Google I/O has a different feel than many of the conferences that I attend. Like Apple’s WWDC, there is a distinctly vendor partisan tone to the entire show — having the show in the same location as WWDC probably reinforces that. Unlike WWDC, the web focused portion of Google I/O helps to blunt that feeling, and the fact that lots of things are open or being open sourced also helps with the partisan feeling.
I’m going to split this writeup into two parts, the two keynotes, and the rest of the talks.
The first keynote was the Android keynote and opened with a recap of Android’s marketplace accomplishments over the last year. The tone was decidedly less combative towards Apple than last year. There weren’t many platform technology announcements. There was the expected discussion of features for the next version of Android, but I didn’t really see much that was new. There was a very nice head tracking demo that involved front facing cameras and OpenGL – I believe this will be a platform feature, which is cool. Much was made of Music and Movies, but this is mostly an end user and business development story. The ability to buy/stream without a cable is nice, but as long as devices need to be plugged in to recharge (which in my case is every day), I don’t find this to be as compelling as those who were clapping loudly. What I did find interesting was the creation of a Council that will specify how quickly devices will be updated to a particular release of Android, and how long a device will be supported. This is pretty much an admission that fragmentation is real and a problem that needs addressing. I hope that it works.
The most interesting announcement during the Android keynote was the open accessories initiative. This is in direct contrast to Apple’s tight control over the iOS device connector. Google’s initiative is based on the open source Arduino hardware platform, and they showed some cool integration with an exercise bike, control over a home made labyrinth board, and some very interesting home automation work. As part of the home automation stuff, they showed an NFC enabled CD package being swiped against a home audio device, which then caused the CD to be loaded into the Google music service. This is cool, but I don’t know if CD’s will be around long enough for NFC enabled packaging to become pervasive. I’m very curious to see how the accessories initiative will play out, especially versus the iOS device connector. If this were to take off, Apple could build support for the specs into future iOS devices, although they would have to swallow their pride first. This will be very interesting to watch.
I’ve been curious whether the Chrome web store is really a good idea or not, and we got some statistics to ponder. Apparently people spend twice as much time in applications when they are obtained via the web store, and people perform 2.5x the number of transactions. I wish there were some more information on these stats. Of course this is all before in-app purchasing, which was announced, along with a very small 5% cut for Google.
Of course, no discussion of an app store should be without a killer app, so Google brought Rovio onto the stage to announce that Angry Birds is now available for the web, although it’s called Angry Birds for Chrome, and has special levels just for Chrome users. Apparently Chrome’s implementation of Open Web technologies has advanced to the point where doing a no compromises version of Angry Birds is possible. Another indication of how far the Open Web has come is “3D dreams of Black“, which is a cool interactive media piece that is part film, part 3d virtual world. I’m keeping a pretty close eye on the whole HTML5 space, but this piece really shows how the next generation of the web is coming together as a medium all its own.
The final portion of the keynote was about ChromeOS and the notebooks or “Chromebook”s that run it. A lot of the content in this section was a repeat of content from Google’s Chrome Update event in December, but there were a few new things. Google has been hard at work solving some of the usage problems discovered during the CR-48 beta. This includes the trackpad (which was awful), Movies and Music, local file storage, and offline access. The big news for I/O is that Google has decided that ChromeOS is ready to be installed on laptops which will be sold as “Chromebooks”. Samsung and Acer have signed up to manufacture the devices. Google will also rent Chromebooks to businesses ($28/mo per user) and schools ($20/mo per user). This is latest round of the network computer vision, and it’s going to be interesting to see whether the windows of technology readiness and user mindset are overlapping or not. The Chrome team appears to have the best marketing team at Google, and in their classic style, they’ve produced a video which they hope will persuade people of the Chromebook value proposition.
On to the talks.
“Make the Web Faster” by Richard Rabbat, Joshua Marantz, and Håkon Wium Lie was a double header talk covering mod_pagespeed and WebP. mod_pagespeed is a module for the Apache HTTP server, which speeds up web pages by using filters to rewrite pages and resources before they are delivered to the client. These rewrites are derived from the rules tested by the client side Page Speed tool. The other half of the talk was about WebP which is a new format for images. Microsoft also proposed a new web image format several years ago, but it didn’t go anywhere.
Nick Pelly and Jeff Hamilton presented “How to NFC”. The NFC landscape is complicated and there are lots of options because of hardware types and capabilities. The examples that were shown were reasonably straightforward, but the whole time I found myself thinking that NFC is way more complicated than it should be. Having written device drivers in a previous life, I shouldn’t be surprised, but I still am. It seems obvious to me that the concept of NFC is a great one. The technical end of thing seems tractable, if annoying. The business model issues are still unclear to me. I hope that it all comes together.
I really enjoyed Eric Bidelman and Arne Roomann-Kurrik’s HTML5 Showcase. They showed some neat demos of things that you can do in HTML5. I particularly liked this one using 3D CSS. They also did some entertaining stuff with a command line interface. All of the source code to their demos is available – the link is in the slides.
Ray Cromwell and Phillip Rogers did a talk titled “Kick-ass Game Programming with Google Web Toolkit”, which was a talk about ForPlay, which is a library for writing games that they developed on top of GWT. This is the library that Rovio used to do Angry Birds for Chrome. If you implement your game using GWT, ForPlay can compile your game into an HTML5 version, an Android native app version, a Flash version, and a desktop Java version. They also showed a cool feature where you could modify the code of the game in Eclipse, save it, and then switch to a running instance of the Java version of the game, and see the changes reflected instantly.
Google has an undeniably large footprint in the mobile and open web spaces. I/O is a good way to keep abreast of what is happening at the Googleplex.