The two days I spent Google I/O were an exciting whirlwind of running from presentation to presentation, and much to my surprise, eating! I didn't think I'd ever praise the food at a tech conference but as a couple Googlers pointed out, with Google the food is always good. The usual conference fare is a box lunch consisting of a sandwich, apple, bag of chips and cookie. Not for I/O though, Google set up three "Cafes", a grill, a deli and a Mexican cafe. The tri-tip at the Mexican cafe on the first day was scrumptious and natural beef hot dogs and Angus burgers at the Grill on Thursday weren't bad either. Then there was the party Wednesday evening; sushi, pasta, grilled salmon and chocolate fountains washed down with a nice Charles Krug Rutherford Cab.
So beside noshing I picked up quite a few mobile tidbits. In the buzz around Android, I think some of the Google Gears announcements may have been overlooked. First of all Gears has been "debranded", no more Google Gears, it's just Gears now. The name change was made to stress the Open Source nature of the project which includes a community of over 500 contributors, many from outside Google.
During I/O Opera and Google announced that Gears is coming to Opera 9.5 on both the desktop and mobile. It with be Windows Mobile only at first, but both UIQ and S60 versions of Opera 9.5 with Gears are in the pipeline. Up to now we've mostly been hearing about using Gears' local server and database storage to provide off line browsing, but there's another piece than sounds interesting for mobile web apps. Gears provides asynchronous worker threads that can synchronize local data in the background without blocking. I can see this being useful for things on mobile like live sports updates, RSS readers and Webmail.
Other new Gears features in development that were demoed included the ability to resume uploads and downloads, and a new file picker dialog supporting selection of multiple files. Gears is coming to Safari and Android too. As they are both WebKit based, I imagine that means we will see it on Nokia's WebKit browser eventually.
There was more Android news too. The last session of the mobile track at I/O was a Fireside Chat with Andy Rubin who heads the Android project along with Engineering Director Steve Horowitz and six of the tech leads. The format was audience members asking questions which were fielded by various members of the team. Here are my notes:
- Best Andy Rubin sound bite; "The world doesn't need another OS but it does need a really good open source embedded OS"
- USB master support (for keyboards, etc) is planned but won't be in the first devices.
- Concerning fragmentation; Carriers and OEMs are free to modify, remove or lock down any part of Android, but Google believes that most will see the value of the whole package and of maintaining platform compatibility and will deliver the OS intact.
- There will be a compatibility test script that anyone can run on an Android device to determine which APIs are present and functional.
- Google is thinking hard about content distribution and billing - and something is in the works. That sounds to me like some kind of on-device or web-based Application Portal.
- The next SDK release will mainly be bug fixes and cleanup with not too many new features.
- Regarding security, there will be support for developers to self sign applications. Signing will be free of cost and is not required for access to any API. Signing lets two apps signed by same key share the same process. Signed apps can only be replaced (upgraded) by another app signed with same key.
- A core Google value is "Trust the User" and Android will give control of security back to users instead of carriers and OEMs. Google is working to make security dialogs easy for non-technical users to understand. They would like to see a system of community recommendations for application usability and security.
- Gears probably won't be in the first devices shipped. Andy asked the audience if they'd rather have a device released sooner or a later release with more features. The response from the crowd was a roaring "Release"!
- OTA and USB updates are part of Android. The Kernel supports both full upgrades and diff based patches. By default, firmware upgrades must be signed, although an OEM or more likely a community based implementation could deliver a build that allowed unsigned firmware to be installed if they wanted.
- Developer Challenge II will probably kick off early next year. As it was always set to occur after the first devices shipped this reinforces my belief that we won't see a device release until late in the year.
Speaking of the first device. Engadget thinks the prototype shown at the keynote was HTC's Dream. They're probably right, HTC has said that they will release an Android device this year. And I heard a comment from one of the Android Googlers that there would probably only be one phone released this year. It all points to HTC and Dream is only name I've heard associated with an HTC Android phone. Of course no one has any specs for the Dream or knows what it really looks like, so its all meaningless but fun speculation at this point.
A special thanks and shout out to John Musser at ProgramableWeb.com who made it possible for me to attend by giving out free Google I/O passes on his blog last month. ProgramableWeb is a great site for anyone interested in building web (including mobile web) mashups.