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Android Open 2011 Highlights

November 14, 2011

This October I was able to attend both the O’Reilly Android Open (@androidopen) and X.commerce Innovate conferences back-to-back in San Francisco. I wrote more about Innovate in a separate DevZone article. This time, I’d like to break down the most interesting bits of Android Open from a developer-centric perspective.

Fascinating morning keynotes

Android Open was jam packed with activities including a pre-conference day of workshops and then two days of main conference. Each morning of the regular conference began with a series of five to twenty minute long keynote talks and panels. You can see a complete listing of the speakers for both days in the conference schedule. You can also watch the keynote sessions via the Android Open 2011 Youtube video playlist (click here to access). I would encourage you to watch as many of the keynotes as possible; they contain a lot of interesting and inspirational material to get your Android juices flowing!

O’Reilly founder & CEO Tim O’Reilly (@timoreilly) kicked things off with his Day 1 opening keynote “What Android can learn from Steve Jobs“. Definitely an interesting choice of title for an Android conference! But Jobs’ passing the week before presented O’Reilly with an opportunity to discuss some of the key principles behind Apple’s success, especially the notion espoused by Jobs that a company needs to be “true to its soul”. O’Reilly examined Google’s “soul” at length, suggesting that it needs to never forget its original mission to help connect people to all the world’s information. Key takeaway for Android developers and businesses: Stay true to yourself and your mission while holding Google to its own high ideals, too.

The next keynote that caught my attention was a conversation between conference co-chair Marko Gargenta (@markogargenta) and Robert Stephens (@rstephens), CTO of Best Buy. Stephens is a pretty technical guy, even going so far as to say that Best Buy ought to get rid of their DVD section and replace it with an Arduino section! As you might imagine given the crowd, this was well received.

The thing that really stood out for me as a mobile payments developer, however, was Stephens’ discussion of the many issues with NFC deployment. He said Best Buy may bypass at least some NFC generations completely, going straight to purely cloud-based payments solutions. This joins the rising tide of anti-NFC sentiment and pragmatism that seems to be building, and echoes some of the many things PayPal has said publicly about NFC weaknesses in recent months. Takeaway: Watch major retailers such as Best Buy closely to pick up the beginnings of big shifts in mobile payments.

Day 2 saw a couple more morning keynotes that stood out for me. The first, “Android in Space” by Will Marshall (@wsm1) of NASA, dealt with building very cheap microsatellites based upon Android-based Nexus One smartphones, aka “phonesats“. “Very cheap” in this case means tens of thousands versus millions or billions of US dollars.

Marshall noted that because of the conservative nature of space flight, the CPU in phonesat Nexus Ones will actually be the fastest CPUs onboard a satellite to date when they’re launched into orbit later this year. He also asked the audience some provocative questions such as “What if we could each have personal satellites?” and “What if satellites became a software domain?”. Thing to note: Android software and off the shelf mobile phone hardware can reduce costs in some areas by two or more orders of magnitude versus traditional ways of doing things, and that could change everything in those areas.

You can read more about the phonesat project from this report from O’Reilly correspondent Alex Howard (@digiphile). Among other things, Alex links to an excellent documentary on early phonesat rocket launch testing.

The final keynote that fascinated me was “The African Laptop Killer: Android and the Developing World” by Claire Hunsaker (@chunsaker). Hunsaker discussed the tremendous rise of mobile technology in Kenya and elsewhere and how that technology is revolutionizing lives and economies. Some of the statistics quoted include:

  • 99% of Internet access in Kenya is via mobile device.
  • Cheap Android phones have dropped Internet access in Kenya from 31% of an average worker’s annual income to about 5%.
  • Fully 20% of Kenyan GDP runs through the mobile wallet (predominantly M-PESA).
  • According to Hunsaker, “Facebook will have access to most (Kenyan) users before thy can even own a mobile handset themselves” via borrowed/shared mobile handsets.

Please watch Hunsaker’s talk. It may change your perspective on the power and importance of mobile techologies.

Session highlights

There were a lot of great sessions at Android Open. Here are some notes from my favorites:

  • Aleksandar Gargenta (yes, Marko is his brother) presented an excellent “Securing Android” session discussing how security is enforced. He made a number of comparisons to Java ME and desktop Linux security, noting that “Anytime something is in RAM, there are ways of recovering it”. I’d recommend spending a little time reading through Aleksandar’s slides (click here).
  • Eric Burke (@burke_eric) from Square gave a nice “Beautiful Android” talk. I’d been hoping for a few payments fireworks, but Burke stuck closely to how to build attractive and functional Android apps. Among the things he noted, Android clip paths don’t handle antialiasing. This leads to very ugly interfaces unless you use offscreen bitmaps.
  • Nick Farina (@nfarina) spoke about the importance of using WebViews in “From iOS to Android” (also, XCode is painful).
  • Sean Byrnes of Flurry knocked it out of the park with his “Android App Engagement by the Numbers” talk! In particular, he called out the importance of releasing early and quickly to your followers, as statistics show that on average, an Android developer loses 38% of their users on the day they install your app, 50% in one week.
  • Jesse Vincent (@obra) talked in “Dancing App Stores” about the somewhat suprising fact that new app versions dramatically increase sales, even with minimal changes to the app itself. He also made some good suggestions on secondary and tertiary app markets besides Google’s Android Market; check out his slides for more details.

All in all, the sessions had enough code and technical details while still being able to spark ideas in a wide variety of attendees, some Android programmers, some not.

Additional coverage and news from the conference

Conference organizers made a number of other news and information sources available to attendees. You can search some of the best via these links:

One more highly recommended resource: The online show “All About Android” (@androidshow) broadcast live from Android Open at the end of Day 1. The conference co-chairs along with several speakers including Tim O’Reilly make appearances on the show. It’s probably worth your time to watch and get their perspective on the major Android developments flowing out of the conference.

Did it blend?

I found this first ever Android Open to be a great mix of community and technology. It struck the right tone of openness and provided both developer how-to and business oriented material. If you are interested in Android and appreciate a balanced perspective of the entire ecosystem, I would recommend this conference as a good place to tap into all things Android.

Click here to access the full article on X.com.

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