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WWDC 2020: Why Apple must go virtual for this show

No matter how important WWDC 2020 might be, I can’t see the good corporate citizen Apple strives to be holding the show in June on strength of the Coronavirus threat. 

This is global warning

We’re in the containment phase as governments worldwide seek to slow the proliferation of the infection in hope that they can find some kind of solution.

It’s in everybody’s interest to hold that line for as long as possible.

The problem is that the virus has a long gestation period, a high infection rate, and a far higher fatality rate than the flu we are used to. That means it can easily proliferate itself at public events.

Apple’s giant WWDC is the most important event in its calendar.

It’s a fascinating place where business is done, connections made, and Apple opens up a little, sharing its ideas, new operating systems and gently guiding partners into what it plans for the months and years ahead. I love to attend when I can.

The show attracts at least 6,000 people from all around the world.

Which, unfortunately, is a problem in context of the corona virus.

Not only can it transmit quite rapidly in a crowded room (I’m not certain of its infection rate via air conditioning systems), but all those people at WWDC stay somewhere, interact with local services, hotels, restaurants.

If just a few people are infected at the start of the event you can rest assured many more will be once it ends. It might be a couple of weeks before they know they’ve been hit, by which time they will have returned home, unknowingly infecting others along the way.

That’s how this particular infection works.

[Also read: Enterprise resilience: iOS, Mac tools for remote collaboration]

This is also why Mobile World Congress, Adobe Summit, Facebook F8, Games Developers Conference, Nvidia GTC, the Geneva Motor Show, and a range of sporting events (including England’s Six Nation’s rugby game) have been cancelled or delayed.

The economic consequences of this activity are being felt across almost every industry – airlines, hospitality, even a relatively digital firm like Google’s taking a hit as ad sales in some sectors (tourism, for example) slump, but while the economic consequences are important, the human consequences are profound.

Apple puts humans first

Apple is a user-centric company.

Its user interfaces are built around its acclaimed Human Interface Guidelines. The success of its hardware is based on that human-focused usability, and this is also why it has taken a huge chunk of market share in enterprise IT across the last few years.

This stuff doesn’t come easy.

Creating great solutions is precisely what those 6,000 people the company invites to its developer’s conference do. Hardware and software designers, developers, engineers. These people are essential.

Apple will not want to put any of these people at any additional risk.

It is clear we are battling a pandemic and while there is some hope the virus will be easier to battle (and the effects less critical) if we can make it into summer, most governments accept that containment has failed.

WWDC 2020: The virtual show

Apple listens to advice and this is why I’m convinced it has already decided to delay the live event part of WWDC.

I imagine it may consider streaming some form of event keynote, perhaps some form of State of the Union address and selected developer sessions, while also delivering access to more closed sessions online under extraordinarily strict non-disclosure agreements.

It already does most of those things at WWDC.

The approach does lack the human connection with engineers that means so much, but Apple will absolutely want to protect its key staff.

If the virus does recede in summer, I imagine Apple may be thinking about other options.

It may consider running a larger event in September around the iPhone launch, or simply running WWDC 2020 in late July, or early August. Some expect the virus to peak in June, so running a later show may make sense -- though there are no guarantees.

Perhaps there will be a breakthrough

Two weeks ago, I warned Apple has only a limited window of opportunity to decide on what to do about WWDC this year.

Apple still has some limited time in which to wait and see if some kind of breakthrough takes place, but it doesn't have long.

Think about the challenges of assembling the infrastructure for an event of this scope. Doing so takes a great deal of planning, not to mention ensuring resources to support show goers are locally available. When does it usually order its WWDC jackets, for example?

These logistical considerations mean I think it will take the final decision on the matter in the next couple of weeks, at most.

While cancelling or delaying WWDC poses big business and continuity problems for Apple (and everyone else), it feels like it might be for the best. The protection of Apple’s employees, key partners, and local and national communities must come first.

Meanwhile, think global, act local, and work from home.

Please follow me on Twitter, or join me in the AppleHolic’s bar & grill and Apple Discussions groups on MeWe.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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