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The Origin Story

How did VisionDevCamp come to be? Let’s step back 16 years to the launch of iPhone…

Steve Jobs preparing to announce iPhone

At Macworld Expo on January 9th, 2007, in San Francisco, Apple announced iPhone. I was at the event on a press pass relating to my work at the time as an Industry Analyst for The 451 Group and a part-time Mac OS X contributing writer for various publications and sites. In the seat to my left in the press section was Blake Burris, who later became one of the founders of iPhoneDevCamp and to my right was John Gruber of Daring Fireball. We were kids in a candy store that day and blown away by the device. Also of note is how poor the resolution is of the photo I took of Steve Jobs and the keynote stage from my seat in the press section with a pre-iPhone “camera phone”. How far we’ve come with digital cameras over the past two decades.

Look, but don’t touch…

iPhone wasn’t quite ready for the public. Unlike the original Macintosh, which was introduced in January 1984 and sold to consumers in April 1984, Apple was announcing the device a full six months in advance of the ship date. There were no hands-on demos that day and the closest I could get to an iPhone was watching it rotate inside a lucite cylinder on the show floor. Even then, I had to queue up to get close to the cylinder based on the strong interest by attendees. At one point, a security guard asked me to back up as I approached the cylinder for a close-up photo. I suspect that he was worried my phone might scratch the cylinder.

At WWDC on June 11th, 2007, Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced that web development was the path forward for iPhone developers. The Mac developers at the event were more than disappointed in the lack of a native SDK. They felt left out.

To help counteract the negativity in the Apple development community, I called Chris Messina (who some of you will know as the creator of the #hashtag) as we had been working on an open source community project together at the time. I proposed the creation of an event called iPhoneDevCamp to celebrate the launch of iPhone and embrace the development solution we were given by Apple – web development. Chris put me in touch with Dom Sagolla, one of founders of Twitter who had since taken a role at Adobe. Dom offered to help out and was able to get Adobe to host the event at their San Francisco office. Others joined in with myself, Chris, and Dom, including Christopher Allen, whurley, and also Blake Burris, who had sat next to me for the iPhone announcement.

The first person in the world lined up to buy an iPhone

Early in the week of the iPhone launch, I was in New York City to speak at an Open Source conference. A group I was having dinner with saw that a line had already started to form at the flagship Fifth Avenue Apple Store near Central Park. It was Monday, June 25th, 2007. Myself, whurley, and Noel Hidalgo grabbed some video equipment and headed over to interview the first two people in line (video) to buy an iPhone – Greg Packer and David Clayman. We even created a website for Greg Packer (I can’t believe that this site is still online) to help him raise money for food while in line, only to later learn that he was a “professional line sitter” (seriously, you have to read the Wikipedia article about Greg Packer). Whoops. He was not forthcoming about this in our discussions. I did go back and confront Greg about this the next day. He later mailed me an apology letter. I don’t even think Greg bought an iPhone. Maybe he sold his place in line, I don’t know. I had left New York City by then.

My ten-hour wait to buy an iPhone

Then came my long wait on Friday, June 29th, 2007. The iPhone would go on sale at 6pm local time in the US. I arrived at my local Apple Store in Portland, Oregon, early that morning and waited on the floor of the mall with hundreds of other people queued up to buy an iPhone. I showed up around the same time as the team from Panic. You can see Steven Frank in the background with glowing eyes and Cabel Sasser (or it may have been Neven Mrgan, it’s difficult to tell at that angle) upfront with a Daring Fireball t-shirt. I’m in white, talking to a reporter from The Oregonian. He wanted to know what compelled people to wait in line so long to buy an iPhone. It wasn’t my first line for an Apple event and it wouldn’t be my last, that’s for sure.

From July 6th though July 8th, 2007, just a week after the US launch of iPhone, several hundred people attended iPhoneDevCamp in a celebration of the new device and pushed the limits of what was possible with mobile web development on Apple’s new platform. From the inception of the idea on June 11th to hosting th event on July 6th was just 25 days. Those were some busy days.

