Diary of a SxSW n00b: Day 1 (Slate, Mint and Apps)
Today was my first day ever in the wonderful world of SxSW. OK, to be completely honest, it’s actually day two. I started this blog post around 2 AM with the best intentions of finishing it, but after too many bar stops and too many drinks I ended up passing out instead. I think that means I’m officially at Southby now.
I had done my homework before I arrived and read some guides like the First-Timers Guide to SXSW and SXSW 2011: A Beginner’s Survival Guide, so I had an idea of what to expect. Everyone kept saying how easy it is to get overwhelmed and to just kick back and go with the flow. Luckily I’ve been to major conferences before (PDC) so the experience of wanting to see far more than I can cram into a day was nothing new. Southby, of course, is just on a whole new level.
The first thing I did after arriving was pick up my badge. Damn I wish I’d bought up to Film – there are so many awesome shorts and movies I’m missing out on. Will definitely spend the extra $200 or whatever it is next year to be able to participate in those things. Then I headed over to the Volt Recharge Lounge to give away a Kinect. My question on Twitter was “In Objective-C they’re called Blocks. What are they called in C# or Java”. The first person to arrive was Barrett Cook. He admitted he’s a web developer and hadn’t done much mobile so he didn’t know the answer. Honest man! I gave him a few minutes to look it up and he got it right. (Well, mostly right. He said “Lambdas” which are a way of doing anonymous methods in C# and anonymous methods was what I was looking for). Congratulations Barrett! Now ask more people to follow me would ya? (‘cuz you can only win once. :))
While I was at the lounge I also met Jeremy Fisher. I was bitching about how I left my business cards in the hotel and he introduced me to Hashable. Thanks Jeremy, it’s incredibly useful. Now I need to reach out to Hashable and see if we can help them port to WP7. If anyone knows a contact for me at Hashable please let me know.
After the lounge the next thing I did – believe it or not – was booth duty. Horrible, I know. I didn’t even get to a session before having to don the drab Microsoft shirt and do demos. It wasn’t all bad though, I got to toy around with the new Asus slates. They’re damn powerful devices. 1.3 Ghz i5 procs, 4GB RAM, 64 GB solid state drives. Very impressive. My two major complaints: Battery life (3 hours) and UI shell. Of course these are just the first devices in this form factor and you’ve probably heard Win8 will support ARM and System on Chip. That will definitely help with battery life. As for the UI, I’m sure our partners will innovate there quickly and for Windows 8? Well, let’s just say the first rule about Windows 8 is we don’t talk about Windows 8. (Though if I was really interested in learning more I might pay close attention to things like MIX and PDC…)
After booth duty I finally managed to get to a session. It was App, Shmapp, Tell Me What Works Across Platforms! I thought it was going to be a talk about libraries and toolkits that make writing applications across devices easier (which I’m still incredibly interested in, so if you have anything you’d like to share please do). Instead, Aaron Forth from Intuit / Mint talked about how his company took a web-only solution and brought it to mobile devices. It was an interesting talk and it was cool hearing how they originally struggled with driving users back to the website (for ad revenue) and the criteria they use for prioritizing their mobile platforms.
(Device Adoption) (Apps direct to Consumers) (SDK and Support) (Low Fragmentation)
Device adoption shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. Apple had this nailed when Mint started their port in 2008.
Apps direct to consumers was more of a stab at the mobile carriers who were each trying to create their own marketplace at the time. Mint didn’t want to have to make deals with each individual carrier and the Apple store got around that (at least in the markets that carried the device). Of course this is less of an issue today with both Android and Windows Phone also offering carrier-agnostic marketplaces.
I found the portion of the talk on SDK and support to be the most interesting. Aaron said that a lot of people find Objective-C and Cocoa to be restrictive but he and his team thought it was freeing in the sense that Apple provided very specific guidance and tooling to create an app that worked well and operated well on their device. He didn’t mention any specifics, but after attending iPhone training I can certainly see some of the benefits of having well-defined navigation paradigms and possibly even defining navigation metadata on views (or view controllers). WP7 already offers very well-defined patterns for things like the Panorama and Pivot, but I’ll have to think more about what might be done on WP7 regarding navigation.
Low fragmentation is incredibly important when it comes to mobile development and I’m surprised people don’t talk more about this elephant in the room. Of course there’s virtually zero fragmentation with iPhone because there are essentially only two devices. Apple is also very good at pushing their users to update the OS as soon as it gets released. Aaron said that something like 98% of all iPhones are already on iOS 4. That number seems incredibly high to me, and the only semi-official article I could find that gave a number was this one claiming 90% in January. I suppose it’s possible another 8% came over in two months, and even 90% is amazing.
Probably the statement that caught me most by surprise was when Arron said how low the fragmentation is on Android. Most Android developers I’ve talked to consider it highly fragmented. I wonder if Aaron meant their fragmentation was low in 2008 when they considered the platform or if he meant fragmentation is lower with more recent OS releases.
After the session I headed over to the Screen Burn Arcade and tried to give away EA Active 2 for Kinect. My question was simply “Tell me how to use Location Services on any platform”. I waited a good 20 minutes and nobody showed so I started asking people nearby if any of them were mobile developers. In the process I met Lynette Young who runs a very cool blog and podcast (check her out!).
Lynette asked me what I was selling. Did I really come across that way? Damnit. Guess I need to attend How To Not Be A Douchebag at SXSW. Anyway, I told her I’m just trying to build an online voice and blog to help mobile developers (at first, those who are interested in porting an app to WP7 but as I learn more, mobile developers in general). Lynette was kind enough to give me a shout out to her nearly 5,000 followers. Thanks Lynette! I owe you!
All in all, Southby is amazing. Amazing food amazing people and amazing entertainment. I’m starting to understand that Soutby isn’t nearly as much about learning as it is connecting with people. Everyone here is approachable, everyone’s a “geek” and we wear our Sx badges with pride.