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.


This is only a snippet of the WWDC keynote held on May 6, but it’s surely the oddest WWDC bit of all time. To reinforce that Apple is betting everything on OS X, Jobs presided over a mock funeral for the previous version, OS 9–complete with a heartfelt eulogy and open casket.



Held on June 23, this may have been the prototype for the modern WWDC keynote. For one thing, it was the first one held at San Francisco’s Moscone Center rather than in San Jose. For another, Apple’s era of astonishing success was well underway, and clearly no blip.

Jobs started off with what seemed like impressive numbers at the time–a million iPods sold and five million songs downloaded!–and announced plans for Apple Stores in New York, San Francisco and Tokyo. Then he introduced iLife, Safari 1.0, OS X 10.3 Panther and the Power Mac G5, among other products, resulting in a keynote that was one more thing after one more thing.

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In retrospect, the fact that Jobs said that Apple was “not thrilled” with the failure of the Power PC chips used in Macs to hit a 3-GHz clockspeed was the most meaningful moment of this year’s WWDC keynote, held on June 28. (See: 2005 keynote.) But he also oversaw a preview of OS X 10.4 Tiger and announced support for the H.264 video standard.

The Microsoft software code-named “Longhorn,” which Jobs referred to several times, sounded like an epoch-shifting landmark–but when it finally shipped in 2007, it turned out to be the sad sack of an operating system known as Windows Vista.

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By the 2005 keynote, held on June 6, the template for the first chunk of the presentation was kabuki-like in its predictability: report of WWDC attendance, update on Apple Store openings, impressive numbers relating to iPod and Mac sales, minor product announcements, new version of OS X (10.5 Leopard). But the major news this year was the biggest bombshell ever announced at a WWDC: Apple’s abandonment of Power PC chips for Intel processors. And even though the switch had leaked, it still bordered on the implausible. (At least I was stunned–I believe this was the first WWDC I attended in person.)

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The August 7 keynote began with a videotaped introduction by John “I’m a PC” Hodgman taunting Windows Vista, the much-delayed upgrade which Microsoft had shipped in January. The bulk of Apple’s presentation was devoted to Leopard, which had first been mentioned in 2005’s keynote and which ended up being postponed itself, finally shipping in October 2007. Its signature feature: the Time Machine automated-backup system.



On June 11, Apple talked Leopard yet again. This being the first WWDC since the iPhone’s announcement, it was the first one in which Apple’s smartphone played a part. (The phone didn’t actually ship until June 29, after WWDC.)

The big iPhone news–support for web-based “applications” which were really browser-based services–turned out to be a stopgap until the App Store was ready. And one other new product which seemed like it might be a big deal at the time–a Windows version of Apple’s Safari browser–ended up not amounting to much.


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