Google IO Extended 2011

Since not all of us can go to Google IO, this year there was a local option, Google IO Extended. We held events on both days of Google IO in the Google offices in Dublin.

The first day, May 9th, we focussed on the Android stream, kicking it off with the keynote. The consensus was that there was nothing surprising in there. The tech that people seemed most excited about was Android @ Home, and the Arduino kit for Android accessories. The new software announcements were either not out yet or not available outside the US so that was a bit of a let down. That didn’t stop a number of us trying to get around those restrictions though! A few of us are now waiting on Google Music beta invites!

When Honeycomb was being talked about, we had one or two Honeycomb tablets in the audience thanks to our attendees, it made for a nice mix of seeing the highlights and playing with them while they were being talked about – it’s much easier to take in why some tech is great when it’s in your hands rather than just being talked about.

After Honeycomb Highlights we got some pizza, which we had way too much of! Then onto more IO with Android Protips. There was some great information in this talk if you are building native apps for Android and to keep them using best practice.

We ended early on the first day, wrapping up after this, around 9:00, sending people off with spare pizzas. There was still lots of chat and some feedback. Feedback for Google: when showing demos put them on the livestreams. Several times in talks the presenters were talking about demos and the demo wasn’t on the live stream so we didn’t know what was going on.

For the second day we focussed on the Chrome stream, and there was a strong response with that material – there was definitely more chat about the usefulness of this information and how it could be put into practice right now over the Android information the previous day.

On Chromebook, almost everyone I spoke to agreed that this was the first time they could see a reason for a Chromebook, Google made a compelling case in the Keynote. There was also some positive rabble when Angry Birds was announced for Google Chrome webstore!

Pizza was earlier on the second day, we had started to fade too early on the first day!

The demonstration of the audio analysis and visual effects with HTML5 had everyone impressed, that’s from the HTML5 wow talk. There was plenty of great demos in that talk in general, I was certainly taking some notes!

Moving onto Mobile Web Development, from Zero to Hero there was some great advice on how to build a web app to cater for lots of different devices. This is definitely something that Google needs to focus on. Their greatest strength with Android, the diversity, is also the biggest weakness, and this talk got across a number of approaches to help deal with these issues.

Finally we watched HTML5 & What’s Next, I was getting tired, so I didn’t see too much of this one! There was people who specifically wanted to see it though, if you learned something from it, let us know in the comments!

Between every session we would break out and chat – often not about Google IO talks we had just seen! Everybody present wanted a tablet and/or a Chromebook, unfortunately Google didn’t send them out to any of these events, but Sean will have got both at Google IO and I’m sure he’ll bring them along to the next meeting.

In summary, it was a great two days, definitely worth doing and worth doing again next year. I think it showed how useful having a break between sessions can be to chat with everybody, I think maybe having a slightly longer break at GTUG events in general might produce something similar.

Report on Google IO 2011

[I spent a few days in Boston after IO and only got around to writing this post on the plane back to Ireland.]

Overall, Google IO 2011 was a fascinating technical conference – definitely the best conference I’ve been to. (Most of the conferences I have previously attended are academic conferences and have quite a different feel).

Unfortunately, I missed the bootcamp, so the conference opened for me on the first day proper – next time, I’ll definitely make the effort to get to the bootcamp as I heard lots of good things about it.

The conference took place in the Moscone West and was attended by about 5000 folks; there was quite a diverse mix of folks in attendance – students, startup guys, people from classical techie companies as well as people from companies who were IT users rather than tech companies. The conference took place over the 3 floors of the Moscone, with the top floor totally dedicated to Android – a very clear message regarding how important Android is to Google – and the second floor showcasing a mix of Google technologies, ranging from Geo to dev tools to Apps, with a large area dedicated to Chrome. These areas were filled with companies who had been working with Google and Google gave them some space to show their wares.

The opening keynote was focused on Android. The Googlers talked about how usage of Android was rocketing with 400,000 new signups each day. They announced a music service and talked about the movie service which had been covered in the media the day before. They talked about support for more devices interacting with Android and Arduino based systems in particular – the audience did get quite excited about this. They talked about the new version of Android, named Ice Cream Sandwich, and some of the features it would provide; one which is very important is a means to upgrade the OS easily which they claim has buy-in from key device manufacturers. Finally, they talked about the new Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, a new Honeycomb tablet from Samsung, and announced that everyone would get one.

After the keynote, the multi-stream session format commenced and there was a wealth of content to chose from. I didn’t go to very many of the talks and I’m not going to cover them here, save to say a couple of words about the more interesting ones I attended below.

I spent a little bit of time hanging out at the GTUG lounge – I was there with GTUGs after all.

