OK having fulfilled my tourist guide duties with my UK colleagues, I got time to write up a quick report about Google IO. So here goes:
Disclaimer: These are my personal views, I was fortunate enough to be invited for the event on an “influencer” ticket.
For the TL;DR folk:
Google did a tremendous job with the conference, the organisation was impressive, their messaging concerning the web less “use Chrome” and more “here is cool web tech Chrome supports” and they released all the things I hoped and feared about: Chrome for Android and IOs. There was a massive amount of great tech talks and most are available online. Big web announcements were Chrome for Android and IOs and lots of updates to Android, Google+ and search on Android.
Now, more detailed info for those not conditioned by 5 second cuts in music videos:
Overall I was very impressed with the conference organisation. But of course there are some snags. Here are what worked and what annoyed:
- Value for money – on a very literal level – is ridiculously good. Just the hardware giveaways (more later) are giving your money back three-fold.
- Before the keynotes they showed demos submitted to chromedemos on stage – this must have made quite some people proud
- Lots of great content, a lot of it live streamed and already available on YouTube – I guess it helps owning that)
- Amazing AV equipment in the rooms and especially in the big keynote hall (the three screens made me drool and want to talk there, but it also would mean I have to make prettier slides)
- Food was adequate and ample, and drinks and coffee were available throughout the event
- The staffing of the “business hours” tables was very good and it was no problem whatsoever to get your questions answered (this might be as I knew a lot of them though). The Chrome booth was stacked with all the people in the devrel team and Chrome engineers, no boothbabes in sight. Actually, none at all. This was a Google event with Google experts – an impressive feat to pull off.
- Lots of places to charge your hardware – a lot of the rooms have rows and rows of outlets and there were massive Android figures standing around with all kind of cables to charge a plethora of devices.
- Every talk had a cardboard box with “+1” cards to throw in at the exit of the talks to vote for it. I loved that idea as it was physical, showed the 1 character of Google and gave them a mechanism to measure the success of the talk (that a few speakers I talked to never saw people changing the boxes is a bit worrying though). There was no scanning of your badge on the way in to the room as it was last year – I guess they gave up on that.
- Every talk was transcribed live on big screens for the hard of hearing – this is not cheap and hard to pull off, but a wonderful little touch.
Worked less well:
- The insane amount of attendees (around 5500) lead to a lot of queuing up for the keynotes and swag pickup (which needed both the conference badge and a photo ID which lead to even more delays). The first day we did a loop-the-loop around the keynote room to get in and the second day we had a long and random queue in the foyer. Maybe letting people in earlier would have fixed some of the issues.
- The repeat of the “amazing suprise” of the first keynote (people sky-diving onto the building wearing Google Glass) which was sold as a behind the scenes turned out to be probably the most boring Mythbusters episode ever. The reason for the repeat jump was that Google paid for two days of rights to fly over the Moscone centre to make sure the weather was good and as this is not a cheap feat they wanted to make the most out of it. They should have let me jump with the people on the second day – maybe in the Firefox costume (or as an Android, or just me).
- The Google+ presentations were weird. Whilst presenting the new Events feature (which is much better than what Facebook offers) and trying it out at the afterparty went down well, the obviously non-impressive numbers of Google+’s growth compared to competitors seemed not needed to me. I guess the focus is on fact soundbites for the press, but when they are easy to be slashed, why bother? Maybe I am just sick of the numbers game
- The official app for the event was laggy and didn’t get updated in time. I missed a few talks because of that. It also had the wrong hashtag when you tweeted from it (which I edited before sending off but I doubt a lot of people did which must have skewed the twitter numbers).
- Schedule display was patchy at times and I found far too much going on in parallel. Maybe shorter sessions would have allowed a better experience.
- The last day was very much empty and felt like an extra day for networking with not much organised content. Good idea but seeing that lots of people didn’t bother going defeated the networking purpose a bit.
