Droidcon Paris: speaker session and roundup

By The App Business under Engineering, News 14 October 2014

On 22nd-23rd September, I headed to Paris to deliver a live coded session for Droidcon – the largest Android developer conference in Europe.

With more than 400 attendees, Droidcon Paris drew together 30 international speakers who delivered more than 46 talks that highlighted the latest Android advances. There was so much inspiration and insight that I’ve also rounded up my highlights from the event below, based on the major themes of September’s conference, including:

- User Experience (UX) and User Interface (UI)

- Android Everywhere

- Android Development

How to Build A Gradle Plugin

It was the second time I’d attended Droidcon in Paris, but my first time as a speaker from The App Business. For my session, I looked at key concepts in Gradle.

Gradle is Android’s build tool, and it’s increasingly adopted by developers as their main build system, especially after the release of Android Studio. So, it’s an important foundation in Droid development. Thanks to the plugin’s architecture, Gradle allows users to reuse patterns and practice, avoiding boilerplate build code.

During the session, I focused on a live coded plugin. This co-operated with the existing ‘Android plugin’ to demonstrate some key concepts. These included tasks and lifecycle, as well as defining a custom DSL, and incremental build and testing.

For anyone who didn’t get the chance to hop on the Eurostar, you can watch a video of the session online here. I have also added the sample code to GitHub. Follow along with the session slides on Speakerdeck.

Key themes at Droidcon

I wasn’t at Droidcon as a speaker alone – it was also a great opportunity to share stories, knowledge and new developments with some of best Droid engineers from across the world. Here’s a brief summary of the main themes that stood out:

1. User Interface (UI) and User Experience (UX)

Importantly, Droidcon isn’t just for developers – it also focuses on UI and UX design.

One of the most interesting talks on UI/UX was from Geoffrey Dorne (see photo above) from Design and Human. A particular aspect of his talk was the natural transition to material design – in itself, a continuity of flat design. Geoffrey argued that flat design was such a success because tactile interfaces became ubiquitous, and people became increasingly familiar with its design language. This meant, for example, there was no longer a need to have a glossy, shadowed button that signifies to the user it’s a button they can interact with. Today, we understand a button with just a rectangle and a picto – arguably, there’s no need to highlight it more than that.

On the other hand, flat design is precisely that: flat. It doesn’t typically offer an immersive experience – and it’s this that material design tries to enhance through animation and interaction. Bringing the UI to life in this way creates a more delightful, engaging UX.

2. Android Everywhere

Given wearables are high on the agenda, it wasn’t surprising that a couple of talks explored potential use cases.

Damian Mehers, an Android engineer at Evernote, gave one such talk as he explored the potential of a wearable version of Evernote. Damian’s view – and it’s an interesting one both technically and from a UX perspective – is that one area to explore with wearables is making contextual information available even before a user knows they need it. An Evernote use case included serving up notes automatically from a previous meeting just before a new one starts with the same participants. In this way, a wearable might be said to become ‘super smart’, with an even more useful and intelligent UX.

Google’s Hoi Lam (pictured below) also discussed some of the many considerations designers and developers will need to think about when creating different apps for smartphone and wearables. In particular, he stressed the need to keep interactions on wearables super lightweight and to avoid the trap of simply ‘downsizing’ or mimicking an app’s experience from smartphone to a wearable device. Hoi Lam at Droidcon Paris

3. Development

These sessions were reserved for some interesting in-depth technical talks that certainly got me thinking from an engineering perspective.

Currently, there’s a lot of hype about Functional Reactive Programming (Rx) and with that in mind, one talk I headed to straight away was by Benjamin Augustin from Novoda, based on RxJava. Benjamin’s talk highlighted some particular instances where RxJava comes in handy – especially when dealing with complex data flow or a badly designed API. Rx also makes it easy to chain operations (like a builder pattern) without falling into Callback hell.

The first day was also the opportunity for Barcamps, where developers have 30 seconds to propose their own talks, and people vote for their favourites. For me, a talk about using Groovy in Android, and how it could help to reduce some engineering pain points like boilerplate code when developing an Android app, was very insightful. Given Benjamin’s previous talk, It was particularly interesting to see that the New York Times app has taken this approach – combining Groovy alongside RxJava to develop their official app.

Droidcon roundup

Overall, Droidcon Paris showcased some fantastic new technologies, and delivered plenty of inspiration and insight from leading Android developers from across the world. We’re looking forward to channeling and exploring some of the ideas and concepts into our work here at The App Business.

The Droid team here at TAB HQ are already looking forward to the end of October – this time with Droidcon in our own backyard here in London.