Thoughts from 360|iDev 2013

This past week I had the pleasure of attending 360|iDev in Denver. I’d been hearing really great things about all of the conferences put on by 360|Conferences for the last few years. Happily, this conference completely lived up to that reputation.

Most of the sessions I attended were very well done and quite informative. In particular, I found Ben Johnson’s talk on enhancing an application’s user experience through animations, Gratuitous Animations, particularly valuable. It’s best aspect being that it provides a great vocabulary to articulate the value of one of the least-quantifiable but most appealing  aspects of iOS.

Jonathan Rhyne’s presentation on legal topics relevant to software developers was one every developer hoping to work as an individual free lancer or planning to start a company should have attended. Navigating the legal aspects of the industry can be one of the more intimidating facets of striking out on your own. Jonathan’s presentation offered a very approachable take on many of the basic legal issues a developer is likely to encounter during a career.

In terms of technical topics, Joe Keeley’s Thread Safely! Techniques for Safe Concurrent Programming and Kendall Gelner’s The Ten Terrible Tribulations of Core Data were both full of insights that I can apply immediately to the work we’re doing here at Digital Generalists.

But the highlight of all of the sessions I attended was easily Carl Brown’s Take the Red Pill and Leave the Matrix: Writing Apps for the Physical World. In spite of the slightly over-the-top Matrix analogy, the content of the talk was nothing short of brilliant. Carl argued that social services like Facebook and Twitter, although serving a legitimate and valuable purpose, are largely distractions that have disproportionately skewed people’s expectations of what software can and should do.

The notion that social applications, whose revenue typically comes from ads or the reselling of data collected on the user base, artificially deflate the perceived value of software products in general was a particularly great insight. In my opinion, we don’t give enough thought to the long-term impact “free” software models have on the industry, so I was particularly happy to see the topic discussed.

The best part of Carl’s talk though was his articulation of where he believes the industry can go next. Mobile has been the hot topic in the software world for more-or-less the last five years. Typically, it’s around that period of time that the next “Next Big Thing” begins to gain shape. Consequently, I’ve been looking to the horizon, trying to catch a glimpse of the next logical step for what we do. Carl’s description of the gradual emergence of what’s been referred to as the “Internet of Things” (many small, simple, connected devices that can all communicate with each other) is the most compelling argument for what’s coming that I’ve heard so far.

I find Carl’s vision so convincing because he argues that the mobile device as we currently know it won’t simply be replaced by the next wave of new devices, but that our current smart phones and tablets will be the centerpieces of an ecosystem of these new specialty devices. To me, such a path seems not just plausible, but likely.  As much as software pundits like to talk of sea changes and seismic shifts in technology, the new ways of doing things that actually grain traction typically heavily leverage the tools, techniques, and technology that came immediately before.

Even though the sessions were first rate, the real value of the conference was interacting with the attendees themselves. The conference drew people from literally all over the globe. I met developers from Great Britain, Australia, Canada, and the Netherlands, in addition to the many developers from all across the U.S. There are few things more valuable at a conference than gathering the opinions and insights of a broad group of your peers. I have yet to find a better way of determining the pulse of what people in the industry are excited about, what techniques they are using, and how they are talking about those things than attending a development conference such as 360|iDev.

Many thanks to John and Nicole Wilker for their work in making 360|iDev happen. It’s literally one of the best iOS development conferences around, and I’m counting down the days to next year.

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