Hi there, I’m Sam, an iOS Developer at 3 Sided Cube! Last month I got the opportunity to visit Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, California, for their annual developer conference, WWDC (World Wide Developer Conference). So while everybody else was watching the announcements from the comfort of their homes, I very smugly got to watch the announcements while jet-lagged, and getting sunburnt.
It’s Apple’s first year back to an in-person event since 2019, and it’s the first WWDC ever at Apple Park, as opposed to a convention centre in San Francisco or San Jose. The far more exciting venue did come with the trade off of a much smaller attendance: there are 30 million developers registered with Apple, but only 1,000 could attend.
I – having only briefly thought about the impracticality and expense of having to make my way to the USA – entered the draw to receive an invite, thinking ‘ahhh, I probably won’t need to deal with the logistics as I probably won’t get an invite anyway!’
And then, on the 13th of May at about 1am, I received an invite.
The invite came through just three weeks before the event, which I must say wasn’t an abundance of time for planning. But we managed to pull something together. A far emptier bank account and an 11 hour flight later, me, my partner Zak, and our massive green suitcase, arrived in sunny California.
*Big ups to 3 Sided Cube for not only supporting my last minute trek across the pond but allocating my yearly development budget to help with the trip*
Not wanting to waste our visit to the west coast, we spent a couple of days in San Francisco, seeing a few touristy things, looking around shops we couldn’t afford to be in, and shaking off the very worst of the jet-lag. And we were just thrilled with this breathtaking view of the Golden Gate Bridge.
After our last breakfast in SF, we hauled our massive green suitcase into a Lyft, and travelled 40 minutes down the road to Cupertino.
Apple Park is an enormous plot, right in the middle of an urban area. It’s a giant glass spaceship donut. Our hotel was just over the road from the campus, but on the opposite side to the entrance. So once we’d checked in, we took a scenic walk around the perimeter of the campus (or ‘the block’ as they say) around to the Apple Park Visitor Center for early check-in for the next days event.
Heeding Apple’s warnings of the dangers of overhead pinecones.
As we approached the Visitor Center, many yellow-t-shirted event staff were visible in the distance, accompanied by quite a lot of cheering.
‘Oh no,’ we thought, sharing a worried look, ‘are they cheering each other? Or are they cheering the people checking in? I really hope they don’t cheer us — we’re British, it would be embarrassing!’
This question, among others, would be answered for us as we crossed the road and were greeted by exuberant call and response chanting for our arrival of ‘DUB DUB!’, ‘D C!’ Zak and I – the only people there checking in at the time – were whooped and cheered by crowds of staff, as we were directed from person to person to have my code scanned, covid test results checked, and pass issued. We wore beaming awkward smiles as we sheepishly pretended that we were enjoying all the fun.
The Developer Center
After being cheered across the road to the newly constructed Apple Developer Center, Zak – not a developer – was relegated to a very Apple-looking bench outside in the Cupertino sun. And I should add at this point, that everything was very Apple-looking at Apple. The street lights were Apple-looking, the fire extinguishers were Apple-looking.
The Apple Developer Center, incidentally, was also very Apple-looking. If also quite secretive. We were given a brief tour of the building. This was my first taste of how you might build a building if you’re Apple, and money isn’t exactly a restricting factor. The office and workshop rooms boasted wall-to-wall iMacs – no surprise really.
Each had a fancy Herman-Miller office chair, and an individually height-adjustable hydraulic desk, I wouldn’t expect any less!
All of the presentation, pitch, and lecture rooms had surround sound systems. The rooms were so sound-proofed that as you walked into each one, you could hear your voice muffle and quieten. And as if that wasn’t enough, if you’re having any particularly secretive conversations, white noise could be played in the corridors to stop people from listening in.
Secret wall panels in each room opened up into a very Apple-looking tunnel that connected all the rooms in the building. Via this tunnel, we were shown into the Big Sur theatre, a supremely hi-tech space with one of the most comprehensive lighting rigs I’ve ever seen.
We were given a brief presentation about the space (which was mainly an opportunity for them to flex all of the technology weaved through the room), including being shown just how bright their screen can get, and I can attest to the fact that it can indeed get bright.
On our way out, goodie bags were issued containing some little Apple trinkets, which included Apple-designed face masks envisioned by their Engineering and Industrial Design teams – which are incredible. I loved these masks so much I tried to track down where I could get more, but they’re devastatingly not available for purchase.
(Also in the Swift logo tote bag: an Apple water bottle, some WWDC pins, a Swift logo cap, and some fancy moisturising sun cream.)
The Visitor Center
The Apple Park Visitor Center is open to all, and is just over the road from the main campus. It’s an Apple Store, an AR experience, and a coffee shop, surrounded by these impossible curved and pillar-less glass walls that somehow hold up the roof.
Zak – a coffee enthusiast – said the espresso he had here was the nicest he’d found in the states.
Up the Apple-looking stairs (apples and pears anybody? no?) there’s a rooftop viewing platform, where you can just see the top of the glass donut spaceship that is the main building.
With my bank account $40 lighter and an Apple Park t-shirt in tow, we headed back to the hotel.
The next morning
The next morning, having seen Zak off to San Jose, I took the same scenic walk around the campus perimeter ready for the big day.
