The Post PC era as explained by developer events

The World-Wide Developer Conference is an event for developers. It is not a trade show and it is not a consumer show or an enterprise show for salespeople. Except for the keynote, all events are subject to Non-disclosure Agreements so it’s not even an event whose proceedings can be discussed openly.

It’s also expensive. Registration is at least $1,500. Attendants are there to learn and ask detailed questions about development. It’s not for deal making. People not familiar with development would not be well served by the event. Registrations are therefore somewhat limited to about 5000.

After the iPhone SDK was launched, the WWDC took on a new dimension. It became a mobile development event. As a result, 2008 was the first year when WWDC sold out. Attendance tripled over the Mac-only event the previous year.

Every year since, not only has WWDC sold out but it has sold out quicker every time. The following chart shows the days it took to sell out WWDC. I also added Google I/O data for comparison.

In the era of the iPhone, the limited resource of attendant seats has always been exhausted at accelerated rates: from 60 days in 2008 to 0.5 days in 2011. A similar pattern emerged for the Android event.

What should be noted is that these events are focused on post-PC development[1][2]. Clearly the increased interest among developers is for the mobile side of the business.

Developers certainly seem to sense the way the wind is blowing. They are, as humans, prone to over-confidence but they are also often accused of being hard to please. The most common lament among new platform builders is “How do we attract developers?”  The platforms showcased here had no trouble attracting developers in the tens of thousands three years after being launched.

The Post-PC era is evident in all kinds of data. This set (developer attendance to mobile development) is particularly stark. It’s a proxy for investment and IT interest. There is a non-linear nature to this growth and history shows that non-linearity leads to unpredictable or unforeseeable change.


  1. WWDC still has Mac OS X tracks but that track was there pre-2008 and did not sell out the event.
  2. Microsoft hosts several developer events (PDC, MIX, and Tech·Ed) some of which also sell out, but they have a far wider focus.
  • where are the charts?

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  • Steve

    Google I/O sells out faster because they give away free Android phones.

    • Impossible to measure the difference in interest between Google I/O and WWDC. Google announced registration before hand and had early-bird registration.

      But who cares? It's obvious that developers are flocking in this direction. Hop on the mobile computer band wagon right now or there won't be anything left to hop on soon.

    • It is also 1/3 the price and lasts basically 2 days and allows 4000 attendees instead of 5000. The 1000 less seats does not make much of a difference but the cost and time really does. This makes the individual cost substantially less for Google IO for those developers that are ISV (a huge amount in the mobile world right now) when compared to WWDC.

  • How much does Google I/O cost and how many places are there?

    • asymco

      I believe it's about $450 and the audience is about the same number (maybe up to 6000). The cost may have something to do with the speed of registration. Some people may need approvals from their companies. As it is even 10 hours for WWDC probably excludes most people who need approvals.

      • Childermass

        To what extent do you suspect attendees may, for the time being at least, go for the cachet of being there when new announcements are made? I can't see how that applies to the Google show, but for Apple's it might.

      • Abhi Beckert

        The two conferences aren't for the same length of time though? Assuming travel costs are around the same for both (are they both in major cities?), how much is the accommodation going to be?

        The last time I went to a conference (not tech related), the actual conference fee was insignificant compared to travel and accommodation.

  • Niilolainen

    Worst post you've ever done Horace!

    • asymco

      I wouldn't say that. There're far worse.

      • Tony


      • Niilolainen


        I had to check this wasn't posted April 1st

        i think that it is a pretty wacky topic for you to choose to dedicate a post to. Although I might accept that interest in the event is a proxy for developer interest in the OS (although I think you have covered much better representations of developer interest in your blog), you have not controlled for ticket pricing, venue capacity and many other factors that will dictate how quickly the events will sell out.

        Sorry for not expanding initially. I am suitably chastened by the avalanche of thumbs down! (but I stand by my initial opinion!)

