For those devoted to Apple and the Mac, WWDC is the event to watch. Even more than the annual fall event, the WWDC keynote is where Apple often makes major announcements that impact developers, users, and the industry. The WWDC keynote showcases the next versions of macOS, and Apple often reveals major Mac hardware developments that go hand in hand with the latest software features.
WWDC as we know it started in 1990; in previous years, it was a smaller event called DevCon or Apple World. With WWDC 2022 just days away, we thought we’d go over the top Mac moments in WWDC keynote history (listed in chronological order, except the last one, and you’ll see why). Overall, there’s a theme to these moments: change is inevitable.
WWDC 1997: Steve Jobs returns, OS X origins
The WWDC 1997 keynote wasn’t the highly-produced presentation Apple is known for. This was a question-and-answer session between Jobs and the audience of developers, and Jobs is quite frank with his thoughts. At one point, he says, “Apple suffered for years from lousy engineering management,” and “Focusing is about saying no.” He talked about his vision for cloud computing, the “holy war” with Microsoft, and prioritizing customer needs over technological wizardry. Near the end of the talk, Jobs even pontificates about a technological implementation that could be interpreted as his vision for the iPhone.
It was an important moment. When Apple bought Next Computer in December 1996 and Steve Jobs came back to Apple, Apple decided to use Next’s technology as the core of the upcoming Mac operating system. It was a decision that created a lot of tension in the developer community. A lot of work that developers put into previous plans for the Mac operating system was basically useless. And since the Mac’s market share was shrinking year after year, there were questions about whether the market was viable enough to withstand the technology shift.
This keynote is a fascinating watch, especially with the hindsight we have now. If you’re only vaguely familiar with Jobs and his role with Apple, it’ll help you understand why he’s so revered.
WWDC 2002: RIP Mac OS 9
With the introduction of OS X, Apple decided to end the development of the “Classic” Mac OS (the version before OS X). Steve Jobs marked the occasion with a eulogy of Mac OS 9 during the keynote address. I actually find it a bit cringe-worthy now, but it was all in jest and a reminder that Apple always looks forward and doesn’t waste time on past technologies.
WWDC 2003: The 3GHz promise
Some of the entries on this list are whole keynotes, others are large sections of keynotes. But 2003 is really a memorable moment in a WWDC keynote. In 2003, Steve Jobs revealed the Power Mac G5, which used a PowerPC G5 processor, and towards the end, he makes it a point to say that this Mac will have a 3GHz CPU within the year. It didn’t happen, which leads us to the next memorable WWDC keynote moment.
WWDC 2005: The Intel transition begins
At the time of WWDC 2005, 3GHz was the holy grail for CPU speed, and the Mac’s PowerPC chips couldn’t get there. Apple hit a ceiling, which made the switch from PowerPC chips to Intel silicon a critical move for the future of the Mac.
Apple understood that this switch would be historic in one of two ways: a successful business decision that could become a standard of how it’s done, or a choice that had such a bad execution that it practically kills the Mac. The company had to find a way to build a bridge between the PowerPC implementation and the new Intel-based Macs. No other platform had performed such a major task, and this would be an industry first. Everyone would be watching.
In the keynote, Steve Jobs takes his time to explain why the switch was needed and how it will happen. Paul Otellini, who was Intel’s CEO, speaks about Apple and Intel’s relationship, and even pokes fun at an Apple commercial that mocks Intel’s famous bunny man. The keynote helped reassure Mac users and developers that Apple had a plan—and it turned out, the plan worked so well that a similar plan was used for the next transition 15 years later.
WWDC 2020: The Apple silicon transition begins
Apple’s current Mac rebirth started years ago and was formally announced during the WWDC 2020 keynote. The company would spend the next two years replacing Intel chips in the Mac with its own silicon. At that point in time, it was clear that the CISC-based technology used in Intel chips was about to hit a wall performance-wise unless drastic changes were made. Apple had success with its own A-series processors in the iPhone and iPad, so it made sense to make its ARM-based chips work for the Mac.
It was an announcement that was equally exciting and concerning. It was exciting to think that the Mac, which was stuck in a rut, could find new life. But there were real concerns about Apple pulling it off properly. Two years later, the Mac is reaching new peaks that were only imagined before.
WWDC 2021: Universal Control
WWDC 2020 featured the first pre-recorded keynote with an all-virtual audience, because of the COVID-19 pandemic. WWDC 2021 followed suit since the pandemic was still in full swing. While the energy of a live event is missing, it’s been replaced by an onslaught of new features for each operating system, one after the other at a breakneck pace.
In the 2021 keynote, after 81 overwhelming minutes of announcements for iOS, AirPods, iPadOS, privacy, iCloud, health, watchOS, and home, Apple took a breath to demonstrate Universal Control, a new feature in macOS Monterey that lets you use one Mac to control an iPad or another Mac. It was such a cool demonstration that people watched it over and over again until the feature finally arrived eight months later.
WWDC 2006, 2013, 2019 (and maybe 2022): Mac Pro
The Mac Pro is of particular interest to developers, who need the horsepower to create software. So the company makes it a point to unveil its most powerful Mac at WWDC. Apple has unveiled three different Mac Pros at WWDC, and it seems appropriate to collect them all as one “moment.”
Each unveiling is significant in its own right, though. 2006 was the first Mac Pro, an Intel-based tower that replaced the Power Mac G5. It had an aluminum “cheese grater” design that became iconic but was eventually replaced by a less-than-ideal “trash can” design in 2013. Apple finally owned up to the failings of the 2013 Mac Pro and in 2019, released a new Mac Pro with a modern aluminum tower design that harkened back to the cheese grater.
The Mac Pro is due again for another monumental upgrade, and it’s expected to be revealed at this year’s WWDC. It’s one of the last Macs to get an upgrade to Apple silicon, and users are excited about the potential of Apple’s top-of-the-line Mac. It’s sure to be a memorial WWDC keynote moment.