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Google I/O 2012, Google’s annual developer conference, just wrapped up. In this post, we share are our experiences, observations, and thoughts about some of the most important developer announcements.
This year, like last year, a variety of I/O sessions were presented live online, which anyone could watch from the convenience of their home or office. In addition, Google and GTUGs hosted viewing parties for free at locations around the world, allowing developers to gather and network within a more local context. With all the information from Google I/O available for free, you may wonder why anyone would pay $900 for a ticket plus the traveling expenses necessary to be there in person. This article will share our own perspective on what made the trip worthwhile!
Ultimately, attending I/O is all about the people and making face-to-face, in person connections. With 6,000 attendees, countless Googlers, press, and Google partners on site, there are a lot of people of interest in a relatively small area. Key Googlers are available to casually chat, answer questions, or point developers in the right direction. At no other time during the year are Google staff more accessible to the average Joe or Jane developer than at this conference. As developers and authors of various Android books and articles, we also try to balance our time between talking to business contacts and just hanging out with our readers.
Another key benefit of being around so many talented folks is that you will get a really good feeling about what others are doing in the ecosystem. You will be exposed to ideas and discussions involving many different technologies, including Android, App Engine, and perhaps something else you've never even heard of before. The partner booths might hint at what is coming next in the pipeline and the crowded mealtimes help throw you together with other like-minded developers. Inevitably, you'll also end up talking to someone of interest in one of the many, many lines you'll find yourself waiting in.
Yes, lines. From the line that wrapped around the breakfast room before the very first keynote to the lines for picking up conference swag like the Nexus Q, be assured, waiting in lines at I/O is an inevitable part of the experience. Even pit stops need to be carefully scheduled so as to avoid the crowds. Most aren't particularly long (the keynote ones excluded) and everyone is going to the same place, so usually you have at least one thing in common. If not, you'll have time to check your email on your phone or tablet -wait, what if you don’t have one? Don’t worry, you’ll usually get something of the kind for free while at the conference. Google is really good at swag.
While Google I/O this year was lengthened to three days long, there were still just two keynotes. Day 1 was primarily about Android, with Android 4.1, Jelly Bean, being announced and a walk-through of the various user-level features that it introduces. There were several other tidbits that we found either interesting or important:
- The 1 million device activations per day statistic floating around does not count non-Google experience devices or, supposedly, devices not connected to a carrier.
- 400 million Android devices sold total to date.
- 600,000 apps in Google Play with 20 billion app installations to date.
- Two new devices available from Google Play and other retailers: Nexus 7 and Nexus Q, both running Android.
In the past, we've noted that I/O keynotes are less for developers and more for users and the press. While most of the new Jelly Bean features that were talked about do have new APIs, they weren't talked about from that point of view. Jelly Bean is simply a minor (point) update of Ice Cream Sandwich, so huge changes weren't expected. Project Butter, the attempt to make the overall Android system as responsive and "buttery" smooth as possible, was the primary push. With optimizations at every level, including the SDK, all apps should benefit to one degree or another.
New convenience features, such as Google Now cards and expanded notifications, are mixed from a developer perspective. Will developers be able to integrate with Google Now and create their own cards? On the other hand, the changed notifications allow for a far more useful notification pane, but apps will of course have to be updated to take advantage of all the new features.
New content was announced for Google Play. While this does not directly impact developers, users may be attracted by TV episodes and magazines. Or, at least they won't be detracted from the platform by the lack of these types of content any longer.
In order to hear about all the new features of Jelly Bean, developers had to attend the appropriate I/O sessions to learn more.
Google+ announcements were made, mostly for users, and on Day 2, Chrome headlined with several announcements, including 310 million active Chrome users and the release of Chrome for iOS. Next came various informational updates about Google Apps and Google Drive. We didn't find out about a whole lot new here. Google App Engine with Google Compute Engine was announced, which allows for massive scale computational projects to be completed, such as a keynote demonstration using 600,000 cores. Having more choice in massive scale computational solutions is good for everyone. These sorts of systems can be used by researchers to work on the world's pressing problems without needing the up-front capital to buy hulking supercomputers of the type that in the past have only been affordable to governments.
The I/O sessions are where the meat of the learning takes place for developers. Most sessions are scheduled in advance, but there are several that aren't specifically listed until after the keynote announcements take place. These are listed as TBA in the schedule given to attendees and not even hinted at in the Google I/O 2012 app. Also, this year the schedule itself was very late to arrive.
