We shouldn't read too much into the fact that WWDC sold out in under two minutes this year. In fact, we should get away from caring at all how fast it sells out.
At first glance, Apple seems to have set an impressive record compared to previous years:
- 2008 – 2 months
- 2009 – 1 month
- 2010 – 8 days
- 2011 – 10 hours
- 2012 – 2 hours
- 2013 – 2 minutes
What's different this year, however, is that availability was announced 24 hours in advance. Everybody knew exactly when to be at their computers with their fingers poised over their keyboards. The moment tickets went on sale, many thousands of people around the world hit Apple's web site at the same time — many more than the number of available tickets.
This means the two-minute sellout time tells us nothing about customer interest or demand. It only tells us how fast Apple's servers were at taking orders. And even that's not quite true; it's not clear how many, but Apple had to call some people on the phone to complete orders that the servers had messed up. You could argue that WWDC didn't really sell out until every one of those people got their ticket — and again, that revised time interval wouldn't reflect on the level of demand, only on the efficiency of the order-taking mechanism.
How fast would WWDC have sold out if the servers had worked flawlessly? Not only don't we know; we shouldn't care. We're beyond bragging rights about who can put up the "sold out" sign faster, or whether we were faster this year than last. Everybody knows that WWDC, like Google I/O, has way more demand than supply, and it doesn't seem that'll change soon.
There have been suggestions to prioritize customers by some measure of merit, like old-timers first or newcomers first, but I don't agree. Or rather, I mostly don't. John Siracusa writes about a time when rushing to buy a ticket actually made a difference:
I wanted to preserve at least some aspect of the process that rewarded the most enthusiastic Apple fans: the people who are willing to be roused from bed at 2 a.m. and rush to their computers to buy tickets; the crazy ones; the people who just want it more.
I too would love to see this aspect preserved; I am, after all, one of the crazy ones. But Siracusa goes on to say that we're beyond that now, and I agree with that.
Things being as they are, I think every interested customer should get an equal chance at a ticket. I agree with Siracusa that a lottery, which would slow down the ticket-buying process, is the best way to accomplish this. What Apple should focus on is not speed, but selling its limited number of tickets in an orderly, reliable way with a minimum of stress for its customers.