On the second day, there was another keynote, this one focused on Chrome. This was a really interesting session with lots of interesting new announcments. They talked about how Chrome has evolved and how it is now a realistic platform for building apps – the Javascript engine is sufficiently fast now and the graphics support can give
excellent performance if WebGL acceleration is used. They discussed the new payment mechanisms which will be possible from within Chrome apps and the cut Google will take on these transactions. Finally, they talked about their vision for Chrome OS – this was particularly compelling to me. They plan on offering Chromebooks for $28/user/month to organizations and will provide a Chromebook to all of the attendees of the conference.

The highlight of the conference had to be the after party – this took place on the eve of the first day. As well as providing food and drink for everyone, the after party, named ‘The Infinite Playground’, provided a space to showcase lots of far out and very cool technology. Examples of the types of things on show included Sphero’s, Sifteos,YikeBikes, the GM EN-V, a motorbike that could expand and contract and a vehicle which could be used for both driving and flying. While the commercial angle on lots of these technologies was not clear, it was obvious that they were cool and innovative and the crowd really loved them. The after party really did try to communicate that Google at heart is an engineering company and loves engineering innovation (ie cool stuff!). Jane’s Addiction also played at the party, but I have to say that the dancing Android trumped them in my book.

Regarding the plethora of technical sessions – there were far too many interesting ones to cover them here. They are all on Youtube. I did really like one on the Prediction API and one on Protips for Android was quite nice.

Google IO is definitely one of the best technical conferences that takes place each year from many perspectives – fun, educational, networking – I’m going to make it my business to be there next year. Roll on IO 2012!

Hanging with the GTUG managers…

Prior to Google IO 2011, there was an opportunity to meet with GTUG managers from all over the world for the GTUG Managers Barcamp. Google hosted a session in their lovely San Francisco offices.

We have not been hugely involved with the larger GTUG community to date, tending to focus more on the local environment in Dublin, but this event provided the opportunity to learn how other folks run their GTUGs and what similarities and differences there are.

A few things struck me:

  • we are lucky to have such excellent support from Google – having the venue and the logistical support (from Jean) is something that most GTUGs don’t have and is something that does require resources (both time and money) to address;
  • we have been lucky to have had some attention from the DevRels – many of the GTUGs are keen to get more DevRels and we have already had Ade and Claudio come to visit in a relatively short space of time (we also had Nick Johnson give a talk when he was based in Dublin). I guess this is somewhat a function of how easy it is to get to Dublin from London and the fact that Google has a big presence in Dublin;
  • it’s interesting to note that there is a significant amount of people hanging around the startup world who are involved in GTUGs – I had never really thought about this, but there seems to be some nice synergy between Google and startups;

The event was run in unconference format, so there was a very wide diversity in the discussions – ranging from down’n’dirty tech discussions to what kind of emotions should people be leaving a GTUG event with.

I came away from the event feeling that we should have had more focus on what people feel is the primary purpose of their GTUG – they can (and do) fill many functions to varying degrees, eg providing feedback to Google, educational instruments, communities, recruitment grounds, etc. Answering the other questions around how to run them well should probably start with clarification on this. (Of course, my bad for not pushing this in the unconference format).

Another issue which I didn’t get a handle on was whether people largely think their GTUGs are working well, are not working well, or could be better. We feel that our group is largely working well, although there is always room for improvement.

Some nice ideas that came out of the event, which we may consider doing in Dublin:

  • have some kind of development competition which could run over a few weeks – eg people have to create a mobile app and there is some adjudication mechanism and a winner who might get a new phone (for example);
  • have a series of talks on a single technology – get really into the nitty gritty on one particular topic over a few months – it does require a bit of planning and choosing a topic in which there is sufficient interest, but this was reported to have worked well;
  • do something which is more of a fun event and probably would not be in Google – some kind of tech focused pub crawl (whatever that might actually be) might be interesting;
  • we should keep an eye on who’s speaking at nearby GTUGs and see if we can get some speakers from those events over if they are not so far away.

The last idea which Dan Franc from the Czech GTUG talked about was getting Miss Czech republic in for an event as a means to attract people – it was certainly an idea which involved thinking outside the box, although I’m not entirely sure it would work for us. D’you reckon we should make Emma Waldron an honorary GTUG member? 😉

Android Hackathon – April 2011

The second hacking session of the Dublin GTUG was held over the weekend of April 16/17 2011. (The first one was a one-day event held between Xmas and New Year’s in late 2010 – this one was very much a ‘dipping the toe in the water’ to assess demand, make first mistakes, etc). In essence, this was our first real hacking session in which we expected proper results.

About 20 folks turned up for the event, mostly developers with limited experience with Android, but had gone through the preparation material that Eoin had put together.

The basic structure of the event was such that folks spend some of Saturday morning discussing what apps they would like to build and Saturday afternoon and Sunday is focused on making stuff; a show and tell took place on Sunday at 6ish.