This year, the content was denser than ever. Android had concurrent sessions all 3 days, so a developer on his or her own would miss about half the Android content. Chrome, Google APIs, and Cloud Services all had at least one day with concurrent sessions. Add in a variety of other tracks and you've got more than enough content to keep even the most diverse developers busy just going to sessions. Even the lunch break was generally only 45 minutes long (and yes, lunch had a line too).
While several announcements were made during sessions, most of this information was along the lines of updates you'd normally see on the various Google blogs.
In past years, we've been able to attend a few non-Android sessions, but this year even catching all the interesting Android sessions was impossible. The ones we did catch, though, had some similar themes: update your app to the latest best practices, make your app perform buttery smooth, intelligently monetize your app, and don't forget to market your app after release.
About the only session that we attended that didn't talk about any of that was the Accessory Development Kit 2.0 session. Here, they talked about the ADK 2 changes as well as the features of the ADK 2012 hardware (which all session attendees received). Last year, the ADK session, which presented ADK for the first time, was so full many people were turned away (okay, we are still a little peeved about this!). However, this year, the room was much larger and everyone got in who wanted to (including us).
Like many conferences, there were Googlers and third party developers and partners displaying and demonstrating their products and services. This gives attendees access to experts and fellow developers to ask questions and see new tech. This showcase, called the sandbox, was only available the first two days of the conferences. We, and other attendees, would have liked it all three days to better find time to peruse the sandbox and attend important sessions. Maybe next year?
Of course, representatives from Google, hardware manufacturers, chip makers, software developers, service providers, and everyone in-between were present. Some were just there to show what they've created using Google technologies. Others, such as Intel, were showing how their own technologies can help Android developers and manufacturers.
So, Is it Worthwhile?
In short, yes! But, after all the talk about lines, not getting into sessions, and not even getting to see all the third party booths, you may still be wondering. As mentioned previously, the interaction with other people -- the ones you just met or old friends and acquaintances -- is more than worthwhile. Being able to set up meetings, talk about business opportunities, and share "war" stories in a casual setting (parties, meals, lines) are all important, too.
The icing on the cake is, of course, the swag. Besides little bugdroid plastic tubs full of jelly beans, the official I/O shirt, and the occasional other handouts (such as a dinosaur thumb drive our daughter has already claimed as her own), attendees also walked away with swag well in excess of the retail value of their tickets ($900 USD). The financial gain of this isn't worthwhile (travel and lodging costs aren't cheap), but developers benefited in getting their hands on new tech before the public. Both an Android smartphone and a tablet with Jelly Bean were handed out. This is a pretty nice business benefit for those with shipping apps!
The Home I/O Experience
For fun, do you want to get the experience of attending I/O from the comfort of home? You can come close...using various Google Technologies, of course!
First, get yourself some jellybeans to snack on. Start a hangout (on Google+) with some friends. Go pick a YouTube playlist, such as this Google I/O 2012 Develop list for Android. Watch it. Of course, you'll want to find some lines to stand around in too, just to keep things authentic. The only caveat is that you shouldn't try the skydiving at home! ;)
When it comes to getting your hands on all the great gear from I/O, you'll need to order the Galaxy Nexus GSM ($399 at the time, now $349 with Jelly Bean), the Nexus 7 ($199), Nexus Q ($299), and Samsung Chromebox ($329), which were all handed out. All except the Chromebox can be purchased (or pre-ordered) on Google Play. The Chromebox is available from various retailers. The total cost will likely be less than what you would have paid for tickets, airfare, and lodging...just don't forget to add on a pound or two of jelly beans! :)
The vast majority of the educational content from Google I/O 2012 is all available freely online. The in-person experiences, however, can't be beaten. This year had a variety of announcements useful for Android, Chrome, and web developers alike. While the free gear was nice, we didn't talk to anyone who was there just for the swag (or would admit to it, anyway!). It really is a developer conference, with all of the attendees we talked to being actual developers, not just business folks. For more information and links to videos of all the sessions, visit the official I/O 2012 web site before the content gets replaced by hints of Google I/O 2013. And don't forget to talk about it on social networks using the hashtag #io12.
About the Authors
Mobile developers Lauren Darcey and Shane Conder have coauthored several books on Android development: an in-depth programming book entitled Android Wireless Application Development (now in it's third edition as a two-volume set) and Sams Teach Yourself Android Application Development in 24 Hours. When not writing, they spend their time developing mobile software at their company and providing consulting services. They can be reached at via email to firstname.lastname@example.org, via their blog at androidbook.blogspot.com, and on Twitter @androidwireless.
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