Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference revolves around — you guessed it — developers. Since Tim Cook became CEO of Apple and master of ceremonies at the annual rite known as WWDC, he tends to kick off each conference by boasting about the millions of entities large and tiny that make apps for Apple products.
On Monday, Cook opened the conference by talking about developers for the first 79 seconds of his on-stage time, by my stopwatch. “We are so inspired by the millions of incredible Apple developers around the world,” Cook said. “You make the world a better place, and that is why we’re here this morning.”
Apple then spent the next two hours and 16 minutes talking mostly about itself. About Apple’s apps, Apple’s US$12 000-and-up computer, Apple’s coming line-up of entertainment programming, Apple’s software refinements, Apple’s commitments to privacy.
Sure, there was stuff in there about and for developers, too. And app makers need to know what Apple is cooking up so they can adapt. But looking back at the eight years of Apple’s developer conferences since Cook became CEO, the paucity of his focus this week on app makers and the strength of Apple’s app storefront felt like an omission.
It was the shortest amount of time Cook has devoted to developers or the app storefront in the important WWDC lead-off. The lack of Tim time was particularly glaring now that there is anxiety about whether developers are getting a raw deal from their relationship with powerful partners such as Apple.
Contrast those 79 seconds to last year’s Cook speech, in which he spent nearly the first five minutes of his opening remarks talking about the community of app creators, technologies that Apple backs to broaden software coding, the collective work of developers and Apple to make the company’s iPhone app storefront a cornerstone of technology and how Apple and developers work together to serve people who use Apple products. He bragged that developers had collectively earned $100-billion over the 10-year life of the App Store.
In 2017, he talked for several minutes about the strength and size of the people making Apple apps and acknowledged by name the youngest person making Apple apps and a developer in her 80s. There’s a pattern to how Cook starts his WWDC stage time. He tends to disclose the number of software makers who are registered to make Apple apps, the number of apps available on the iPhone app storefront, developer earnings or some other numerical milestone, and he often gives an anecdote about a developer or group of them in attendance.
Some years, he has overtly thanked Apple developers, or highlighted their work with a video or an in-person demonstration. It’s about sowing a sense of community with the people making Apple’s gadgets more compelling and useful, giving them reasons to be excited and proud, and trumpeting the collective prowess, impact and money-making capabilities of Apple together with its allies.
On Monday, none of that made it into that first 79 seconds. Cook moved almost seamlessly from saying developers are why Apple was gathered in a luxurious auditorium to talking about one of Apple’s self-created TV series and coming online video service that none of the developers in the room had anything to do with. (Unless Oprah Winfrey was in the room.)
Developer events like Apple’s have now become commonplace for technology companies, and they serve many masters. By necessity, that means that software developers are not the sole focus. Companies like Apple, Google and Facebook know they’re addressing the general audience who uses their products, the investment community, journalists and much more. The companies must talk about their coming technologies and their product road maps to get all these constituencies excited about and confident in the companies’ strategy.
And to be fair, Apple had good news at WWDC for many of its developers. The company is making it easier to write apps using a simpler software programming language, and it talked about a new app storefront for the Apple Watch that may make it more compelling for app makers to create specialised software for it. When Apple’s products improve, in theory developers have more opportunities to find more customers for their apps and make more money.
It’s possible that Apple genuinely had so much to unveil that it had to crunch the time devoted to developers at the beginning of the event. But what the CEO says at WWDC’s main event matters a lot. And in the closely watched opening, Cook said little about developers. Maybe it meant nothing. But there is a clear pattern to these events, and Apple plans every word with care.
Those 79 seconds Cook devoted to developers comes at a time when sales of new iPhones have flat-lined, which means Apple and its app makers have to try harder to persuade existing device owners to try new apps and pay for what developers are making. Given all that is going on, Cook’s quiet about developers was disquieting. — (c) 2019 Bloomberg LP