      • Sander van der Wal

        WWDC costs USD 1500, which is a lot.

        Symbian Smartphone shows were free most of the time, the earliest ones were not free but not that expensive, if I recall correctly. As they were more than a developer conference, the number of participants is less relevant, but I don't believe they reached 6000 any one year, and that includes kids visiting the show for a few hours.

    • Iosweeky

      What's wrong with it???

  • Mark Hernandez

    I've attended the last three WWDC's.

    One can go back and learn from the conference intro session videos that over half the attendees each year are first-time attendees, so the churn rate is high.

    This year the demographics of the attendees will be interesting to study. It's always just a tiny fraction of the developer base, but this year it's very excited attendees, and it will be more randomized since it's a subset of would-be attendees who were quick on the draw (I'm imagining them hitting a game show button as fast as possible and winning a ticket.)

    Furthermore, and conversely, the need to attend has lessened. The only real reason to attend anymore is to meet with the 1000+ Apple engineers that will be on hand. That will be quite significant to new developers, but not to experienced developers.

    As for the information presented, it makes little sense to attend. All "enrolled" developers (who pay $99) will get the video to EVERY conference session the week following the event. The keynote will be available to anyone later that day.

    And the conference format itself is inefficient because you'll only be able to attend a fraction of the 100 sessions presented that you guessed you need to see, and the information flies by so fast you'll miss a lot. For instance, the mention of a new feature will cause you to momentarily daydream as to how you might implement it, and you'll suddenly realize you missed what followed, and that's too bad for you. No pause and rewind.

    The inefficiencies of the conference format are all solved by the planet-wide distribution of the session videos. What's incredible is I can actually lay in my bed at home and stream every last one of them to my AppleTV from wherever I have them stored.

    The times they are a changin!

    • Don't forget about iTunes U. There are several schools that post their iOS dev classes, the most popular of which is Stanford. iTunes U also hosts several talks by Clayton Christensen.

      iTunes U could serve as a disruptive model for education. Very interesting what could be done in combination with a tablet.

      We live in exciting times.

      • Justin

        And in fact WWDC session videos, in recent years, are delivered using the iTunes U infrastructure.

      • Brad Larson

        As someone who taught one of the iOS development courses you can find on iTunes U (from the Madison Area Technical College), I wholeheartedly agree that iTunes U is a boon to education. Our in-class size was small, a couple dozen students combined over two semesters, but the course videos have been downloaded over 100,000 times. Stanford's numbers are even more impressive, but it's great that a class from a small technical college in the middle of Wisconsin can also find a global audience.

        Knowing that my class was going to be recorded and made available online changed my approach to teaching the material. I was motivated to put a little more time into polishing my examples and course content, because I knew I was doing this for a much larger audience than just the students in the room.

        Even the students who attended the class loved the fact that they could go back and re-watch portions that passed by them at first. I wasn't afraid to present advanced material, because I knew that they could revisit that information when they finally understood everything around it. There were a lot of "trust me, you'll need to know this someday" moments throughout my class as a result.

    • Brad Larson

      "The only real reason to attend anymore is to meet with the 1000+ Apple engineers that will be on hand. That will be quite significant to new developers, but not to experienced developers. "

      I believe the exact opposite of this statement to be true. I've been to the last three WWDCs, and will go to the one this year. I would consider myself to be an experienced developer. My primary reason for attending the conference is not the session information but the conversations with the engineers and other attendees.

      Simple questions can be answered by reading the appropriate documentation, viewing videos, or consulting resources like Stack Overflow, but the more complex issues that experienced developers run into sometimes can only be solved with help from the Apple engineers.

      I prepare questions for months in advance of the show, and usually have all of them solved by 3/4 the way through. These answers save me months of development time, which by itself justifies attendance at the conference.

      Beyond that, it's a tremendous networking opportunity for all developers, because it can help you make people at Apple aware of your work and introduce you to fellow developers from all around the world. I've had products promoted by Apple where I can trace the promotion right back to a conversation I had with someone at WWDC.