Hanging out with Dom Sagolla at Macworld Expo 2009

We accomplished some amazing things with web development in the early days of iPhone, but people wanted more than just web development. Remember those disappointed Mac developers at WWDC a few months prior? On October 17th, 2007, Steve Jobs posted a letter entitled, “Third Party Applications on the iPhone“, followed by a March 2008 Apple Special Event at Apple campus where the native SDK was previewed. We started planning for the next event – iPhoneDevCamp 2, which was held in summer 2008 and embraced both native SDK and web development for the platform. The energy at the event was palpable. Mac developers and web developers were working alongside one another to push the limits of the platform.

iPhoneDevCamp 3 in 2009 at Yahoo

With two successful events behind us, we decide to make this an annual gathering. In 2009, the event moved from Adobe to Yahoo and it was our biggest event ever with over 600 attendees, making it the largest gathering of Apple developers outside of Apple’s own WWDC conference. We also had the music artist, BT, perform at the event that year during a horrible mayfly infestation that resulted in people spitting bugs while dancing to BT’s music (even BT had his share of bug mouth). This was also the year that a team of enterprising iPhone developers created the first AR toolkit for iOS at our event. In 2010, we organized two events, hosted at eBay/PayPal – one for the launch of iPad entitled iPadDevCamp, in the spring, and the other was a combined iPhone & iPad event, entitled iOSDevCamp, in the summer. These events continued under the name iOSDevCamp until 2016, although other people hosted their own iOSDevCamp events in cities around the world until 2020.

Obama ’08 for iPhone app

iPhoneDevCamp, iPadDevCamp, and iOSDevCamp launched several high-profile projects and companies, some of which we cover on the History page. For me personally, I went on to be the Project Director for the official Obama ’08 for iPhone app for the 2008 Obama Campaign, which led to a phone call from Steve Jobs which I’ll never forget (when you watch enough Apple keynotes, you recognize Steve the moment he said “Hi” in the greeting, “Hi. This is Steve Jobs from Apple.” on the phone). After the Obama ’08 project, I created Small Society, an iPhone (and later, iPad) app development company, launching iOS apps for Starbucks, Zipcar, Whole Foods Market, the Democratic Party, Amazon, and many other well-known brands. In 2012, I sold Small Society to Walmart, where I directed the mobile product management team, launching a dozen mobile apps and mobile web sites for the world’s largest company.

After my time building apps for iOS from 2008 to 2015, I started a company focused on building applications for Microsoft HoloLens, a wearable mixed reality device that I believed would be a transformational product to usher in an era of spatial computing. For various reasons, including Microsoft being too early to market, a lack of sufficient demand in the enterprise, and the COVID-19 pandemic, problems arose for both Microsoft’s wearable product and my company dependent upon it. But I still believed strongly in the power of spatial computing. It would take more time and for this space to be redefined by Apple for spatial computing to find its foothold. I left the Microsoft ecosystem and returned to working with Apple technology in the area of shared augmented reality for live events with ARound.

Tim Cook preparing to announce Apple Vision Pro

At WWDC on June 5th, 2023, Apple announced Apple Vision Pro. I was lucky enough to win the ticket lottery to attend WWDC in-person. I hadn’t been to WWDC since 2012 and rumors were pointing to the release of an AR/VR headset by Apple. I couldn’t miss the opportunity to be there and to see Apple’s new headquarters, Apple Park, in person. This time, I was sitting next to a cherry tree outdoors under a canopy on a perfect June day in Cupertino. In Apple style, there was one more thing… I was blown away by the device, but the closest I could get to an Apple Vision Pro was looking at it mounted on a stainless steel rod in the Steve Jobs Theater demo room at Apple Park. It was still worth the trip.

Look, but don’t touch…

On the drive back to my hotel from the announcement at Apple Park, I pulled my car into a rest stop just off I-280 in the beautiful rolling hills near Stanford to do a call with the Voices of VR Podcast host, Kent Bye (who attended the first iPhoneDevCamp and later was my co-founder for the Portland Virtual Reality Meetup), about my first impressions of Apple Vision Pro (audio). When I returned home from the event a few days later and had more to time to process the details concerning Apple Vision Pro and visionOS, I knew that we had to create VisionDevCamp. A new platform launch from Apple is the time to return to our roots and create opportunities for teams of talented people to create magic together. I called Dom Sagolla and we decided to make it happen. We waited for Apple to do its phased rollout from WWDC until getting closer to the end of the year in its ramp-up to public release. We knew there would be a quiet period in late 2023 that would make for good timing to pre-announce the event and build momentum towards the Apple Vision Pro launch early next year.

Our goals remain faithful to our prior events – a not-for-profit developer event focused on creating applications for Apple’s first spatial computer. We do this because we’re inspired by Apple Vision Pro and visionOS. We hope you’ll join us at our event in early 2024.

Thank you.

Photos by Raven Zachary