WWDC 2011: No Innovation From Apple, Developer Discontent

WWDC 2011 lacked innovation and exemplified a monoculture that casts the closing of Apple's Jobs-era legacy in a light of exclusivity, hostility, and heartfelt angst among those who felt that Apple's core strength was in its embrace of outsiders.
Written by Violet Blue, Contributor

WWDC 2011 lacked innovation and exemplified a monoculture that casts the closing of Apple's Jobs-era legacy in a light of exclusivity, hostility, and heartfelt angst among those who felt that Apple's core strength was in its elevation of outsider thought.

In my experience of speaking at, attending and covering tech conferences around the world, I think there are three ways to do it. You have to pick one.

It's called: hallways, parties, or sessions.

This technique provides a terrific overview, one way or another, as to what it's worth, no matter your angle.

For this round of WWDC I decided to pick "parties."

Top Party: Ars Technica and Idea Flight (With Speck Products)

So, I'm standing with my PA at San Francisco's W Hotel in the exclusive VIP for the truly fantastic Ars Technica and Idea Flight party, chatting about what a great party it is.

This was, by the way, the best and sauciest and most comfortable all-levels-co-mingling party of WWDC.

We'd been paparazzi'd by Wired, had great conversations with the amazing, amazing Speck Products, and are admiring how over-the-top, yet comfortable, the retro-future-airline theme has been pulled off on the rooftop garden.

There was a terrific balance of all kinds of everyone. It's just what you'd hope from a developer conference party. And a very, very fun one.

How To Tell The Difference Between A Developer And A Hooker

Drinks in hand, Juliette and I are comparing thoughts on what happened to SF's Bar Camp culture, and I'm passionately pushing our conversation toward comparing Amazon's Android Appstore dev UI as compared to the others.

A tall guy with glasses pushed in over my shoulder.

"So, what are you girls doing here?"

I'm speechless. Juliette replies, "We're just here on vacation, we're, like, guests at the hotel. It's so nice here. We just came up from Orange County."

He asks me, "What do you girls do?"

Juliette replies, "We're models." I add, "That's actually how we met!"

My PA answers his questions about what kind of modeling we do - we are apparently not with an agency. Mind you, my PA actually is a model, one that flies out of town for shoots more than I'd like to have her away from me.

She is also an Objective-C programmer that can code circles around most of them - with her outrageous fingernails somehow always intact. I am also an app dev. But right then, we we're just meeting one WWDC attendee's expectations. Make that two: his buddy joined us just as I asked what Mr. "you girls"  t-shirt logo meant.

His shirt read Bottlerocket; he explained that it was his company and he made major Apple applications for a list of companies, which he rattled off in succession, beginning with Spin and ending with Disney.

"So," I pointed to his buddy's Daring Fireball shirt and said, "is that your company?"

No, he said. Unprompted, he mansplained who John Gruber is to Juliette and I, a full-on name drop on meeting Wil Shipley at this very party, (this apparently required more mansplains), and then I was told that Bottlerocket boy was from Dallas where it is much hotter than San Francisco.

At which point Juliette cut in saying, "Wait. Don't computers... Need to be kept cool or something?"

He agreed in seriousness, while I spilled my drink - out of my mouth with an uncontrolled laugh.

No, they never got it. And no, we were not dressed they way you probably think we were.

I attended the SmileOnMyMac/Smile Software party, and that was another fun one. Really great people, gracious host. A much more typical WWDC tech party: three or four women, around 40-50 men. It was just fine, I didn't feel too out of place. Until I went to call up an Uber Cab.

Phone in my hand, a gentleman named Jim Dalrymple turned to me and says loudly, "Hey, what phone is that?"

I respond, It's an Android, Samsung-

Before I finish he shouts at me, "Sucks for you!" Laughing, he turns, and then walks away as I'm saying to the men looking embarrassed in his stead, "Yes, but I have reception."

Girl, humiliated.

Ed note: Dalrymple has a different account. He said that his laugh was in relation to another comment---about hockey---and he didn't walk out first. His comments regarding Android at WWDC had nothing to do with Blue being female.

Innovation Stops When No One "Thinks Different"

Nearly every party I legitimately attended and gracefully crashed was mostly men, and the Dallas Mansplainers were the exception - not the rule.

I met so many awesome developers with exciting apps, pre-app legacies and ideas that I'm relying on my pal Victor Agreda Jr.'s series of interviews over the coming weeks to get a handle on what's coming up with individual innovators and companies around software, apps, Lion and what the announcements might mean - or not.

The "or not" is a big part of this post.

