Last week I had the pleasure of attending this year’s Google I/O. Before I got too far removed from the conference, I thought I would try to capture my impressions and thoughts about last week.
The keynote clearly wasn’t as tight as WWDC keynotes and frankly not as cohesive as past I/O conferences. Lots of bits were spilled last week in the aftermath, and I will spare you a retread of the common complaints. I do think though that a majority of the problems stemmed from the lack of a unifying theme or major tent-pole announcement. It is tough to build a substantive keynote around the smaller, more strategic moves Google announced. That being said, I cannot argue with the complaints about the “blocking and tackling” problems Google had during the keynote, especially at a conference this big.
The keynote did not include an announcement incrementing the Android API level. Many took that as Google wavering on their commitment to the platform. Watching in-person, I had the opposite impression, and the subsequent Android sessions during the week reaffirmed that.
The Google Play Services and the r13 Android Support Library UI enhancements showed us how Google plans to curb the fragmentation issues which have plagued the platform. By packaging these enhancements in libraries that are compatible back to Froyo and immediately available for integration, Google enabled developers to get these new features and services into the hands of users quickly. This eliminates the dependency Google had previously on handset manufactures to integrate new Android releases on their current and older devices.
Many have questioned the long term viability of the Android platform for Google as companies like Amazon and Samsung seek ways to circumvent or minimize Google’s influence on their products. The approach that Google adopted has provided a way forward that serves their needs as well as developers. That is a big deal.
Comparison to WWDC
The content and variety of sessions at both conferences are excellent. On the whole, WWDC’s sessions appeared to be more polished and rehearsed when compared to the I/O sessions. I found the I/O sessions tended to be a little more light-hearted and included more variety in the session structure (fireside chats, interactive labs), which added to the enjoyment of the sessions and kept them from becoming monotonous. Both conferences provide a tremendous amount of access to the engineering teams directly working on the frameworks and services developers interact with daily. These opportunities for interaction are easily the most valuable parts of each conference. While the Apple labs at WWDC predominantly allowed for one-on-one interaction with their engineers, Google made their engineers available in an Office Hours setting that had the engineers holding court for small groups around white boarded areas in the conference hall. If you had particular questions, the WWDC labs could not be beaten for access and personal attention. If you were interested in picking up some tips and inside information about your favorite Google developer topics, then the I/O office hours are great.
My biggest gripes about I/O are mainly with the logistics and the infrastructure at the conference. The most popular talks were being held in rooms that could have quickly been filled if they were four times the size. The bigger tracks like Android and Chrome would have benefitted from closer proximity. Instead, they were spread over two floors. That would’ve made bouncing between sessions easier and eased up the congestion around the escalators and the other traffic hotspots on the levels. The session rooms themselves were stuffy and hot during the talks and especially so in the popular sessions, which typically had crowds sitting along the walls and in the aisles. While the range of these complaints spans from the minor (too crowded at times) to significant (uncomfortably hot rooms) annoyances, they still detract from an otherwise excellent conference experience. The best thing about these issues is that they are fixable. Hopefully, Google will make some changes to eliminate these issues from future conferences.
External Conference Activities
The best parts of conferences are social interactions, and Google I/O was no different. I kicked off the week at the Meatup.io, made my way out to Twitter for their Mobile Showcase lightning talks, and capped the week off by going to a meetup-style discussion on Android testing at a local startup. It was great to meet so many great developers and engineers at these events, and it was nice to be able to thank so many of the project creators and maintainers in person for their contributions to Android’s open-source community.
I had a fantastic time at Google I/O. I’m still chewing on and trying to process all the great content, conversations, and code that I was exposed to last week. I highly recommend Google I/O, and if you are fortunate to get an opportunity to attend a future event, I strongly urge you to go. Spending a week with 6,000 passionate and excited developers is a fantastic way to immerse yourself in learning and explore new technologies and services.
- Volley: Easy, Fast Networking for Android
- Structure in Android App Design
- Taking Advantage of Android Platform Features
- The New Android SDK Build System