      You're right that informational sessions in a modern conference have a lot less value now than they used to, but they still serve a purpose in bringing together the right people.

      • Mark Hernandez

        You're right Brad. In fact, after I had submitted that post, that was the one sentence I had second thoughts about, and now I can't go back and edit it. But you're right. I should have said "…perhaps less for experienced developers."

        As we know, Cocoa Touch can be toe-curling complex in many areas, and even with Apple's online forums there's no guarantee of getting a good reply, not to mention the fact that most people are unwilling or unable to show enough of their code online and give anyone else a fighting chance at helping them identify the difficulty. This is not a problem in a face to face with an Apple engineer. I've taken advantage of them at WWDC too and it's a wonderful thing that Apple provides, especially with a company where their engineers are normally super busy, under a lot of pressure and protected from the outside world.

        Congrats on getting a ticket btw!

  • Iosweeky

    The closest comparison to the explosive growth of the number of mobile developers & apps over these few short years would be to the number of web developers and websites that appeared in the early 1990s in the beginning of mass adoption of the world wide web. In my opinion it's more than just numbers, in both occasions it is a fast adopted mass market technology that lowered the barrier of entry for both users and developers (in both ease of use & cost).

    I'm guessing the growth rate of Internet users in the first few years of world wide web was probably similar to that of smartphone user growth over the last 3 years.

    • Developer

      the web is still growing fast and I believe groupon was initially launched on the web

  • If the trends continue, Next year's WWDC will sell out three hours before the tickets go on sale. Time machine!

  • Given that the session videos are available on-line, the most valuable reason to attend WWDC is the chance to meet with Apple engineers and other developers, build relationships, and get your questions answered. These relationships often transcend the conference itself and give you access to information that is not otherwise easily available. The WWDC experience is also fun.

    Since getting a WWDC ticket has become somewhat of a lottery, there's a need to create other ways for developers to meet and get their questions answered. The short sell-out time means these conferences are no longer able to fully address the need they were intended to meet.

    • Mark Hernandez

      Very true Peter. Some of that need is being met by other conferences such as 360Dev, MacTech, NSConference, Nerd Ranch and others You can meet with people who know just as much as Apple engineers depending on what one is struggling with.

      And enrolled developers have access to Apple's online forums where Apple engineers will (or might) reply. The downside with online forums, Apple's included is the fundamental problem in that it's unrealistic for people to offer up enough of their code to have a fighting chance of having their issues understood and then their problems effectively addressed. As the admin of, I am the first to admit that online forums suck bigtime and are terribly inefficient and largely useless, and the world needs a new method of interaction worthy of the 21st century.

  • Childermass

    "There is a non-linear nature to this growth and history shows that non-linearity leads to unpredictable or unforeseeable change."

    "Non-linear" is a delicious understatement.

    The growth in post-pc app development seems to have similarities to two other periods of order-of-magnitude growth changes. In the 50s and 60s we saw the availability of recorded music display similar non-linearity, and in the 70s and 80s the advent of small, cheap computers (Sinclair, Commodore etc) saw rapid growth in programming. Both periods were unsustained and consolidation followed.

    As more and more of whatever-it-is is available so it becomes increasingly difficult to differentiate your offer or to truly innovate. The process becomes largely iterative with occasional flashes of genius. Corporations tend to displace individuals. The power base moves.

    This could go the same way (I say 'could' as it is, as HD points out, disruptive and therefore inherently unpredictable). If so then an interesting early indicator will be if the time to sell-out starts to increase again.

  • Simon Hibbs

    >There is a non-linear nature to this growth and history shows that non-linearity leads to unpredictable or unforeseeable change.

    Looks pretty linear to me, with change going consistently one way. On the other hand linear trends lead to highly predicatble change, right up to the point when they suddenly go non-linear, and catch everyone flat footed. Economic bubbles, for example.