- The technical messaging was fair and interesting. Whilst last year a lot smacked of “look at those numbers aren’t we awesome and you should use us” this year was much more about “look what is possible and how we support it”
- Google released a lot of products and services in direct competition with smaller players (Tripit, Shazam, Turntable.fm) and released a few products blatantly aimed at Amazon (Kindle competition, offering Infrastructure as a service), Apple (Siri competition) and Microsoft Office (Docs upgrade to allow for collaborative writing and offline use – which only will work in Chrome).
- There was quite some snark aimed at Microsoft in the keynotes (“try doing that with Sharepoint and spreadsheets”) and of course there were “and another thing” and “xyz isn’t cool abc is cool” sightings.
- In comparison to last year the keynotes were more polished and seemed less “please use this”. There was more self-assurance on stage. However, quite some of it seemed too scripted for my taste and had a lot of “this is my favourite thing ever” which gets unbelievable after a while. I liked that the man showing Google Now and the lady presenting the design ideas behind Glass were scared as heck on stage and thus showed real emotions and were much more believable. The keynotes are online: Day1 Day 2
- The after party was much simpler than last year – Train was a very fitting band for San Francisco and Paul Oakenfold can’t have been cheap (but I had to spend a lot of time explaining US folk who he is). The alcohol ran out rather quickly, but that might actually be a good thing. There were a lot of entertainment things but less of a “maker faire” flair than last year.
- Google IO allowed for a lot of people to be in town, which meant that outside events cropped up, like a beer.js in the thirsty bear and some other quick meetings about Web Components with people from a lot of browsers and large companies.
- Google Hangouts are very much focused on using WebRTC now and seem to be quite a competitor to proprietary and installable solutions. The message that “WebRTC is available in IE via Chromeframe” made me spit coffee and laugh though – sadly it is not that easy.
- Google Chrome for Android and IOs is great, shame that the former is as an opt-in for phone service providers and will not be backfilled to Android older than ICS. The slickness of the presentation of Chrome was impressive though – history syncing over devices is incredibly useful. Now I want that with my apps state on Android (a boy can dream)
- Speaking about Android, the atomic app update in Jelly Bean is what was a benefit of web apps vs. native apps that is going away now – instead of needing to download the full APK you now download the changed parts. Time to change my presentations :/
- Google Drive got some impressive new features including automatic OCR and face/sights detection in photos.
- Google’s collaboration with Subatomic and Cirque de Soleil
Movi.Kanti.Revo – (keynote section) is probably one of the coolest tech demos I have seen in the last year. It uses the camera and movement detection to navigate an interactive dance and performance experience.
- Google compute engine could be a real threat to Amazon’s EC2. You can fire up lots of virtual machines for computation in a very simple manner
Talks I’ve seen and can recommend
- The web can do that? is Eric Bidelman’s overview of cool new web technologies delivered in a very matter-of-fact way. Great talk!
- GRITS: PvP Gaming with HTML5 was a very well delivered talk on HTML5 gaming and the GRITS blueprint game you can download and learn from.
- The Web Platform’s Cutting Edge is a wonderful introduction to web components and the need for them (also mentions X-Tag, so, like, win!)
- Turning the web up to 11 covers all the details of the Web Audio API - this has great demos and tools but can be a bit daunting
- The Mobile Chrome summit was a great meeting with all the big names in mobile web development asking the Chrome team questions. Notes will be out soon, and I wish they’d implement my suggestion of building Chrome Frame for Android :)
Talks I will watch and sadly enough missed
- Better Web App Development Through Tooling
- Chrome developer tools evolution
- How to Build Apps that Love Each Other with Web Intents
- Google once again showered the conference attendees with free hardware: a new Galaxy Nexus phone running Android Jelly Bean, a Nexus Seven (geek credit++ from me on that name) tablet, a Nexus Q (which I left as a present here as it is the approximate weight, shape and usefulness of a cannon ball in my hand luggage as most of the Google Play streaming content is not available in the UK), and a Chromebox. Google painted themselves in a corner a bit with that – there is no way IO can be a non-giveaway conference ever again.
- Other swag was a lovely Google IO shirt, stitched HTML5 badges, Sticker sheets with the HTML5 logo and related technology icons and Android figures filled with Jelly Beans.
Was it worth it?
Expletive yeah! I will be back next year.