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, 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.


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.



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.



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.

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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.

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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.


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.



The previous WWDC keynote ultimately mattered less than it seemed like it might. This one, held on June 9, felt extremely important at the time–and went on to be significant in ways that probably startled even Apple. It introduced iPhone OS 2.0, third-party iPhone apps, the iPhone App Store, iPhone multitasking and the MobileMe service. And then, almost ninety minutes into the keynote, Jobs announced the iPhone 3G.



With Steve Jobs on medical leave, Apple marketing honcho Phil Schiller headlined this June 8 keynote. Demos included OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard (a Mac software upgrade with few new features) and iPhone OS 3.0 (an iPhone upgrade with tons of new features). The “one more thing” was the second iPhone announced at a WWDC: the iPhone 3G S. (Which, a few days after its launch, Apple decided to call the iPhone 3GS.)



Jobs returned for this June 7 event, which was deflated by the fact that Gizmodo had bought an iPhone 4 prototype from a man who found it in a bar. The blog revealed Apple’s new handset months before Apple did at WWDC. Given the preemptive publicity, Jobs did his best to distort reality as usual. He did get to introduce the high-resolution wonderscreen which he dubbed the Retina display.



Steve Jobs’ final appearance at an Apple event, less than four months before his death, came on June 6. The WWDC keynote he hosted included a detailed walkthrough of OS X 10.7 Lion (which had first been demoed the previous October) and introduced iOS 5 and iCloud.



We know that this year’s keynote will feature OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion and iOS 6. The odds of at least one new Mac–a 15″ portable of some sort–seem high. Beyond that, the WWDC rumor mill has done a sketchier job than usual of sorting out the probably-will-happens from the not-gonna-happens. More thoughts to come…

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