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Apple is growing; why not WWDC?

Apple is growing; why not WWDC?

If everything Apple does is growing so well, why isn't the company "growing" its Worldwide Developers Conference? Live stream: WWDC keynote.

Tickets for WWDC 2013, June 10-14 in San Francisco, went on sale at 1 p.m. EDT today. By 1:02 p.m. EDT, they were gone.

People trying to log in or complete their purchase suddenly found themselves staring at the WWDC equivalent of the Blue Screen of Death: "Sorry, tickets are sold out. However, you will still be able to take advantage of great WWDC content. Stay tuned for exciting announcements on videos and more."

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That's not likely to mollify the many disappointed and angry developers, though it may hint that Apple is considering faster posting of WWDC sessions on video, instead of waiting until the conference is over, or possibly granting some kind of online access.

Last year, tickets sold out in under two hours, sparking anger from West Coasters who woke up to learn tickets were gone before they even knew they were available. 

For 2013, Apple this week pre-announced the time when tickets would become available, so everyone knew. But the forewarning may only have intensified the anger and disappointment over the abrupt sellout. Developers and users took to online forums today to complain.

"I'd say one event a year no longer suffices," wrote Andy-V in a comment at MacRumors.

"I logged in at 1pm EST....looks like i should have pre logged in because typing my email/password took too long :(," posted Rudy69.

"Sold out in 90 seconds," wrote abhsc. "Crazy, I managed to sign in and then had an error page again and again, then sold out. Appalling."

Another, Sweetbrat, disagreed with MacRumors' Eric Slivka, who praised Apple's slick processing of the huge transaction load. "There were a lot of people that received errors as they were trying to confirm their tickets, so it didn't go as smoothly as you seem to think." Sweetbrat wrote. "Apple really needs to find a better way to handle this. A lottery might be a better option. When 'first come, first served' becomes luck of the draw based on if the site is working or not, something needs to change."

Their complaints underline a striking mismatch. At this week's earnings conference call, Apple CEO Tim Cook touted Apple's growth in revenues, profits, in sales of iPhones and iPads, in the number of apps being written, published and downloaded on the iTunes App Store. All of which shows a still growing wave of new users and new developers to the Apple ecosystem.

Yet, WWDC attendance remains, apparently, a single event, capped at 5,000.

It's not as though this is, or should be, a surprise to Apple event planners. After last year's two-hour sellout, Ars Technica's Jacqui Cheng underlined the problem with a pointed headline: "Can Apple revamp the WWDC ticket system? Does it want to?"

Her story notes that opening of the App Store in 2008 signaled a steep climb in WWDC attendance, which Apple capped that same year at 5,000. That was also the first year that WWDC was a sellout event.

"Since then, the WWDC ticket situation has only intensified," Cheng wrote in 2012, despite the big jump in a ticket's price, to $1,599.

In 2013, it's deja vu all over again.

Options that developers suggested in Cheng's story included: making use of the full Moscone Conference Center, instead of just half of it; split up the conference into multiple events, based on some criteria such as geography, audience or operating system; using a lottery system to offer tickets, or limit the number of tickets sold per hour based on geography for example.

One area not yet publicly explored at least is recasting WWDC in whole or in part as a virtual event, using video, slides, real-time interactive sessions, video and text chat, in short the tools that Apple's products are actively bringing to their users.

Apple is justly proud that its customers don't just use but love the company's products. Maybe those same products could be used to share the love with those that won't be trekking to San Francisco this year. Again.

John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World. Twitter: @johnwcoxnww Email: [email protected]

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