    • jefe

      I don't think you know what non-linear means.

  • chandra

    It's possible to read too much into this Horace.
    The world is full of opportunists and app development is the new gold rush since 2008.
    Google dev events sell out in minutes because every luckless Flash developer is desperate to extend their shelf-life given the declining fortunes of Flash and Adobe's serial, everlasting inability to make lipstick stick to that particular piggy.
    I don't think that Dev event sell-out periods is a reliable indicator of Post-PC currents.
    I think queues outside Apple iPad reseller outlets is a more reliable windsock in terms and a direction and strength indicator.
    How are the queues around the (8, or is it 9 now?) Pre-Post-PC (i.e. PC) MS Stores and top resellers?
    How strong a black market is there for the Xoom, Tabs, and Streaks etc?
    I remember many years ago, Sony had a showcase Store in Regents Street, London (where Apple has a big store with miles-long queues BTW) I never ever saw anyone in the Sony Store except when it was raining.
    The best indicator of a profound step-change in buying habits, as the Post-PC change is supposed to be, is sales performance in the new and the old markets, surely.
    Dev behaviour is herd behaviour – they go where the grass seems greenest. If MS got its act together, they would head to the Win Phone 7 platform and the post-PC era would die before it was fully born.
    According to those wholly objective guys at IDC, that's what's going to happen rsn.
    Chandra Coomaraswamy

    • asymco

      Of course I agree that there are better indicators. I'm just pointing out that there is a particular herd effect here that may be corroborating the other data.

  • CndnRschr

    Looking forward to Horace's take on the laughable IDC smartphone predictions for 2015. 🙂

  • DaBugga

    I used to attend the Qualcomm’s BREW developer conferences 10 years ago in San Diego. They were well attended.

    Were we leading indicators of the post PC world?

  • John

    The iPad is a new medium. It would be nice if we had a developers conference not for writing code but for preparing content. Because the content interacts intimately with the hardware preparing an interactive magazine or textbook requires a lot more involvement with the hardware than purposing something for a laptop.

    • unhinged

      Something like SxSW?

  • vinner57

    Ha Ha! Looking forward to it.

  • Laughing_Boy48

    Post-PC era sounds nice but hardly anyone in the enterprise wants to let go of Windows. They're just too comfortable with Windows and are absolutely scared to let it go. Consumers don't mind a post-PC era because they're probably happy to use something simple and light and as long as they can accomplish what they need to do, if it doesn't require a full-sized PC, all well and good.

    The only drawback of calling an iPad (or iPhone or iPod Touch) post-PC is that it requires a PC to sync with iTunes. I won't be giving up my 24" iMac any time soon, for sure. I view the iPad as a complementary device that has its own place in my computing world. The more devices the merrier for me. I'm not looking for the one device that can do everything because I don't think that will ever exist.

    • asymco

      The stone age did not end because we stopped using stones.

  • Mark Hernandez

    Oh, and one more observation to add to the analysis.

    As I mentioned before…

    * Each year 50% or more of WWDC attendees are first timers.
    * The need to attend has decreased with respect to accessing the content (made available to all enrolled developers planet-wide the following week).
    * The unique ability to meet with, and work out problems with Apple engineers has a powerfully strong sustaining effect on attendance).

    …and to add…

    * Many if not most of the people that were "quick on the draw" this year may well have been the people who were too slow to buy a ticket last year, and that may well explain the "finger on the button" effect we saw this year. In other words, a mix of both excited new attendees, and returning attendees that learned their lesson after missing out last year.

    It's hard to compare the Apple conference with others. Plus, each year new people attend and then don't return the next year because they realize they don't need to — been there done that. Apple understands all this. Each year fewer and fewer "bennies" happen at WWDC, and the lunchtime sessions are the same every year, yet it sells out in a day. Apple knows what's going on, and there's no real need to fix something that isn't broken in the sense that if someone doesn't attend, there's no alternate plan B.


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