How Apple Hosted a Large Virtual Tech Conference During a Pandemic

For the first time in its decades-long history, the event was completely virtual due to the coronavirus pandemic. That meant it was a developer event with no developers present and a tech “conference” that looked a lot like a long, prerecorded commercial. (Apple did not respond to a request for comment on whether the presentations were live or not.)

Behind the scenes, the Apple team had to do much more than practice presentations and demos. Temperature controls, social distancing and masks were some of the priorities for those who created the event.

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Rather than taking the stage to applause in a crowded venue, Apple CEO Tim Cook kicked off the event on Monday with grim remarks about racism and pandemic from the empty Steve Jobs theater.

What followed was a procession of Apple executives who showed up from an empty gym, a quiet parking lot, and a lone lab identified as “in an undisclosed location.” Although some of these spaces were located at Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, California, two executives were not seen in the same room at the same time, in an apparent assent to social distancing.

At the end of the keynote, after Apple unveiled new ways to organize apps, a plan to start using its own chips for its Mac computers, and an upcoming feature that will allow people to unlock cars with their iPhones, a screen note the details of the precautions that Apple took to put everything together.

These include daily health screenings and temperature checks, as well as social distancing, according to the company. The company also said that everyone used facial coats, except for executives who were filming on camera, and that only one team and the presenter were at each location during production. The company added that it followed the public health guidelines provided by Santa Clara County, “as well as additional health and safety measures.”

For Carolina Milanesi, a consumer technology analyst at Creative Strategies who has attended many Apple events over the years, these details of the company’s process were “very Apple.” It shows how seriously the company is taking the pandemic, he said.

However, while he felt the company delivered a well-produced digital event, he noted that Monday’s announcements focused on the software, which may be easier to demonstrate remotely than a device. Showing a new iPhone, for example, which Apple usually does in September, can be much more complicated if it cannot be done in person.