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The iOS Developer's guide to WWDC 2021

Donny Wals
I’m a curious, passionate iOS Developer from the Netherlands who loves learning, sharing knowledge and programming.
Originally published at donnywals.com ・7 min read

WWDC is always an exciting time for iOS engineers. It's the one week a year where we're all newcomers to a whole range of features and APIs that Apple has just unleashed upon the world through their latest Xcode, macOS, iOS, tvOS, iPadOS, and watchOS betas. The entire iOS community comes out of hiding and we all come together to share thoughts, experiences, opinions, and findings.

For a whole week, Apple releases dozens of sessions on different topics, and we all scramble to watch them as soon as possible to make sure we're all up to date with whatever the latest and greatest is. As a newcomer, or a person with a regular sleeping schedule, this can be quite intimidating.

So that's why I figured I'd put together a little guide to making the most out of WWDC without being completely overwhelmed and intimidated by the sheer volume of content that Apple is about to unleash on us all.

Let's jump right in, shall we.

Tip 1: Breathe

Once Apple opens up that firehose of new content and beta's it's a scramble. You immediately start up the Beta downloads once they're up. In the meantime, you scan the documentation for new things and you're looking at the Apple Developer app to try and figure out which sessions you're going to watch and when.

It's a lot to take in all at once.

When you blink twice, you'll see the first people Tweet about the cool things they're already doing with the new Xcode beta while you're still waiting for that .xip file to finally finish extracting. The FOMO becomes more real with the second.

Just breathe. Take a moment, and breathe.

The Xcode betas aren't going anywhere. You'll have plenty of time to mess around with new APIs if you want to. Because even though it looks like everybody is exploring all the new things in depth within seconds of the first betas becoming available, a lot of us are much, much slower. In fact, I'd say a majority of us are not on top of everything all the time, and you don't have to be either.

Sit back, breathe, and proceed at a comfortable pace.

You'll find that breathing, and taking it easy are a recurring theme in this guide. That's because it's important that you do.

Tip 2: Figure out what's relevant to you

When you keep an eye on Twitter throughout the week of WWDC you'll find that everybody is talking about the latest and greatest. For WWDC 2021 I'm sure everybody's going to be all over what's new in SwiftUI, Swift 5.5's async/await, and whatever other new and exciting frameworks and APIs Apple releases.

Personally, I love exploring the new things too. It's new, it's fresh, it's exciting. But let's be honest; it's completely irrelevant for most of us in the short term. Apple isn't going to officially release anything they announce until more than three months later, so while it's fun to explore new things, it's not likely that you'll need to be aware of everything.

Whenever I'm going through WWDC content I try to focus on two types of sessions:

  • The super interesting sessions on new technology (for fun)
  • Sessions that cover best practices or advances in technologies I'm already familiar with

That's right, I love watching sessions on stuff that's not new at all. Sometimes these sessions don't even involve any new features and instead cover (usually undocumented) tips, tricks, and best practices that I can incorporate into my work almost immediately. These sessions are most exciting to me because they are most relevant to me in the short term.

So when you're in doubt about which sessions to watch, I would recommend to focus on what's relevant to you at the time rather than a new technology that everybody on the internet seems to be all over.

Tip 3: Move at a comfortable pace

I can't stress it enough; that firehose of content that Apple unleashes during WWDC is intimidating. Apple will upload dozens of videos and each one will look more attractive than the other. You might feel the pressure to watch as many videos during the day as you can. Heck, you might even be so excited that it's excitement that drives you. And my advice to you is that you don't give in to that urge.

Watch videos in a pace that is comfortable to you. If you're going over more than a couple of topics in the timespan of a few hours there's a good chance the contents won't really stick, and you'll be too tired to explore the APIs you've just learned about.

Move at a pace that is comfortable to you. If that means watching two videos a day and spending a few hours exploring in code, then that's exactly what you should do. If you prefer watching more videos and not exploring until later,that's fine too! And if you want to skip the videos and just code all day long, guess what? All good!

The videos aren't going anywhere for a long time. Watch them as needed. Maybe even pick a few videos from last year's WWDC if they're referred to from one of this year's videos. It's your choice.

WWDC is not a race, so focus on having fun with it.

Tip 4: Don't skip the State of the Union

If you've ever attended an in-person WWDC you'll know that the main keynote that starts at 10AM PDT on the Monday of WWDC is the main event. People get in line for a good seat early in the morning; some even start queueing at 11PM the day before. It's where we see a first glimpse of all the goodness we'll get to learn more about in the week to come. However, as a developer this main event is probably not the most interesting first day presentation you can watch.

After the main Keynote event, at 2PM PDT, there's a presentation called State of the Union. This presentation is the one to look out for as a developer in my opinion. It's where Apple will dig deeper into the APIs and Frameworks that were introduced, and they'll show off new OS features in-depth.

I know that a lot of developers skip the State of the Union in favor of playing with new APIs and resting up, but I personally love watching the State of the Union. It usually gets me much more pumped up for all the good stuff than the main Keynote does.

Tip 5: Prepare for your lab sessions

WWDC is a unique chance for developers to ask questions to Apple engineers directly. Once WWDC is underway we have the opportunity to request appointments with Apple engineers, and we can show them our projects and ask for input on ways to improve our code, solve bugs, or even just clarify how certain things are supposed to work. Labs is arguably the most valuable part of WWDC, so when WWDC went online last year it was a relieve to see that labs were brought online too. And this year is no different.

When you book a lab appointment, try to make sure you come as prepared as possible. If you want to ask about (what you believe to be) a missing feature, or a bug, make sure you file feedback in Apple's feedback assistant ahead of time. This will make it so your lab session can be associated with the feedback which makes the Apple engineer's job a lot easier. It'll also allow the engineer to pull up your feedback ahead of time.

Possibly more important than filing feedback is that you make sure you have a demo project ready to show off. If your lab starts and you have to work your way through your full codebase, it will make it harder for you and the engineer to work through your question, and potentially fix your problem.

A bare-bones example of what you need will improve this a lot, and will help you make the most out of your lab appointment.

Tip 6: File feedback

This tip applies mostly to the period after WWDC. Once WWDC is over and we start spending actual time with new APIs, and we start testing our own apps on the latest Xcode version, bug will start showing themselves. Presented APIs might be missing features that you'd love to have, iOS 15 might do interesting things to your app, or maybe Xcode 13 crashes every time you do something specific.

No matter what your feedback is, file it as soon as you can.

Don't expect that others will already have filed your feedback. Even if they have, the more duplicates Apple gets, the more likely it is that your feedback is eventually bumped to the top of the list. This means that it's more likely that your bugs get fixed, and that your feature requests get implemented when you file your feedback.

I know that Apple has a history of not always responding to feedback, and that it can be very time consuming to file feedback. But if there is a perfect time for you to do it, it's during the big beta cycle that starts with WWDC.

In Summary

WWDC is a hectic time for everybody. I think it's most important that you focus on taking it easy, not giving in to that fear of missing out, and not trying to learn everything in one week. Consume WWDC content at your own pace, and focus on what's relevant to you unless it's simply something you're super interested in even though it might not be something that you can apply in your work just yet.

I hope that these tips help you make the most of your WWDC experience, and that you'll be able to enjoy this WWDC as much as I've always enjoyed mine!

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