WWDC 2020: Apple's big event had one less thing (and it really hurt)

WWDC had to be reimagined for our currently disturbed times. It rang a little hollow.
Written by Chris Matyszczyk, Contributing Writer

During WWDC 2020, I counted at least two occasions that Apple CEO Tim Cook insisted that Apple was making the world a better place.

But look around you. The world is a worse place, plagued by a virus, ugly divisions and twisted, destructive leadership all around. (I'm not merely referring to Facebook here.)

Yet Cupertino prides itself on making the sale in a warm, inviting space, where slick stars commune with the ill-dressed and questionably mannered.

It was to be expected that offering a virtual conference presentation would involve some gliding camerawork and gilded turns of phrase. Such as, oh, "we're innovating." And the ever-dependable "we're so excited."

But watching Cook and senior vice president of Software Engineering Craig Federighi show their strengths in walking and talking to camera, you could still see in their eyes that something was missing.

The pause for applause. The sycophancy of a thousand accolytes. The immediate reward for a dad-joke well told and a small innovation made large by the echo of instant approval.

None of it was there. They mouthed into a void, as their eyes pleaded for love.

I found myself wondering whether there was a secret Zoom group where Apple fanpersons could cheer and clap in unison.

I wondered whether, all over America, there were socially distanced WWDC parties, where developers and their friends could sip Dr. Pepper and share in the experience of discovering App Clips, and marvel at Siri suddenly being able to understand foreign languages, where she often seems to struggle with mundane English.

Moreover, I wondered whether anyone at Apple had considered doing what NBC Sports has been offering viewers of the newly -reopened Premier League soccer.

Surely some fine technical brain could have offered canned cheering and whipped-up whooped exhilaration at Apple's multitude of reveals.

Surely they could have at least, like NBC Sports, offered viewers the option of switching it on.

Without the raving and hollering, it all felt a little like a curiously slick two-hour event on QVC.

Cook's opening remarks did reflect the parlous state of our current times. Yet he couldn't help inserting the role of Apple's products in keeping people connected during the pandemic and keeping the world working from home when so many would rather be among people again. When you're reflecting on the world's condition, it might be worth restraining the sell, at least for a moment or two.

Perhaps, though, executives declaiming into the vacuum is all our current times deserve.

We deserve a pause to consider whether managing our apps matters quite as much as mismanaging our society. A pause to wonder whether the chips in our phones matter even half as much as the fact that the chips of life have been dealt so unevenly.

A pause to examine what it really means to come together and celebrate something truly important.

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