It was main check-in time now, far busier than the previous day, and the cheering for attendees continued. (It looked maybe a little less awkward now that it was crowds moving around rather than just me and Zak)
Crossing the road
What the crowds did to lower the awkwardness of the cheering was very much counteracted by what was to follow. The yellow-t-shirted event staff — who I later found out were Apple Store staff borrowed from across the US — supervised the road-crossing, with a song they’d come up with.
“You’re doing it,
Slowly and safely,
Not quickly and dangerously,
Slowly and safely,
Yeah you’re doing it,
You’re doing it,
Approaching the Ring Building
Despite the enormity of Apple Park’s Ring Building (which is the official name for it by the way, not ‘space donut’) it is only four stories tall, and its grounds are surrounded by trees, so really, from the outside, you can only see the occasional glimpse of space donut roof.
And so, as I had successfully crossed the road (slowly and safely), and had been through security, the building came into view.
And my god, if the benches and lamps and stairs were Apple-looking, this is this most Apple-looking building you could conceive. And it’s pretty damn impressive: 2.8 million square foot of office and lab space, all inside of a spacecraft. (And 1.5 million square foot of underground parking!)
Breakfast was served in Caffé Macs – the cafeteria for Apple Park’s workers – where I had the nicest pain au chocolat I have ever eaten in my life. Other offerings on the breakfast menu included the very bougie ‘smoked salmon and caviar bagels’ garnished of course with ‘micro horseradish’. Caffé Macs, on a sunny day like it was, opens up its sliding glass doors to let a bit of fresh air in.
These sliding glass doors are 50 foot tall.
And 90 foot wide.
They open up the entire 4-story wall of the building to let sun and fresh air in. Oh yeah and there are full size trees in the cafe. The architect was on something I swear. (I later heard from an Apple Engineer that someone has to stand there holding a button on a remote for 8-10 minutes while these things open and close)
Finding a seat
There was a little while before the keynote was due to start, and so trying to avoid having to network with anybody too early in the morning, I thought I would nab myself a good seat at the front near the open-air stage.
My attempt at not socialising backfired (in a positive way) as I ended up socialising. Sat next to me were three developers from the iOS team at Disney, who were a fun chat. (The 3SC marketing team will be pleased to hear that I smoothly name-dropped Cube, throughout the day, to a lot of people.)
Apple CEO Tim Cook introduced the presentation, alongside fan-favourite, Senior Vice President of Software Engineering, and all-around American, Craig Federighi.
During the presentation, we got to see iOS 16, macOS Ventura, iPadOS 16, watchOS 9, the M2 chip, and the newly redesigned MacBook Air.
We then were given an introduction to a swathe of new Swift language features and developer frameworks that we’d be able to take advantage of in our apps. Download stations in the inner ring were set up so we could start playing around with all this stuff immediately.
Lunch was served in Caffé Macs, with offerings of different cuisines from around the world. I chose the taste-of-home comfort of Chicken Tikka Masala (which strangely enough wasn’t labelled as the UK’s national dish.)
I ended up at a table of 5 blue t-shirted Apple software engineers, who very much gave the vibe that they sat at that table every day, in the same seats, every lunch time. They were on the Security & Privacy software team and were genuinely fascinating to talk to. Getting past the Apple-polish on everything to talk to some real people that worked there was really interesting.
I was told that the breakfast and lunch services are the same on a normal office day, except they normally have to pay for it. (Daily caviar bagels anybody?)
I also got to hear inside stories of keycards not working, birds slamming into the innumerable glass panels of the campus, and the introduction of “Jony Ive’s Tears” – the employee-nicknamed safety stickers that were retrospectively applied to the glass walls and glass doors around the park to stop the employees from doing the same thing as the birds. Despite this, as I walked around the cafe I still had to second guess whether or not I was about to walk into an opening, or a glass wall.
In the afternoon there was a choice of three different tours around Apple Park, after which I came away with some interesting tidbits:
- When Apple bought the land, it was 80% structure, and 20% green. And now, rebuilt, it’s only 20% structure, and 80% green space.
- They have a berm surrounding the park that blocks out all the views – and the noise – of the surrounding urban areas.
- The campus can survive an earthquake of up to a magnitude of 8.
- Apparently the whole place is built on discs to create a “Seismic Moat” that surrounds the campus. Supposedly everything inside the moat would be fine, while anything outside would be destroyed.
- They grow cherries, apples, persimmons, and plums around the park, that they use in the food served in Caffé Macs.
- The way that the building is designed, through shade and airflow, means that despite the Californian heat, they can go without air conditioning and heating for 80% of the time. And I can attest to the fact that the building was a lovely cool temperature despite the 29°C weather outside.
Closing out the day
Finally there were the Apple Design Awards, awarding developers and designers for their apps across various categories.
As Caffe Macs staff ran around behind us hiding away all of the complimentary snacks and soft drinks that had been on offer all day, it was clear that we were being politely told that it was time to bugger off.
The weather had stayed gorgeous all day. Unbeknownst to me at the time, the day’s UV index was 10. And while I did see some very radiantly red casualties of the sun, I came away fairly unscathed.
Apart from the backs of my hands which apparently I didn’t suncream at all, which got painfully burnt, but have at least now turned into a gorgeous dark tan which I have maintained nowhere else on my person.
I will be paying off the cost of the trip for a little while yet, but even just being sat in the sunshine with my tea and my pain au chocolat, looking around at such an incredible place, made it feel so worthwhile.
It really was a once in a lifetime opportunity, to be able to visit, to meet the people that I met, and to see the places that I saw.