AndroidTO 2014 [recap]

On October 30th, 2014 AndroidTO kicked off it's 5th annual event.  It was my 3rd year that I've been given the opportunity to go - finding an event to get fellow Android enthusiasts together is a rare thing, especially in my neck of the woods.  So I take any chance I can find.

Remember, I'm not a developer, but my interest in going to the AndroidTO event is to see more about what's possible for the Android realm these days.  The developers for the app ecosystem are helping to shape that future - so it's a great place to get your finger on the pulse of that lifeblood.

Plus, it's a good chance for me to meet up in person with some of the Android Coliseum team, as +Martin Guay made his way in from Ottawa and +Sivan Rehan flew in from Montreal.  Chances to meet up together are pretty nil, aside from our hangouts (Sivan definitely needs to join in more!)

So let's get to the recap of the talks...

[update:  slides are starting to come in at:]

Now, I missed a few of the workshops, namely Nikita Tarakanov of Bionym talking about Nymi, Lisa Wray of Google talking on Android Wear Apps and Marc Ashman of Bnotions talking about Google Cardboard; but here are the ones I did attend.

Gabriella Levine - Google[X]
Robotics for World Change:  Insight into Google[x] and Beyond

Gabriella started of the presentation talking about her past as a fire fighter and how she had hoped to build robots to help (she found the best way for firestop was to dig trenches, and hoped a robot could do that for her).  From there she helped with a start-up called Protei which was an autonomous sailing ship.  The hope was that these ships could scour the ocean and help take measurements, clean oil spills or remove micro-plastics.

It was then she got involved with Google[x] and their infamous Moonshot projects.  Projects like Project Loon (using hot air balloons to help deploy wifi to less than ideal areas); Project Wing (using autonomous drones to deliver packages).  I made a note to myself that this was the stuff that Jake Weisz would just hate.

At Google[X] they love to look at crazy projects that have potential for great impact (the cross section of a radical solution, a huge problem and breakthrough technology).  To help these projects they have adopted a culture of a love of failure.  Failing early saves them failing later (and at greater cost).  It also means there is a need for rapid prototyping.  Rapid prototyping allows you to see failures as easily as early wins.  Starting from a box with duct tape to project loon are some interesting evolutions.

The takeaway - Gabriella had a great graph up on her slide (trying to find it) showed with time how the cost of failure increases rapidly, and the inverse is of risk.  Google[X] likes to live in the sweet spot before where the two lines meet.  As any entrepreneur (be it developer or start-up) you should not be afraid to embrace   Talking with Gabriella after I asked her about the cost of rapid prototyping for scrappy start-ups and how it might be prohibitive (Google does have a larger cash flow balance than others) she suggested that 'prototype' not need be a true 'prototype' ... but even a paper model, something that can be tested.  Some of her final words were I think the best and most inspiring for folks:  WHAT ARE YOU SOLVING

Danesh Mondegarian - Cyanogen Inc.
Contributing to Android

This one was a little over my head in the sense of understanding what it takes to actually compile ROMs.  But Danesh's first remark on WHY you would want to he mentions "BECAUSE IT'S FUN".

The rest of his presentation was a listing of the languages needed and ran through an example of how one would look through a ROM to remove something as simple as the carrier branding.

The takeaway -  although it may not be simple to do (especially for folks like me) it's not impossible, and as I've always said the strength of Android is the fact that Android is ours... and it's possible to continue to customize and own our favourite devices.

Kevin Grant - Tumblr
Animation and Material Design in Android

Kevin had big shoes to fill as Chris Haseman (his boss at Tumblr) has had a keynote or closing spot at AndroidTO for 2 years in a row (and did a great job at it).  But Kevin has nothing to worry about.  As the first half of the day ender his speech was great.

Essentially Kevin's plan for his talk was about not just being a conformist to #Materiyolo but making something memorable.  His suggestion was that being a conformist to design guides can lead to a forgotten design.

Kevin talks about how Material Design is actually something that good designers have had in mind for years, and this only puts it down on paper for developers.  The idea of "Material" is also device/OS agnostic.

Design isn't just pretty pictures, it comes in different forms:  visual, interaction, product (i.e. is it valuable?).  Kevin's trick is that often you may be good at one or another of these things, you don't have to be the expert in all of these areas.  Just excel in what you can and look for help (hire a good team) for the others.

He ran through several of the ideals in material design such as paper, responsive interactions, meaningful transitions, bold colours, iconography and imagery with examples to show how these have been implemented in the past (etsy, pinterest, google+, vine, tumblr...).  The point being that sometimes you don't have to be a conformist.  If your ideas are good, others will follow.

It's important that when you design apps that everything 'makes sense' and material helps to ensure that.

Kevin mentions that Material Design is a gift, don't take it for granted.  The advantage now being that if you didn't have the time to develop how to do some of these implementations before material, well, Google does have the time and has made some of that work easy for you to include.  This allows you now to ensure your app is unique in other areas

Now, does Material give you the task of rebuilding your app entirely?  NO.  You could just work in stages on the various aspects.  It's a guideline, not a rule.

