Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference is a bit like Burning Man. The favorite pastime of people who tend to go every year (or watch) is to complain about how it wasn’t as good as it used to be.
But they keep going because they believe there is always a chance that somehow they will recapture the mythical magic they imagine has been lost.
I’ll confess, I love me some snark and indulge in it quite heavily during the bloated gabfests that Apple holds each year. Apple executives treat every incremental update as if it were a religious artifact pulled directly out of the Arc of the Covenant. The skewering of such self-importance is always well deserved.
I will be forever sad that I could not be live on Twitter on Monday for the unveiling of the name “HomePod.” More like, Oh, god. How did that slip by branding quality control? Ooof. People will still buy millions, though.
But I’m less down with the sweeping post-keynote condemnations following the 30th edition of WWDC that proclaim “Apple is basically a parody of itself” and WWDC was “An Event Lacking Vision From A Company Without A Visionary.”
Because even if WWDC seems like a high-tech presentation by nerdy carnival barkers, it simply represents two important realities.
The first is that this is the beginning of a week-long conference for developers. That may be stating the obvious, but it seems to be forgotten in these post-mortem takes.
Yes, the non-stop litany and hyping of incremental advancements can become mind-numbing for those of us who want them to just roll a self-driving Apple Car on stage and send us all into wild paroxysms of euphoria. But for the overwhelming number in attendance, or watching around the world, these details matter profoundly to their livelihood. They will determine how and why they develop their applications and services around Apple’s products.
Likewise, as hardware sales overall have softened, Apple is more dependent than ever on its relationship with its developers. Of course, this has always been the key to Apple’s success. But as services, including App Store sales, have become the strongest source of Apple’s growth, the company is counting on these developers to help it get more value from its customers than ever before.
The WWDC keynote is playing perfectly to this constituency.
And that brings me to the second point. WWDC simply reflects what Apple is today: a massive, sprawling corporation with an expanding line of products that was unimaginable a decade ago. Average users and journalists dream that each product will be a game-changer hurled down like a lightning bolt to disrupt everything. If not, it considered a failure.
The Apple Watch is a good example. It is not a product for everyone. But it’s also true that to the extent a smartwatch market exists, it is dominated by Apple. Then there’s the HomePod. I can’t personally imagine ever shelling out that much for a speaker, no matter how advanced. But some people will.
And, incrementally, Apple will continue to expand its ecosystem — step by step, rather than in one explosive product. Over time, these products will work a bit better. A little bit more AI here. A few new features there. The company could expand much more rapidly if it dropped the prices on gadgets like Apple TV, Apple Watch, and the HomePod. But obviously, Apple is content with the adoption rate for now, so I don’t expect that to change any time soon.
That smells like failure to many, who see Apple as more than just a company. But I’m sorry to report that Apple is a company, and one that is managing a long-term transition from hardware to services fairly well. It still has much to prove as its moves into territory where Google and Amazon have the high ground.
Yet there’s a reason investors continue to pump Apple’s stock to all-time highs. There’s a reason that stock price has triple over the past four years, and it’s not just the growing buybacks and dividends (though they have helped.).
Apple remains king as far as developers are concerned. And their loyalty and enthusiasm will play a large role in helping Apple navigate the changing tides of technology until all the pieces are in place for the next, next, next, next big thing.