A Decade’s Worth of WWDC Keynotes

...and why they're the most misunderstood Apple events of all

WWDC 2014Once a year, Apple kicks off its World Wide Developer Conference with a keynote presentation, such as the one coming up on Monday, which I’ll be covering for Technologizer. Many people seem to think they’re famous for involving Apple dazzling consumers with an array of new products, to the rapturous approval of everybody involved.

Which is weird, because that’s not the point at all.

Sure, consumers are watching, and Apple hopes that they’re dazzled. But WWDC keynotes are usually the least gadget-centric events which Apple holds, and even though people who covet new Apple products pay close attention, they’re not the primary audience.

Here’s the truth about WWDC keynotes:

  • The fact that they’re part of a conference devoted to informing developers about Apple’s platforms means that the emphasis will be on software–particularly operating systems–and the odds of a radically new hardware product being announced are just about nil;
  • Since epoch-shifting hardware is out of the picture, any devices which do get announced are, by definition, only incrementally superior to their predecessors;
  • No matter how newsy the keynote is, some people–especially ones who were hoping for something extremely specific which didn’t get announced–will deem it a snoozefest;
  • There’s a very good chance that Apple’s stock will fall in the wake of the keynote, presumably indicating that Wall Steeet was not instantly impressed.

Now, I’m a WWDC keynote fan myself–there’s nothing more important to hardware than the software which it runs, so the focus on operating systems and apps makes these events more interesting to me, not less so. But as we gird ourselves for Monday, it might help to calibrate expectations if we review the last ten years of WWDC keynotes.

So without any further ado…

2004

WWDC 2005Keynote date: June 28; full video here

Major news: OS X 10.4 Tiger, iTunes 4.9, new Cinema Displays

Snap judgment:A totally boring keynote. A few interesting items in Tiger — but otherwise, Apple continues to disappoint in 2004.”–Macrumors forum member Numediaman

Impact on Apple stock price: Down .03 to $16.25

2005

WWDC 2005Keynote date: June 6; full video here

Major news: An unusual WWDC which focused–after the opening stats and updates–on one gigantic piece of news, the Mac’s move from PowerPC processors to Intel ones

Snap judgment: “We believe the move is risky for Apple. By switching to a more mass market processor, Apple likely risks diluting its value proposition as it has less control over the product road map.”–Prudential Equity Group analyst Steven Fortuna

Impact on Apple stock price: Down .84 percent to $37.95

2006

WWDC 2006Keynote date: August 7; full video here

Major news: Introduction of the Mac Pro desktop; preview of OS X 10.5 Leopard

Snap judgment:The sneak preview of Leopard was underwhelming. For what seemed an interminable time, Jobs and Co. showed off one yawn after another. There’s no way I can get excited about virtual desktops or a new service that turns highlighted text into a “to do” item. Oooo.”–Leander Kahney, Wired

Impact on Apple stock price: Down 3.6 percent to $64.78

2007

WWDC 2007Keynote date: June 11; full video here

Major news: Web “apps” for the iPhone (which didn’t yet offer true third-party apps); further preview of Leopard, which was being delayed; Safari browser for Windows

Snap judgment:Unless you’re particularly into games or operating system software, today’s WWDC announcements were probably a bit of a snooze-fest. I don’t know about you, but I’m a hardware guy. Hardware is tangible, tactile and there’s an emotional component to hardware that I don’t get from software – but that’s me.”–Jason D. O’Grady, ZDNet

Impact on Apple stock price: Up .16 percent to $120.38

2008

WWDC 2008Keynote date: June 9; full video here

Major news: iPhone 3G; OS 10.6 Snow Leopard; MobileMe service; more details on the iPhone OS SDK and App Store, which had been announced at an event in March

Snap judgment:If you expected startling news to come out of Monday’s keynote for Apple’s World-Wide Developers Conference (WWDC)–headlined, of course, by Steve Jobs–you went away unstartled and disappointed.”–Harry McCracken (hey, that’s me!), PC World

