Waiting for WWDC

Once upon a time Apple would announce dates for their World-Wide Developer Conference and those of us who were interested would calmly begin planning our trip. The only urgency came from making sure to buy a ticket in time to get the earlybird price.

Those were the days. Now, the announcement of WWDC dates triggers a mad rush to buy tickets before they’re gone. Don’t hesitate, don’t think, or the decision is made for you. Last year tickets were gone in less than an hour. Marcus Zarra tells the story from a couple of years ago of buying a ticket on his iPad while waiting in line at passport control while returning to the USA from NSConference. That seems a little nuts except that if he’d waited until a more convenient time there wouldn’t have been any tickets to buy.

So in recent years we’ve seen the rise of services that promise to notify you as soon as the announcement is made– including mine. I started doing this in 2011, using code on my web host that would

  1. Periodically load the WWDC page
  2. Compare the current page to a copy saved from the previous check
  3. If the page has changed, update an RSS feed

To this I added an RSS –> push notification service via Urban Airship and an iPhone app that would receive those pushes. In theory, the app would receive a push within one minute of an update to the WWDC page. There would be false alarms because I wasn’t parsing or scraping the WWDC page, only comparing the new version to the previous one.

Apple rejected the app for having minimal functionality, which I suppose was accurate. I sent ad-hoc builds to a few friends and that was it.

Last year I realized I could get around the need for an app by using Boxcar.app. Boxcar receives push notifications of various kinds on iOS devices and– what interested me– has a public API you can use to develop your own push service. There’s also a process by which you can submit your service for review and possible inclusion in their public service directory. I replaced the RSS feed with a Boxcar service and submitted it for approval. It’s now a public Boxcar service, which means that anyone could sign up to get those pushes.

And it worked! My phone woke me up with an early morning push notification. I dragged myself out of bed, bought my ticket, and went back to bed. Had I slept in until my usual time I would have missed out.

I hesitated before bringing it back this year. A couple of months ago there were about 1800 subscribers, and it occurs to me that I might be part of the problem.

It’s back this year, and it’s still free. Use it at your own risk– there are too many details that are out of my hands for me to make any kind of service guarantee.

If you use it, there are a couple of things you should know:

  1. Expect false alarms. I’ve tried to err on the side of accidentally sending notifications that aren’t needed rather than risking missing one.

  2. Make sure Boxcar is working for you. In a recent false alarm, some people reported not getting a push. Sign up for one of Boxcar’s other services that sends pushes more often– for example, the Twitter push service. If Boxcar’s not working right on your device, I can’t do anything about it, so make sure it can send you pushes.