Most I spoke with felt like every year, Apple was giving them less and less - and they meant substance to work with, not shiny hardware toys, which is one of Google I/O's legends and successes.

This year, discontent among developers was especially acute.

The discontent was also loudly about the monoculture. I never brought it up, but the guys that were not rich and drunk and celebrating their deals with Apple, certainly were. Most were shaking their heads about the lack of outsiders - not just gender diversity, either.

Look: if you're a guy, you are only ever going to truly see things like a guy. You can have your dominatrix dress you in lipstick and heels (which I fully endorse), or talk to women you love and care about, but you'll never know how any "other" will use and experience your product.

In all of the conversations, pretty much everyone said that there would never be any "thinking different" when you're in rooms full of people who all think the world looks same.

And, most opined that the attendance cost must be instantly pricing indie female businesswomen out of the opportunity space.

Why Do All Old Rich Dudes Want To Build Spaceships?

It's a generalization, but I've noticed that once certain men become wealthy, they either want to figure out how to live forever (Walt Disney, Michael Jackson) or they want to go to outer space (Richard Branson, Elon Musk). Sometimes both.

The highlight of WWDC 2011 was not WWDC. It was the announcement of Apple's Spaceship Office 2015. And hell yes, it looks amazing.

But as "that girl" in the MacHeads documentary about Apple cult/ure, a life-long fangirl, "that girl" Steve Jobs called rude when asking for a fan photo, and still an Air-loving, Apple app dev - I'm an angry little bird.

ZDNet commenter Justa Notherguy put it perfectly in my last post, saying O/T Am I the only one shocked by a WWDC with little or no "innovation"?:

Except for Jobs' usual showmanship, this was more like a classic Microsoft press event where Ballmer proudly announces how their platform has finally copied a handful of popular features that were previously available on competing products.

Apple even managed to screw over a bunch of their developers by stealing their ideas (in at least one case, an idea that had previously been banned from their App Store as unsuitable!). I understand that they did nothing illegal, but still it's very reminiscent of how Microsoft does business.

Overall it was very disappointing and not just because there were no new hardware announcements. I kept waiting for a real home run app or a totally off the wall shift for the iOS platforms. Instead, I watched a loooong parade of "me too" apps that we've all seen before. Jobs can call them "great" or "amazing" all he likes, but it doesn't change the fact that Apple was playing catch up...

Hey You: Get Off Of My Cloud

Don't tell me iTunes Match ("iTunes on the cloud" aka iCloud) is an iTunesgasm waiting to happen.

iCloud Music, from this girl's pro-privacy, pro-portability angle, appears to have been created more for the benefit of the music labels than us lowly customers - or the music artists.

It is $24.99 a year, and no one knows what happens yet if you decide to stop "subscribing." I guess if you love your music, it "sucks for you."

iTunes in the Cloud does not stream to your devices. You still have to download those files, because there is no temporary caching as with Google Music.

Here's the real problem: it's just not clear what else the music industry gets. iTunes will scan your MP3 files to identify them in order to make them available in the cloud.

I'm wagering that half of the money goes to the labels to make up for their losses. It's impossible to ignore the implication with "matching" that users are file-sharing criminals - when actually your collection could be 100% legally acquired music through a variety of means.

Apple's Match will be looking at "pirated" files and replacing them.

But is that information - your Apple ID, ID3 tags (the fingerprint) - also traded with the record industry?

Think about that for a minute. Let me add that just because you're doing nothing wrong, it does not make it okay to give up your privacy rights.

We must ask, if our files are perceived to be of dubious origin, and the RIAA, the BPI (British Recorded Music Industry) and IFPI (International Federation for the Phonographic Industry) do as they do, characteristically going after people with few resources to fight back - are we signing on to effectively bear witness against ourselves?

And no, it's not just a question for Apple, but also Google Music, and Amazon.

Apple said they won't share your scanned data with third parties - well, sorta.

"[Apple] does share aggregate information about which tracks are being added to iCloud via iTunes Match" - but it may remain to be seen what happens between Terms agreements, user data anonymization, and the power of the American subpoena.

And One More Thing

The spaceship is Steve Jobs' legacy to his staff. The cloud and the monoculture are - right now - his legacy to his fans, customers, and the world.

Sure, Jobs is legally required to provide maximum return for his shareholders, but when he dies it will be his customers - not his shareholders, or the music and film corporations - that will remember him most.

Let me ask you this, dear readers: If your net worth was around two billion dollars, and you had about six months to live -

...what would you do?

Top post photo by Erik Pitti under Creative Commons 2.0 Generic license, via Flickr.

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