benefited from attending past developer conferences and who might have appreciated a fair shot at buying a ticket for this year's WWDC.

Over at Ars Technica, Jacqui Cheng had an in-depth report on the WWDC ticket crunch, including some really great insights from developers about how to satisfy the ramped-up interest in the conference. There are pros and cons to some of the solutions proposed in that article--expanding the size of the conference, I think, would reduce the all-important face time attendees can enjoy with Apple engineers, for example. But I don't think there's any dispute that ticketing to Apple's major event for developers should be handled with greater care than a radio DJ giving away tickets to the Foghat concert at the Fairplex to the lucky 10th caller.

Apple does seem open to try and fix the process, at least if some of the changes it instituted this year are any indication. It limited buyers to just one ticket (or five for an organization), ostensibly to give more developers a shot at grabbing a ticket. And it put the clamps on ticket resales to quash the kind of profiteering that's sprung up in past years. Of course, some of these new policies may be creating new problems--as I write this article, there's an understandable uproar on Twitter from developers who bought multiple tickets for their employees using the same credit card only to discover that their orders have been cancelled. If anything, it illustrates the need for Apple to put even more care into how it handles WWDC.

So how should Apple handle things? Well, there is one element of an iPad launch that Apple would do well to replicate with WWDC ticketing--a delay between announcement and release. Apple doesn't issue a press release at 5:30 a.m. that it's shipped iPads to random Apple Stores around the country, so why do that with WWDC tickets? Announce when the event is taking place and then a few days later, open up the ticket window. Developers would still have to take their chances on getting a ticket, but at least they'd have fair notice.

Another possibility: institute a lottery system where registered developers could enter a drawing for the right to buy a WWDC ticket. If their name gets pulled from the hat, they have the option of paying the $1600 entry fee or making way for someone else. Again, not every developer is going to get the chance to attend this way, but at least it doesn't leave things up the vagaries of an Internet connection.


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