Impact on Apple stock price: Up 2.2 percent to $185.64

2009

WWDC 2009Keynote date: June 8; full video here

Major news: iPhone 3GS; demos of iPhone OS 3.0 and Snow Leopard, which had already been shown; new 13″ MacBook Pro

Snap judgment:Wow, there’s two hours of my life that I won’t get back anytime soon. Today’s epic bore of a keynote address at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference signals the problem that Steve Jobs has created as the designated showman/face of Apple. Jobs’ rampant control issues and megalomania are so acute that everyone else who works for him sounds like they’ve never had to address the family dinner table, much less the assembled throng of thousands of Apple developers and the untold millions of fanboys refreshing liveblogs around the world.”–David Lidsky (commenting on a keynote hosted by Phil Schiller during Steve Jobs’s medical leave), Fast Company

Impact on Apple stock price: Down .79 percent to $142.72

2010

WWDC 2010Keynote date: June 7; full video here

Major news: iPhone 4 (the model whose thunder Gizmodo had stolen in April) ; iPhone OS being renamed iOS; FaceTime; iMovie for iOS

Snap judgment:But despite all of [Steve Jobs'] showmanship and a very impressive new product, the keynote wasn’t quite the game changer that I expected. I don’t mean to say I found the iPhone 4 to be disappointing — it will be incredibly successful, and many of my friends are champing at the bit to get one. But I expected to walk out of San Francisco’s Moscone Center yesterday longing for the next iPhone despite my current allegiance to Android. That didn’t happen.”–Jason Kincaid of TechCrunch, giving the closest thing I could find to a negative spin on a keynote that was unusually well received

Impact on Apple stock price: Down .64 percent to $249.33

2011

WWDC 2011Keynote date: June 6; full video here

Major news: iOS 5; OS X 10.7 Lion; iCloud

Snap judgment:Probably spoiled by Apple’s way of bringing new and innovative ideas to the table each year, I was hoping for something revolutionary, something that would rock my iOS-loving, iPhone-hugging world. Sadly all I saw were minor changes, most of which were already available one way or another.”–Johnny, GSMArena

Impact on Apple stock price: Down 1.8 percent to $332.04

2012

WWDC 2012Keynote date: June 11; full video here

Major news: iOS 6; OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion; 15″ MacBook Pro with Retina display; MacBook Airs with new processors

Snap judgment: “Maybe Steve Jobs set the innovation bar too high, but Apple users have become accustomed to stunning new product announcements and introductions. That didn’t happen at WWDC12. Instead, business users were treated to a nicely redesigned MacBook Pro and promises of great new products (Mountain Lion and iOS 6) to come.”–Erik Eckel, TechRepublic

Impact on Apple stock price: Up .87 percent to $576.16

2013

WWDC 2013Keynote date: June 10; full video here

Major news: iOS 7; iOS 10.9 Mavericks; preview of all-new Mac Pro; updated MacBook Airs; iTunes Radio

Snap judgment: “To be direct, Apple had a shot at regaining its ‘mojo’ just by announcing the next amazing new product to come down the road today. Hopes of an iWatch, iTV, and a low-priced iPhone for the emerging markets, were dashed in one unimpressive display of face lifting, rather than innovation.”–Regarded Solutions, Seeking Alpha

Impact on Apple stock price: Down .29 percent to $437.60

With all of the above in mind, here are my official WWDC 2014 predictions:

  • Apple is going to focus on software;
  • Some people will complain about the fact that Apple focused on hardware, and criticize it for not unveiling something like an iWatch;
  • Whatever Apple does announce won’t result in a massive run-up on its stock.

And those are the only predictions I’m making. See you on Monday: I’m going to live-tweet the event as it happens, and then follow up here with further thoughts after it’s over and all is known.


11 comments

  1. Tracy June 1, 2014 at 10:38 am #

    What interested me more was the stock price year after year. Obviously they were doing SOMETHING right. ;-)

  2. Ray June 1, 2014 at 1:00 pm #

    “Some people will complain about the fact that Apple focused on hardware, and criticize it for not unveiling something like an iWatch;” should be “Some people will complain that Apple focused on software.”

