Google I/O is for everyone, and that’s amazing.
Google I/O has only been around for a decade, but to many developers, tech fans and lucky writers, it’s The Greatest Show on Earth.
Though it’s shared a venue with both Apple’s and Microsoft’s developer conferences at one point or another, Google has managed to put its own colorful and at-times weird spin on the very dry notion of a developer conference. From a live Google Glass demo in 2012 involving skydivers to an infamously long and rambling question and answer period by then-CEO Larry Page, Google I/O has always been, through the thoroughly rehearsed keynote scripts and predictably healthy lunch fare, a bit haphazard and unpredictable.
This year’s conference was a bit more sedate than previous years, but no less weird or charming.
When the conference outgrew Moscone and San Francisco and shifted to Shoreline Amphitheater in 2016 — a concert venue made legend by being inspired by, and hosting 39 times, The Grateful Dead — its haphazardness took on a whole new meaning, as organizers were completely unprepared for the relentless sun and torrent of people desperate to learn about a half dozen new products that would, in retrospect, take months to materialize.
This year’s conference was a bit more sedate, but no less weird or charming. The weather, while no less relentlessly sunny, was more tolerable, and coupled with an ample number of (likely very expensive) air-conditioned tents and plenty of free water and sunscreen (the loadout for each attendee was a light cotton t-shirt, a pair of sunglasses, a metal water bottle, and a small clip-on tube of coconut sunscreen, all Google-branded), there was far less cause for complaint.
Similarly, despite the lack of major product announcements, I got the impression that developer attendees felt like this year’s show was more substantial, as most of the improvements, from Kotlin being adopted as an official Android programming language to a bolstering of existing platforms like Assistant and TensorFlow, were ready to be played with.
And then there was the annual concert, headlined by one of my favorite bands — and one that I never thought I’d get to see live — LCD Soundsystem. It was one of the nicest Google I/O surprises I can remember, surpassing watching Tycho in the spitting rain back in 2015. Google I/O is always a spectacle, but there’s something about watching thousands of increasingly drunk, swaying developers singing along to one of the most critically acclaimed and fun bands of the 2000s that makes me really happy.
Google I/O is also one of the few chances I get to convene most of the Android Central team in one place for an extended period, and there was a lot of blabbering, from the excellent podcast to the late-night pizza and beer as we scrambled to get everything finished. Working remotely is great and all, but it’s nice to recall just how awesome everyone is in person, too.
“Everyone is welcome here.”
The circus is now over and everyone has left the tent. But like the real Greatest Show on Earth, Google I/O will be remembered year after year as much for its follies as its charms. It’s a sprawling mess of an act that somehow manages to attract a growing number of fans (maybe that’s where the circus metaphor should end, though, since the Ringling Bros was an animal rights nightmare and may not survive scrutiny in a few decades) every year. And I think I know why.
It struck me when I was sitting on a picnic table drinking an afternoon coffee, lazily looking around at the passersby. A TV screen in the distance flipped between the Google I/O logo and a message: “Everyone is welcome here.” It’s a simple thing, to say that. You can even dismiss it as a platitude. But when looking around at the sheer variety of people, of backgrounds, of experience, I can confirm that to be true.
To some extent, Google I/O is a summer camp for nerds, a place where all are welcome and no one is discriminated against. In an ugly world, here’s a guarantee of three days without intolerance or disrespect, of being both an individual who matters and a part of something significant. Yes, Google I/O is just a developer conference, but there’s a good reason why I hear, time and time again, that it’s the best one there is, and the greatest show on earth.
A few more thoughts from the week that past:
- The HTC U11 is such a bizarre thing. I like what I’ve seen, but there is zero chance it’s going to make a dent in the market, especially when the least popular major U.S. carrier was the only one to deem it worthy of supporting.
- Yes, that’s how carrier exclusives work: the provider agrees to put significant amounts of marketing support behind a product in exchange for its silo. I’ve spoken to many handset sales reps who say they never go out seeking an exclusive. It’s the worst of all scenarios.
- Nope. Just nope. But I ❤️ Russell for writing this.
- I’ve had a surprising amount of fun with Alexa Calling this past week, though it’s mostly been to troll Modern Dad. I’m not quite as bullish as he is on its disruptive potential, but I do like the notion of a voicemail box for the 21st century.
- I also got a Google Home and so far, so meh. It doesn’t sound nearly as good as the Echo (which doesn’t sound nearly as good as my Sonos Play:1), but I also haven’t delved into Actions just yet. We’ll see — I’ll write something on it soon.
- On the other hand, I am so in love with the fact that I can now type to Google Assistant.
- I can’t wait until Google Lens is a thing. I can see that being used for so many useful things.
- Off topic, but the second season of Aziz Ansari’s Master of None is probably the single best season of TV I’ve watched all year, and I watch a fair amount of good television. Watch it.