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The International Watch Parties of WWDC

Shut out of Apple’s big event? You’re not alone.

Getty/Ringer illustration
Getty/Ringer illustration

Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) wasn’t always a three-ring circus. Before there were surprise performances or highly produced video montages, WWDC was a much simpler thing. It was first held in 1983, and a quick YouTube stroll through WWDCs of years past reveals how truly uncool it was. Sure, there’s a clapping (laughing, even!) audience, but there are no flashy graphics, bass-thumping tracks, or surprise celebrity presenters. The 1997 keynote started with a dad joke: “Good morning. It’s Friday already. I don’t know how that happened!”

Apple then wasn’t Apple now, of course, weathering many well-documented management battles, redefining its product line, and becoming the mega hardware and mobile company it is today. The App Store and iOS created a new global economy, one that developers around the world totally depend on, and so naturally WWDC became A Big Deal to people around the world. Demand and ticket prices skyrocketed. This year, entry costs $1,599, and there’s a capped amount — in order to even buy a ticket, you had to enter a lottery. It’s a huge ask for any app developer pining to go, but an even bigger one for firms not located in the Bay Area. (If you thought AirBnbs and Uber surge pricing was already expensive in San Francisco …)

“Unfortunately this year we were not able to secure tickets, not because of the price, but the registration system that worked on a lottery basis,” STRV event manager Teresa Caklova told me in an email. Thankfully, in 2012, Apple finally started livestreaming the event (and we all got to start making the same joke about using Safari), and because of that, tech’s version of an NFL draft viewing party was born: The WWDC Livestream Watch Party. Anxious developers gather at their offices, homes, and bars, in groups small and large, and await news that will result in either ambitious excitement or beer-laced disappointment.

STRV has offices in the U.S. and Europe but is headquartered in Prague, and on Monday is holding its first WWDC watch party at 7 p.m. (Prague time). The company has held internal watch parties for interested employees for a few years since the livestream has been available; before there was even an available livestream, they would huddle around just to see live news updates rolling in. But this year STRV decided to go big — it’s expecting about 150 attendees. Will there be cheers? Drunken enthusiasm for App Store pricing updates?

“The feelings are mostly positive and exciting,” says Caklova, who notes that it seems similar to what being in the audience at the real deal is like. “We’ll see about this year … people tend to express their feelings openly.”

The App Store is larger than ever, with a bigger international reach. According to Apple, more than 100 billion apps have been downloaded from the App Store and developers have earned more than $40 billion thanks to it (numbers that will likely be updated Monday). At the same time, a significant portion of the developer community has become disillusioned with this economy; the idea of actually making money this way feels less and less feasible.

Monday’s news is more than just an excuse for a party — especially for Apple’s global development market, which sells to a foreign demographic. (The U.S. downloads more apps than any other country.) “Attending WWDC is all about money and time,” says Lukáš Strnadel, the CEO and creative director of The Funtasty, a software and mobile development company based in Czech Republic. He estimates that a trip to WWDC would cost him 96,000 koruna, or about $4,000. (“In a Czech perspective, that’s a lot of money.”) But Strnadel still wants to go, for the show, but also for the future of his business. “It’s really good for some networking and meeting interesting people.” This year, he will host a party of 40 to 60 people at a coworking space in the Czech Republic.

Stefan Kahlert, the CEO of a software company called BRIDGE2THINK, was there in person for WWDC in 2014, but won’t be attending this year. Instead, he’s hosting a small get-together in Basel, Switzerland. He entered the lottery but pulled out since at the moment, he doesn’t have an app in the App Store. He says he plans to go next year, “if I can get a ticket.” On Monday, though, he’ll gather with his group and watch it unfold around 6 p.m. local time, and he doesn’t expect the scene to get quite as raucous as it will in San Francisco. “Swiss and German people are usually quite reserved, so I don’t expect too many emotions,” he says. “But I certainly expect heated discussions afterwards. Especially between Android vs. iOS advocates.”

Kahlert also points out that developers based outside the United States have always had challenges getting to WWDC. Before 2014, tickets were first come, first served, giving U.S.–based hopefuls a better shot. Why risk a flight to the U.S. and an expensive stay when you may not even get to go to the event? “The lottery system is more of a level playing field,” he says.

WWDC is more than just Monday’s keynote, of course: Events and smaller sessions throughout the week are dedicated to developers — and these are arguably even more crucial. There are also various networking events and job opportunities, and of course those can’t be attended via livestream. The entire week has become a giant, boozy career fair and expo — and the bigger the App Store gets and more exclusive WWDC becomes, the more people are left out.

“The important stuff happens later in the session or the ‘platform state of the union,’ which is the second ‘nerd’ keynote,” Kahlert says. Despite any inklings of being left out, though, there will be plenty of pre-keynote excitement come Monday: Maybe Apple will finally open up certain APIs and apps that developers are dreaming of can finally be created … or things could go the exact opposite way. “Every developer is a bit afraid that their app gets ‘Sherlocked,’ which means Apple launches an app that makes their own obsolete.”

Vikram Kriplaney, a software engineer and team lead at mobile engineering company local.ch, went to WWDC from 2011 to 2013, but will be at a watch party in his local Zurich this year. While he’s got an eye on MacBook, iOS 10, and Apple Watch news, there’s also a game to be played. “We play a game of counting the number of times Apple speakers say ‘Absolutely gorgeous,’ and ‘Best ever.’”

And what does Strnadel expect from his first WWDC watch party? An excited audience, and maybe a few “jokes about some new features.”

He’s got his fingers crossed for one thing in particular, though: “Maybe Siri will speak Czech after Monday. We will see.”