Inside Apple's Geekfest

Reporters are cleared out of Apple's developers conference after Monday's keynote. Whoops.
Reporters are supposed to be cleared out of Apple's developer conference after the keynote is over Monday morning. But they missed one.

After most of the press had been shooed off, Apple and a few thousand of its favorite geeks got down to business. The message: Apple software is part of the mainstream now. Between the iPhone, the iPod Touch, and its desktop and laptop computers, Apple tells developers they can now reach an audience of 80 million users.

"The Mac is a great deal that fits in anywhere, and by anywhere I mean the office environment," Guy "Bud" Tribble, vice president of software technology at Apple, told a hall packed with developers.

And although two of the third-party applications showed off to the press and public during Monday morning's keynote address were embarrassingly ridden with glitches, the demos shared with developers once the press had left were more enlightening.

One presentation showed how making better use of all a processor's cores--a technology Apple calls Grand Central--can turn a jerky simulation of 12,000 objects orbiting our planet into a smooth, stunning animation.

Not that Apple employees were eager to chat with absent-minded reporters who forgot to ask whether they were welcome to hang out or not. Rank-and-file Apple geeks roamed the halls, but they declined to comment. Many Apple partners were shy too. "I really shouldn't talk to you," one Intel employee said.

The consensus among those who would talk was that Apple had skipped going for a big "wow" to push what it already does very well to new levels. "I was hoping for a bigger surprise, but this is pretty much what I expected," said Eli Ben-Yakar of Worldmate, which makes mobile travel applications.

The surprise most geeks were hoping for: Steve Jobs. Apple's chief executive is out on medical leave through the end of June. Developers, however, were hoping he would make a cameo appearance at the conclusion of the morning's keynote. He didn't. "I was disappointed Steve did not show up at the very end," conceded Alex Horvitz, chief technology officer at the Brookside Group.

There were other appearances for the geeks to gossip about, however. One was the return to Apple of Craig Federighi, a long-time protégé of Apple senior vice president of software engineering Bertrand Serlet. Federighi left Apple in 1999 for Ariba, where he was chief technology officer. He made a brief appearance on stage Monday morning.

Developers took Federighi's return as vice president of Mac OS as a sign that Serlet can still draw top software development talent. And while the updates to Apple's OS X and iPhone OS X were even geekier than usual, developers say, for once, Apple is under-hyping where some of these technologies can go.

Kyle Kinkade of Black Pixel Software, for example, was thrilled to see Apple's new phone, the iPhone 3G S, will be able to tell you what direction it is pointing. He plans to take advantage of that capability for a game the company is working on called "Gunslinger" that can turn your iPhone into a virtual weapon for zapping other phone users. "We're not focusing on a character on the screen. We're focused on you as the character," Kinkade says.

Imagine that, a videogame you can play outside.

BY Brian Caulfield

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