Apple’s 12 most important WWDC moments

As we get ready for Apple's big developer conference, here is a look at 12 of the most important moments from the last 25 years.

Apple's most important WWDC announcements
Thinkstock/Terri Haas (Thinkstock)

Why it matters

Apple’s annual Worldwide Developer’s Conference (WWDC),where the company offers up some of the deepest insights into future strategy, is arguably one of the hottest dates on the tech industry calendar. That’s why Apple’s friends, foes and fans always pay attention to what’s revealed there.

We’ve pored through the history books and chosen 12 of the most important Apple moments from across the years since WWDC began in 1990. Please tell us about your WWDC memories in the comments below.

copland

1996: Copland

1996 and WWDC was almost entirely dedicated to the Copland OS, an operating system not capable of multitasking, which Apple said would be the future for Mac OS. Elements of the OS were ably demonstrated by teen developer, Gregory Miller, who prophetically told developers "I am your competition," years before App Stores opened the doors for intense competition from developers regardless of age.

Apple’s then CEO, Gil Amelio, promised beta software would ship later that summer but it never did -- instead Apple purchased Steve Jobs’ other computer company, NeXT (more on that later). You can watch the 1996 keynote.

think different

1997: The return of Steve

1997 marked Apple co-founder Steve Jobs' triumphant return to the WWDC stage after years in the wilderness, and, as a statement of intent, the company pushed home the message: "Think Different."

Wild applause and a standing ovation showed just how important a place Jobs held in the hearts and minds of Apple developers. Never one to mince words, Jobs took the chance to talk about where he thought Apple and the technology industry were headed, though he didn’t actually take the CEO title until 2000. Watch the 1997 keynote here.

powerbook1

1999: PowerBook G3

The voice of HAL9000 (2001: A Space Odyssey) opened up WWDC, because Siri hadn’t been invented yet. Apple spoke about the Darwin core of OS X, but the highlight was the 1999 PowerBook G3 (code-named Lombard), a slick, black marvel that very quickly became the most popular laptop around.

20 percent thinner than the models they replaced, these weighed 5.9-pounds, over twice as heavy as today’s MacBook Air. "The new PowerBooks are the fastest, lightest and longest battery life full-featured notebooks in the industry," said Steve Jobs, at that time Apple’s interim CEO. With the iBook and AirPort set to follow a few months later and the iPod in 2001, hindsight shows that Apple was already starting to become a mobile company. You can watch the keynote here.

os x public beta

2000: Mac OS X

On May 15, 2000 Apple gave developers access to the final APIs they needed to create Mac OS X apps as it prepared to ship the new OS later that year. The transition was a good one -- not only had Apple persuaded hundreds of developers to climb aboard, but the operating system enabled them to bring increasingly powerful software to the platform, such as Alias|Wavefront’s world class 3D application, Maya, announced at that year's WWDC and shipping for Macs the following year. Watch it here.

os 9 classic

2002: Mac OS 9 burial

2002 saw the last gasp of Classic as Apple dropped legacy support for Mac OS 9 to apply full focus on OS X. Though this was certainly the media highlight, Apple also introduced its zero-configuration networking solution, “Rendezvous” (now “Bonjour”) at this event.

Used across both OS X and iOS, this software is fundamental to how Apple products find each other, from AirPlay music playback to remote printer sharing, Continuity and beyond. Rendezvous has been essential to Apple’s modern evolution. You can watch the sad moment Mac OS 9 got laid to rest right here.

powermac g5

2003: Power Mac G5

Apple and IBM introduced the G5 processors while Apple launched the Power Mac G5, OS X Panther, Safari 1.0 and confirmed over seven million OS X users and five million downloads via the iTunes Music Store to date. "The 64-bit revolution has begun and the personal computer will never be the same again," said Jobs. Here's a link to the video.

wwdc 2006

2006: Boot Camp

Introduced as a public beta earlier that year, Apple confirmed Boot Camp would feature in OS X 10.5. This was hugely significant as it meant Windows users could safely buy an Intel Mac and know they would be able to run their Windows-only apps on their new PC, so long as they had a Windows license.

