Blog iOS development

WWDC 2012 Sell-Out – sign of platform health, or symptom of bigger issues?

It’s very disappointing that the WWDC announcement occurred the way it did. So far, my developer’s account still hasn’t even received an official announcement from Apple, and being on the West Coast, the conference was sold out before I woke up.

This is more of a problem for Apple than just a few disappointed developers in California, though. Lack of reliable information about iOS slows the adoption of new features, and the biggest value of WWDC is the hands-on labs. While user uptake of 5.0 is very high (over 80% of the install base), developers need time and information to absorb new features. The iOS announcements at WWDC are also largely under NDA, leaving developers no way to share information until the official release.

The model of holding one conference close to Cupertino and driving 1000 engineers to Moscone for a week is not sufficiently scalable for today’s developer demand. In the past, Apple has done some road shows where they send people to major cities to talk up their new technologies, but even that is an unreasonable amount of scarcity. The development forums and Apple’s current paid support structure are very hard to search and navigate, and the forums are very light on things like submission policies, acceptance, etc. The large media company I’m currently working for has dedicated Developer Relations support, and even they have issues getting answers; you can imagine what it’s like for smaller developers who don’t.

I think it’s high time for Apple to build and staff permanent dedicated Developer Relations Centers in key cities. These should be staffed with working software engineers (not just evangelists) who can provide detailed help with tools, libraries, and policies, and escalate tougher problems to Cupertino. These places could also be a great focal point for training classes and other services to developers.

Another way they could mitigate the information gap might be to provide developer services at key Apple Stores, with features like a regular schedule of talks, a showcase of apps developed by local developers, and a Developer’s Genius Bar to help navigate questions about the HIGs, content standards, and other policies. More importantly, it gives Apple a much better way to listen to the community and prioritize new features and policies. This is a very low-cost and low-risk way for Apple to do developer outreach.

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