Folks had thrown out some ideas for apps prior to the event and one or two had come with thoughts which they threw out on Sat morn. This gave us a list of applications which we needed to whittle down and figure out which people wanted to work on. After talking through this list, we reduced the list to the following 5:

  • Virtual graffiti – use the accelerometer to make geo-tagged graffiti;
  • Nightlink waker – tag your stop and the phone will notify you when you come within range of your stop (wake you up if you’ve fallen asleep!);
  • Traffic congestion monitor – app which takes images from Dublin traffic cameras and shows how the traffic congestion has changed within the last hour;
  • UI Builder – an app which allows you to play with UIs on the phone – can be used when people are on the move and are thinking about new UIs;
  • Speech analysis tool – app which can determine if you’re talking too fast, useful in presentation context.

The teams busied themselves over the rest of Saturday afternoon and all through Sunday to produce something which works. At the show and tell, the teams had the following stories to tell:

  • Nightlink waker – this team did a really nice job of producing a simple application in which you can specify the bus route, choose one of the stops on the route and receive notifications when the device comes within a specified range (1km) of the stop;
  • Traffic congestion monitor – this team built an app which enables a user to select one of the traffic cams around Dublin city and view the last update from that traffic cam; they were working on making it possible to view traffic variations over the last period of time, but ran out of time on this feature;
  • Speech analysis tool – this team were able to leverage advanced functionality offered by Gingerbread which provides support for visualization of frequency analysis of an input signal to produce an app which generates the frequency response of the input voice signal: next steps involved analysis of the frequency of occurence of particular vowels and comparison with some reference/calibrated levels;
  • UI Builder – this team managed to develop an app in which it was possible to add UI components to a screen and configure them using the configuration options possible in Android. This layout information could then be sent somewhere and could then be incorporated into an app;
  • Virtual Graffiti – this team had some significant issues with finding any kind of realistic use case for virtual graffiti and switched to an app which records the use of the accelerometer to understand if there is a crowd dancing. The idea was to base this on input from the accelerometer and gps tagging to identify when a group of people are moving with the same rhythm. Unfortunately, this team only got some very basic plumbing working and was not able to demonstrate the concept

The CherryText guys were also hanging around, moving their stuff forward, with a view to launching real soon now.

Overall, everyone seemed to enjoy the event – one recurring theme was that github gave rise to lots of configuration problems and people usually ended up using alternative solutions. Some of the apps may go forward and appear in a Market near you; some will most certainly die. Everyone improved their Android development skills.

We’re delighted that the first proper weekend hackathon went swimmingly and we’ll definitely be doing this again in the not too distant future – once a quarter sounds like the right frequency for this type of event and the focus does not have to be Android.

Big thanks to Jean for sorting out the logistics on the Google end, without whom, it would not have happened.

March 2011 Dublin GTUG meet

The March 2011 Dublin GTUG met on Tues 29th March. There were two topics of discussion, with a further third held in reserve as a back up if there was sufficient time.

First up was Ade Oshineye, Developer Relations from Google UK, who gave a talk entitled ‘Powering the Social Web’. Ade gave a comprehensive overview of some key technologies which underpin the social web and described what Google are doing in this space to enhance and promote these technologies. Most of the discussion was somehow couched in the context of Buzz, although there was not so much emphasis on Buzz. Ade then went on to explain a new initiative which Google are promoting which is intended to make the life of the developer easier – they are working on a initiative entitled #devexp which is trying to do for developers what the user experience community has been doing for users of technology. A key objective is to enable developers to be productive with a tool 15 mins after ‘taking it out of the box.’ One concrete way they are evolving this is to make it very easy to produce multiple libraries to a single web interface – thus, they will be able to publish a web API and it will be very easy to have a Python, Ruby, PHP, C#, whatever takes your fancy, interface to it. [Link to Ade’s slides].

Robert Shaw from Zapa Technologies took the floor next. Robert talked about NFC technology in general and what Zapa has been doing with the technology in particular. Robert went through the technology stack that comprises NFC and described how it is possible to interact with it. He noted that published Android APIs afford little access to key NFC functions and is exploring if it is possible to do more with unpublished APIs. [Link to Robert’s slides].

The third talk was dropped as there was a lot of interest in the first two and we felt it best to let this discussion evolve.

A few announcements on upcoming events followed and then some of the folks retired to a local hostelry.

Next meet is the Android hackathon in mid April, followed by the streaming of Google IO in May.

New blog for Dublin GTUG

Previously, I was putting up some posts describing the events on my blog. I decided it was now time for the Dublin GTUG to have a blog of its own.

This blog will mainly be a place where we put reports of events, although we’re open to the idea of folks putting up some opinion pieces which are relevant to Google technology and/or larger trends.

Any other ideas for blog posts which could be interesting/useful/relevant are, of course, welcome.