Introduction of Boot Camp opened the door to Windows emulation on the Mac, with Parallels a direct beneficiary of the support. What this really meant was that the Mac was now among the best Windows PC you could get -- even today Macs run Windows pretty well. Here's where you can watch the whole keynote.

jobs intel

2005: The Intel transition

Speculation Apple planned to adopt Intel processors had reached fever pitch when Jobs took the stage in 2005, but many didn’t quite believe it. "Now, let’s talk about transitions," Jobs began, opening that year's WWDC. "…Yes, it’s true, we are going to begin the transition from PowerPC to Intel processors."

Jobs pointed out that PowerPC had been unable to ship a 3GHz Power Mac or create a G5 MacBook Pro. News of the transition led to the classic moment the following January when Intel’s then CEO, Paul Otellini, emerged in a cloud of smoke while wearing a protective outfit to join Jobs onstage to say Intel was ready to ship chips for Macs. Want to watch the 2005 WWDC keynote? Click here.

Get a mac

2007: All about iPhone

WWDC 2007 opened with one of the popular "Get a Mac" ads in which the PC character impersonated Steve Jobs to say he’s quitting and shutting down Apple as Microsoft’s sold "tens of dozens" of copies of Vista.

The big news of the day, though, was confirming the release date for the iPhone. Apple also broke news that only browser apps would be supported on iPhone, though it changed its mind the following year. Here's a link to the video.

landmark

2008: All about the apps

Apple’s first sell-out WWDC saw a range of announcements with a focus on mobility: The iPhone 3G, the introduction of iOS 2 and the announcement of native SDKs for iOS apps and the launch of the App Store.

Developers went crazy. Companies like Sega and eBay showed off their native iPhone apps, and the mobile app industry had begun, with developers of all stripes climbing on the Apple bandwagon, many for the first time. And .Me became MobileMe, but let’s move swiftly past that last one, shall we…? You can watch the whole thing right here.

Steve jobs 2011

2011: Steve Jobs’ last public keynote

His decision to climb the stage to "I Feel Good" by James Brown underscored just how hard Jobs fought for life, but June 6, 2011 would be his last ever Stevenote. The crowd cheered wildly and stood in respect, which seemed to visibly move a gaunt and fragile Jobs as he announced iCloud, OS X Lion and iOS 5.

He appeared one more time before his premature passing, speaking at the Cupertino City Council to secure permission to build Apple HQ Campus 2. Jobs resigned his position as CEO on Aug. 24, and passed away a few weeks later, on Oct. 5. Take a moment to watch the keynote here.

icloud keychain

2013: iCloud Keychain

OS X 10.9 Mavericks, iTunes Radio and iWork for iCloud were the software stars of this year’s event as Apple put even more investments into future cloud services. You can’t underestimate this, by the way -- already by 2013 Apple was offering iCloud and its iTunes Match services and had invested millions of dollars in the creation of vast server farms from which to drive future cloud-based services. In retrospect the 2013 introduction of iCloud Keychain support for credit card numbers laid the foundations for what became Apple Pay. Here is the link to the keynote video.

wwdc 2015

2015: What do you think?

Apple opens its doors to WWDC 2015 next week with a keynote speech set to be streamed live (and which we’ll be liveblogging as it happens). So what should we expect?

It seems clear there will be more news on iOS 9 and OS X, we anticipate significant news about iTunes and Apple’s smart home solution, HomeKit, and we should get some insights into how the company intends developing Apple TV as a hub for smart homes. Will there be more?

Inevitably, it seems likely the company will want to expand the potential for developers by extending its platforms -- apps for Apple TV? We also expect an SDK for standalone apps on the Apple Watch, with a view to shipping these later this year -- and more news on the company’s focus on the enterprise. Check back next week to find out what happens, or drop me a line via Twitter so I can let you know when fresh items are published here first on Computerworld.