Technologizer

A Brief History of Apple’s WWDC Keynotes, 1997-Present

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Harry McCracken

Steve Jobs leaves the stage at the end of WWDC on June 7, 2010.

At 1pm ET (10am PT) today I’ll be liveblogging Apple’s Worldwide Developer C0nference (WWDC) keynote, live from San Francisco’s Moscone West. You can join co-host Doug Aamoth and me at techland.com/wwdc12, and I hope you will.

Even serious Apple fanatics sometimes underestimate the importance of these WWDC presentations. The conference is a technical event held for developers, and it sometimes gets geeky. It’s true that the iconic Apple products of the 21st century–the iPod, iPhone and iPad –weren’t announced there. But an awful lot of Apple news has been made at WWDC over the years. Add it all up, and you get a good picture of the company’s never-ending evolution.

WWDC began in 1983, but let’s start this recap with 1997’s event, the first one held after Steve Jobs returned to the company he co-founded. That’s when the conference started to become a news-making machine, and it’s when YouTube video gets plentiful.

1997

At this point, Steve Jobs was merely an advisor to Apple, not its CEO. He spoke at the end of a WWDC held at the San Jose Convention Center, on May 16, and rather than unveiling any new products, he spoke extemporaneously and took questions from the crowd. But what he did introduce–effectively, a new strategy for the company, best summed up by the five words “focus is about saying no”–was at least as important as any gizmo which he could have announced.

Sadly–okay, it isn’t actually all that sad–I can’t find any video of WWDC 1997’s actual keynote, which was led by Apple CEO Dr. Gil Amelio, most famous for his brief and hapless tenure at the top.

1998

On May 11, 1998, Interim CEO Jobs gave an opening speech that was closer to the WWDC keynotes that would come. But Apple was still hurting, and even modest good news–lower employee attrition, better sales at CompUSA, two profitable quarters in a row–sounded rosy. Oddly, Apple had announced the first iMac a few days before WWDC, so Jobs recapped the news and then talked mostly about matters relating to QuickTime and Mac OS–important technical stuff.

1999

A white-shirted Jobs provided an update on Apple’s improving condition, announced an impressively lightweight PowerBook–only 5.9 pounds–and gave away laptops to lucky attendees. But most of the event was devoted to nuts-and-bolts affairs, including OpenGL, Java, QuickTime and previews of both a version of Mac OS code-named Sonata (later known as OS 9) and the all-new operating system called OS X.

2000

In 2000, Jobs–who had dropped the “interim” from his CEO title–announced a new optical mouse and new Power Mac desktops and iMacs, and updated attendees on OS X. He also welcomed a Microsoft representative who showed off an upcoming Mac edition of Office, including a Mac-only app called Entourage.

2001

I failed to find any YouTube footage of the 2001 WWDC keynote, held on May 21. For the record, it seems to have been short on major news other than a post-release update on OS X 10.0, which had shipped a couple of months earlier. But I’m sorry  I don’t have video of a sweatervested Steve Jobs reading a manifesto about the Mac, as seen in this photo.

Steve Jobs at WWDC 2001

Getty Images

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