Here's Kevin's slide deck:

The takeaway - apps should be inherently easy.  And when we design our product, we have to think about how our end user will end up using it and make that experience not only easy and intuitive, but memorable.  There's little things that really are important to that experience.  Taking the time for #pixelpushing will pay off in a memorable experience!  I really liked his suggestion of downloading other apps (he says how his card is constantly full of others as he tests to see what others are doing) and see how you can implement what you like about other apps into your own.

Matthew Patience - BNotions
Chromecast: Building Experiences (Not Apps)

A couple of years ago Matthew and Greg were up on stage talking about 'second screen' and had a cool demonstration of how separate phone users could interact with a GoogleTV for a shared experience.  Matthew kept that idea alive while talking about Chromecast.  It's an experience ... not an app.

In making your app Chromecastable (I think I'm going to patent that word... or is it trademark?) there's things you have to keep in mind.  There needs to be a sender and a receiver app.  The receiver app (on the Chromecast) can have the default receiver UI (i.e. like video), styled streaming receiver (you can adjust logo and some splash screens) or a total custom receiver (needing HTML, CSS and JS).  I could have won a free Chromecast for knowing those... but apparently I wasn't sure that he was pointing at me when I raised my hand.

When thinking about your receiver he had some best practices to think about:  there should be no interactive content / buttons or fields ... that should be on your phone.  Ensure you include show states (i.e. that it's idle or connected or even loading - leave nothing to their imagination about what's happening).

When thinking about your sender he had a point of ensuring that you show your user what the buttons are fore and why - but don't do it the first time they open the app; they may not have a Chromecast.  Show the tutorial the first time the app detects one.  Also ensure that your user has quick access to media controls, whether as a persistent notification or via the lock screen.  It's just helpful.

The takeaway - Part of Matt's presentation included a quick and simple game and he required some volunteers.  It was where each player got to pick another word to use in the sentence... to make ridiculous sentences.  It was quite funny and you really see how you get wrapped up in an experience.  The design wasn't overly complex and was easy to understand, yet the experience was rewarding.  Look for his app "sentences" out soon!

Matthew's slide deck can be seen:

Tejas Lagvankar - Yahoo
Developing for Android TV: Getting Started

Android TV is providing a new look for Android and a new form factor that that provides a great opportunity for more visibility for developers (and I'm banking on that as I've gone and purchased my Nexus Player - Nov 21 can't come soon enough).

On TV there's no input device (no touch screen), you use your phone (or the remote), it's minimal as it's meant to be very easy to use for the 'couch user'.

What apps can you build for Android TV?  You can use it as a Cast (but we're limited to specific apps... see Matthew's presentation to understand more about what you need to know if you want to have yours) you could build generic apps (Android TV IS Android... with some caveats).

He suggested using LEANBACK, which is a TV optimized special support library to make apps and he made a quick example of showing some videos to play.  Leanback allows you to be able to build the fastlane (list on the left side) and using the grid of icons as well as the streaming support.

Tejas also reminded that if you are developing for Android TV to be mindful to not make the gamepad interface as it's not included with the Nexus Player.

The takeaway - it's almost a new frontier and a new way to think about Android interface.  He showed off a Google Glass app where it would show you the guitar chords for a song you're trying to learn - but he put it through Android TV.  That was really exciting to me.  I think that alone would make a few want to try out this new device.

Cecilia Adabie - Lynxfit
Android for Wearables

We hear a lot about wearables, but what are they?  Cecilia has been thrust to the forefront of this new era as you may remember her from the first real 'distracted driving' case where she won a court case based on the officer's inability to understand this new technology.

She gives her account of that story briefly but talks about what is more interesting, what is to come next.  In her eyes the wearables are helping to advance the 'internet of things' as well as the need for advancement of AI (especially as she points out that "Voice is the New Touch").

Wearables should connect us, extend us and augment us was a quote she showed that I really agreed with.  But she gave a warning that technology could not lead without fashion in tow.

Examples of where wearables are going in a neat direction were selfie drones (a wrist band that with a flick, unwraps to make a mini drone which will hover, snap a shot and then return), baby wearables to help monitor health, augmented reality.

The importance of wearables is to not distract us from reality but to help us return to the presence.  She shows how a notification on her phone she need only glance at Glass or a Wear watch to see and not have to remove herself from the moment by pulling out her phone.

The takeaway - wearables are an explosive growth sector and most likely not in a way that we might even expect.  In the Q&A she was asked about the 'dangers of being too connected', and I believe she had an excellent, level headed answer that with the way in which we are using the internet and wearables, that we are using them in such unique and positive ways that it's not something to be feared.

After all

It was a great event.  Phones, tablets, and watches were given away, there were some cool companies exhibiting (Wordpress, Taptrack, etc...) and there were cupcakes and finger food for the after party.

As well as some good networking and meeting with some folks there.  Sivan even got to try on Google Glass.

The organizers are to be well commended for how well the event went off.  The new venue was a great partnership.

And almost as good was the Android Beers event that +Puleen Patel put together for a bunch of the speakers and other attendees.  Great chatting with fellow enthusiasts, on topics for Android and for other shared interests.  Many jokes were had and it's something that I will ensure that I will make their 6th year (and my 4th).

As most of my evenings end in Toronto do our little Android Coliseum gang ended up at Smoke's Poutinerie where we planned for more similar outings.

Again, well done to the organizers of this event.  I hope everybody who attended got something out of it.