I would be the wrong person to ask for an overview of the just-concluded Google I/O 2011. I’ve been working on the presentations and exhibitors quite intensely since February or so — even contributed a couple of lines of code to the Android app — and I have a strong vision of how it was supposed to be; this could not fail to color anything I might say about the event.

However, I can offer a few impressions and pictures. It happened in San Francisco, a city I don’t particularly like but is fun to photograph.

San Francisco
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San Francisco

The first day was I/O BootCamp, where 500-and-change I/O attendees paid $100 for a day of entry-level lecture and labs (the I/O material itself is not introductory).

I gave the welcoming address and since the event is supposed to be participatory, included an exercise: “I’m going to shut up for three minutes and you find the closest person you don’t already know, find out who they are and where they’re from and why they’re here.” The experience was striking as the noise in the room ramped from audience hush to barroom roar in about a half-second. If you enlarge it and look close, you’ll probably smile at all the people going social.

People at Google I/O 2011 BootCamp getting to know each other

The event took a ton of setup. People were hard at work on both installation and rehearsals till past midnight on the eve of the show. That bugdroid getting hoisted looks kind of uncomfortable but it came to no harm.

Google I/O 2011 site prep

I like the Moscone West facility; it’s full of light and the air seems fresher than that I’ve breathed in many other apparently-hermetically-sealed conference venues. On the other hand, it is the factor limiting I/O to its current sells-out-in-an-hour scale.

Moscone West interior, with light

Still, the keynote room is vast, vast.

Moscone West Level 3 big room

I don’t know if the keynotes were better than last year’s but they were clearly shorter and I think by any measure crisper. I’m too close to the Android talk to have anything useful to say, but I thought the Chrome-centric keynote was terrific. Those guys have more communication mojo than the rest of Google put together.

Is a Chromebook, hardware and software all in and upgraded for as long as you pay $28/month, cheap or expensive? From the point of view of an organization that’s not IT-centric, seems like a real bargain. From the point of view of many mid-size IT shops, it smells like death and will thus be hotly resisted.

Maybe it’ll fall flat, what do I know?

I only attended a few sessions, and my patience for running pictures of people on stages is wearing thin. The sessions fell victim to the Office Hours experience, which I find entrancing: You hang out, and people with Android issues walk up to talk. They are nice and interesting, almost every one.

One session I did attend was Android Open Accessory API and Development Kit (ADK). Mike Lockwood, Erik Gilling, and Jeff Brown are three of our very geekiest geeks, up to their elbows in kernel goo and device interfaces. They decided, in show-biz terms, to bring it; they and the audience had immense fun as they showed off how you can program Android devices in USB-host mode and even get useful work done with those that don’t do Host (i.e. most of them).

Jeff Brown and Erik Gilling at the ADK session of Google I/O 2011

Here Mike Lockwood demonstrates an Android app that fires Nerf rockets via USB. He stopped and handed off to the next speaker when he ran out of rockets.

Mike Lockwood at the ADK session of Google I/O 2011

Also, Googlers aren’t supposed to get the handouts, but I threw principles to the wind because I knew there was going to be one, I totally wanted the ADK hardware handout, and <cackle> I got one. Which I’l probably donate to Vancouver Hack Space after I’ve poked around a little.

I think the Android Fireside Chat is important. Not so much because of the quality of the questions and answers (I actually heard better ones in the Office Hours) but because it’s a bonding exercise. The engineering group sends a stage-full of its most senior people, the hands-on folk who actually build the bits that drive the phone, to go F2F with as many people as can pack into a really big room, and they talk to each other. The engineers are confronted with the people whose lives their triumphs and failures touch; and the developer population see that it’s actually living and breathing women and men who do this work, not some sort of robotic Googley mind-meld.

The Android Fireside Chat panel at Google I/O 2011
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People questioning the Android Fireside Chat panel at Google I/O 2011

Then there was a party, with music. The crowd didn’t actually mosh as such, but got pretty dense in front of the stage. Of course, a high proportion of them had a shiny new Android toy, giving me a chance to capture a vision of twentyfirst-century rock&roll.

Capturing a Rock Show at Google I/O 2011

I was never a huge fan of Jane’s Addiction at the time they were hot, but I have to say that they gave us a short tight tuneful set of well-played hard rock.

Jane’s Addiction at Google I/O 2011
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Jane’s Addiction at Google I/O 2011

Yes, we’ll do it again. We’ll think about ways of distributing tickets that don’t amount to a bash-the-web-site contest. We’ll look at our data to try to figure out what worked and what didn’t. We’ll try to build some surprising things to show off next year. Huge thanks for your attention.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: John-Albert Eadie (May 13 2011, at 00:37)

Of course you're the one to report Tim.



From: Justin Watt (May 13 2011, at 06:54)

"in San Francisco, a city I don’t particularly like"

Aww. Dropping that deserves a link or follow up explanation or something.


From: Scott McIntyre (May 13 2011, at 06:59)

Are there concerns that giving out hardware whose value exceeded the cost of a ticket will completely swamp next year's conference with speculators who don't care about Google?


From: Paul M. Watson (May 13 2011, at 07:54)

I would like to please hear more about what you think of Chrome OS and Chromebook. My initial reaction to your Chromebook line was you are in the Android camp and the comment felt a bit derogatory. But that is a lot to read into just one line and I'm sure you have far more to say about it.

(Personally I quite like the Chrome OS and Chromebook concepts though I have yet to try them.)

The Android hardware theme coming out of Google IO was very interesting.


From: James Moore (May 14 2011, at 09:47)

Is the physical size of the venue the limiting factor? I would have thought that the Google engineer/attendee ratio would be more important. I say this because I think office hours are by far the most interesting part of I/O.

Office hours alone made I/O well worth attending, IMHO.


From: Eddie (May 19 2011, at 00:40)

Any news from Google I/O this year regarding Ruby on Android? (Ruboto)?


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