Why Google I/O 2011 Was Worth the Trip for Android Developers

Each spring we make the pilgrimage to San Francisco to participate in Google I/O. As mobile developers, consultants, and authors of several books on the Android platform, we consider this a must-attend event — provided we can get tickets.

After the conference has ended, our bags are packed to the brim with conference swag, our minds are buzzing with new ideas from platform announcements, and we’ve thoroughly dissected each and every word we heard from the Googlers of note. But we always ask ourselves one question: was the trip worth it? Here is how we would answer that question for Google I/O 2011.

Google I/O 2011 Content Freely Available Online. Why Attend?

Google I/O sessions are posted on YouTube after the conference for all to review. People who couldn’t make it to the conference were invited to Google campuses all over the world to network with local professionals and view the conference live streaming feeds — this is a fantastic extension of the conference in our opinion. So it’s a natural question: if the content is freely available, why spend the time and money to go to the conference itself?

Well, there are a couple reasons we find it important to actually go to the conference. Perhaps most importantly, there’s the immersive quality that two solid days of technical sessions, announcement-filled keynotes, and parties — talk about motivation to take your apps to the next level, or broaden your device targets to new types of devices.

Google I/O 2011

You also have the opportunity to immediately react and respond to important announcements you’ll heard first hand. You can talk with neighbors, grill Googlers, communicate with your team, or even pull out your laptop and make quick changes to your applications. You lose this opportunity when you try to participate remotely. Not all session content makes it onto the feeds, and until this year, you had to wait weeks for the videos to be posted online.

For us, the conference is primarily a powerful networking opportunity. We meet with current clients, potential clients, potential employees, and other professionals in our field. We pick the brains of Googlers, have the opportunity to ask those sticky questions and sometimes even get reasonable responses. We meet with readers, answer questions and get tons of useful feedback. The location in Silicon Valley is very handy for setting up peripheral meetings, both inside and outside the conference.

Lastly, there’s the conference swag. Some people have complained that the conference giveaways have turned the conference into something of a circus, but we didn’t see any real evidence of this in the attendees we talked to; everyone was a professional who deserved to be there. This year, the goodies only got better:

  • A special edition Android tablet
  • A 4G hotspot
  • A Chromebook (eventually)

That’s not even counting the little silly toys, t-shirts, and special goodies you might have snagged at the right conference sessions, like the Xperia Play (PlayStation phone) that attendees of one of the Android game development sessions walked away with.

Google I/O 2011

Given the market value of the swag compared to the true cost of attending a conference — the cost of conference ticket, hotel stay, airplane tickets, time off work, and various other costs — the swag is nice, but certainly not worth attending for. You must take advantage of the other opportunities of the conference to make it truly worthwhile.

Google is Bigger Than Android. Will There Be Enough Android Content?

Google I/O technical sessions are quite meaty and technical compared with many other conferences we’ve attended in the past. While the Android track is only one of about a dozen tracks, this year’s conference was very Android-centric. The entire top floor of the 3-story Moscone Center was swathed in neon green carpet and devoted to Android booths. If we had to guestimate, we’d say that Android made up a third to a half of the conference “footprint” in terms of square footage, at the expense of other Google technologies. The Chrome team had the second largest area.

Google I/O 2011

The conference is compressed into two days. Each day starts with a keynote, and then launches into hours of technical sessions aimed at somewhat seasoned developers (not counting the optional and extra “boot camp” that takes place the day before the main conference starts and is aimed at new developers).

From the first day, it became clear that Android developers made up a significant portion of the conference attendees. So much so, that the Android sessions filled long before they started and many were turned away. There’s nothing like seeing someone throw a tantrum after buying a Google I/O ticket on eBay for $1600 only to be shut out of the sessions they traveled far to see.

The second day was much more reasonable — there were more Android sessions happening simultaneously. This meant most sessions were almost full, but not overflowing, which was great. The downside was that even with two of us there, we missed some sessions we wanted to see because they all happened at the same time.

Google I/O 2011

There were enough Android developers there that it was easy to find someone to talk to about announcements. For example, the Google Music beta announcement impacts Android developers who make music apps. We got to talk to a number of developers to get their take on this and immediately heard some questions during sessions in response to this announcement.

Conclusion

Attending Google I/O is valuable to us, but it might not be valuable to everyone. Much of the important technical content is available freely online after the conference, allowing all interested to benefit from the event. If networking and access to the Google team is important to your project, then by all means, come to the conference; we look forward to seeing you there! But don’t beat yourself up if you can’t get a ticket or can’t make the trip. Google’s extended events can be extremely valuable for networking with local professionals and meeting Googlers without the long flights, expensive hotels, and two-day geek extravaganza that is Google I/O.

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