  3. cferry June 1, 2014 at 2:18 pm #

    Tracy has it right!

    Despite everything the so-called analysts and unwashed bloggers (present company excepted, of course) bitched and moaned about after the WWDC Keynote, this is what happened.

    2004 $16.25
    2005 37.95
    2006 64.78
    2007 120.38
    2008 185.64
    2009 142.72 (What, was there a financial crisis or something?)
    2010 249.33
    2011 332.04
    2012 576.16
    2013 437.60 (Wall Street breaks up with AAPL. Apple shrugs, continues growing and making buttloads of money.)
    2014 6??.??

  4. Barney June 1, 2014 at 8:07 pm #

    I think you’re mostly right. The one loophole that I see is that Apple has introduced hardware at WWDC if developers need to know about it. For example, the first Mac with a “Retina display” appeared at WWDC, which made sense because developers need to know about that in order to write good-looking applications for it.

    But there’s no obvious candidates for new hardware upgrades like this which would necessitate a developer conference announcement. So I suspect that we’ll see incremental hardware updates, if at all, and talk will mostly be about OS X and iOS. There’s almost always a lot of OS X time at WWDC.

    In particular, the architecture of the new Mac Pro is sufficiently different from previous workstations (dual high-powered GPUs!) that I think there’s going to be a lot of time spent on OpenCL/GCD optimization. I suppose there’s a slim chance of a new iMac (they’re due for an update, anyway) with dual GPUs, but it’s a bit early for that. Maybe in a year or two.

  5. Ioannis June 2, 2014 at 4:14 am #

    Are you seriously arguing that the event that Apple released the iPhone 3G, 3GS and 4, that Apple announced their biggest change in their Mac line (switch to Intel processors), and where apple introduced their most powerful Mac, the Mac Pro, is not about hardware?

    • John June 2, 2014 at 8:24 am #

      It’s for the developers to write stuff for the new hardware. They showed iPhone and App Store>Writing apps Showed retina mac book> retina apps Mac Pro>New hardware for software DEVELOPERS

    • Barney June 2, 2014 at 9:33 am #

      Yes, those 3 models are less than half of the iPhone models that they’ve announced so far, and all occurred before they finally settled on a fall release cycle for them. Combined, they account for only 3 WWDCs out of about 20. You could make a better case that WWDC is about New Balance sneakers, because we’ve seen a lot more of those than we have iPhone announcements at WWDC over the years.

      The Intel transition is a rare example of a hardware change that is extremely relevant to software developers. I’m not sure Apple would have announced it at WWDC had it not been one of the very few changes (a new CPU architecture!) that is of primary importance to developers.

      If (or when) Apple is changing CPU architectures again, then they will definitely announce it at WWDC. It’s possible they’ll eventually shift to their own ARM chips for their laptops, for example, and for that they’ll need to teach Mac developers how to make FAT binaries again, and how to optimize on ARM. It seems pretty unlikely that it’s going to happen this year, though. Short of such an announcement, I don’t see any reason for them to announce any significant new hardware today.

    • Harry McCracken June 3, 2014 at 1:16 pm #

      Yes! Or at least that it isn’t primarily about announcing new hardware products. The era when mew iPhones got announced there is obviously an exception. But the Intel switch was developer news, not a product announcement, and the Mac Pro unveiling was a brief preview.

      I’m not arguing that Apple never introduces hardware at WWDC–just that it’s not the purpose of the event, and that nobody should be surprised or disappointed when it doesn’t happen.

  6. Urs June 2, 2014 at 5:06 am #

    Where is the iPad in these announcements? AWOL?

  7. Costa K June 2, 2014 at 7:49 am #

    It’s amazing how the myth of Jobs has grown since his passing.

    Whilst he was around many were ready to pan him and his presentations and declare his products as “yawn”.

    Yet today seemingly everything he touched was gold and wonderful and awe inspiring and if only he was still alive Apple wouldn’t be doomed.

    Short memories.

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