On Monday Apple announced the dates for its annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) and began to sell $1,599 tickets. Within 10 hours tickets for the event were gone. Now Apple faces criticism that WWDC is somehow broken for selling out so fast, and that Apple should somehow fix it. I couldn't disagree more.
WWDC is Apple's annual opportunity to connect with the people who write software for its platforms. The keynote presentation on the first day of WWDC is a huge press event - especially for the Apple blogosphere - but from then on it's session after session in the Moscone West conference facility in San Francisco, Calif. - and it's labs populated by hundreds of Apple engineers who help Mac and iOS developers to write better code.
WWDC sells out, and it's been selling out faster and faster for the past couple of years. Last year it took eight days. This year, less than half a day. Really, that ought not to surprise too many people: the number of registered Apple developers has increased dramatically over the past few years, thanks in part to the huge success of iOS and the App Store, and thanks also to a steadily growing base of Mac users. It's also helped that Apple has dropped the price of membership. Just last year, it could cost up to $3,499 to become a Mac developer - now it's just $99.
Of course, it's one thing to be an Apple developer. It's another thing to commit a week to your life to going to San Francisco and hone your skills as one. And it can be complicated to get the time off of work, to make travel arrangements through your employer or foot the travel bill yourself.
Still, with such a large global pool to draw from, it shouldn't be that much of a surprise that Apple sold out of its 5,000 tickets within hours.
So, now come the complaints that Apple is somehow underserving the development community because WWDC sold out so quickly. People who feel that way would do well to remember that last year's Google I/O event sold out in 90 minutes, at least according to comments made by Google's vice president of Engineering, Vic Gundotra. Ten hours seems almost glacial by comparison.
Why, it's almost as if Apple (or Google) wanted their event to sell out quickly. As if doing so might, oh, I dunno, generate buzz about how popular it is.
Popular events sell out quickly, and as a result a secondary market for tickets has already appeared - WWDC 2011 tickets have sprung up on eBay. That's something I hope to see Apple put an end to very quickly. It's bad enough that people have been profiteering on iPad 2 scarcity; scalping WWDC tickets is ridiculous.
While developers who weren't fast enough on the draw to get a ticket to this year's WWDC won't be able to get in the door, and those legions of developers who won't be in San Francisco aren't able to benefit directly from the hands-on labs Apple does and some of the social networking and other opportunities that Apple facilitates, unfortunately.
But that doesn't mean that Apple is keeping them on the sidelines. The company has become much better about posting videos from WWDC sessions quickly afterwards, rather than waiting until weeks later.
But what's the ultimate solution? Should Apple expand WWDC to a much larger venue? Possibly, but where? Even spreading it out to the actual Moscone Center - right next door to Moscone West - would give Apple a little more breathing room. Should Apple make WWDC events seasonal? Biannual?
In the end, I'm willing to bet that no matter how big the venue Apple picks, it'll get filled. Apple's platforms and hardware have simply become too important for developers to ignore.
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