This year, Apple will charge you for a ticket the second you are eligible to purchase it. And that charge is non-refundable. No more cancellations. Which means a fairer distribution of tickets, as people and companies are only signing up if they have a true intent to go to the conference.
The down side of this policy is that it wrings a little bit more of the social from the conference. Two friends can no longer make tentative plans to go to the conference if they both get in. True, they can go solo, but that’s not the same thing, especially for people who only see each other at dev conferences like WWDC.
Update: I’ve done some research and while I could find plenty of conferences that have a lottery-style ticket system, and plenty of other conferences that don’t offer refunds, I wasn’t able to find a similar conference where tickets are distributed at random and cannot be refunded. I understand Apple’s motivation here, but there’s a social aspect to WWDC that takes place both inside and outside of Moscone West. Non-ticketholders can’t participate in any of the fun stuff within the conference; they must plan to meet up elsewhere. And that’s really tough when people only have five days to meet up.