Good old-fashioned developer conferences used to be lots of fun. It was a week to learn about the next wave of cool stuff and party. With the recent economic downturn and many companies trying to reduce carbon emissions, traveling to fun destinations has almost become a thing of yesteryear. At the recent Google I/O conference, the premier event for Google developers it seemed it was like turn back the clock to the old days. One of the keys to a great developer conference was (and still is) coming away with a lot of cool gifts. Not just any gift but “be the first kid on the block to have gift”. We all remember those rare moments when we were really cool for a week until everyone else got the cool new toy or sneakers. Now did Google I/O provide the same cool stuff that the gift bag at the Academy Awards does? Not quite, but underneath the covers I have to admit the loot these developers got was not bad.
Here is a list of what developers who attended Google I/O received. It is not a bad list of things. As I mentioned in my Apple article from a couple of weeks ago, a key is providing cool new hardware.. That is exactly what developers who attended Google I/O received.
The goods Retail price
Nexus 7 tablet $199
Nexus Q $299
Galaxy Nexus phone $349
Is the cost significant? It was estimated that Google spend $5.5 million on gadgets. In my view it is simply the cost of doing business. At a time when every company seems intent on cutting costs, Google invested. And I think this is a small sum for a company with $50 billion in the bank. Not to mention the mobile market (smartphones and tablets) is about as intense as it gets in the industry right now. You need developers for your platform to be successful. Giving developers toys to thrash is just smart business, though it seems more and more tech companies are becoming reluctant to do it. This will provide Google valuable feedback regarding both its hardware and software. Because this is a very technical community some feedback may offer technical solutions. It will give Google some of that “outside the box” thinking from a group of people nit at Google HQ, but literally people “outside of the box”. More importantly it makes developers loyal to your platform and at the end of the day, these are the people who will create cool applications that make your platform viable moving into the future.
I know cutting costs is big to most companies these days but I will be the first to say sometimes I think it goes too far and misses key business points. I am specifically targeting companies using “virtual” conferences in place of in person conferences. My old company Microsoft has gone down this path with their Professional Developers Conference (PDC). The actual event is at the Redmond campus, but most can log in and view from their home or work desk. The spin to shareholders is they are saving the company money. In my view this has gone far enough. You can continue to increase margins, but when you are talking about $40 billion or $50 billion in the bank and growing with a small return in dividends, I am lost as to what is the gain. Not the stock price. I pick on Microsoft but it seems an industry wide trend. Conferences are just not as big as they used to be.
Another problem with virtual environments is it may say you have 100,000 people viewing but in reality you actually don’t know. They may be taking a lunch break. A co-worker may have stopped by to discuss a customer issue or the vacation they just got back from. I may not be keeping pace with the new world of Facebook (though I am active on FB) and the creation of virtual friendships. But in my view there is still something to be said for getting together and meeting face to face. Being in a crowd and feeling the energy grow and fill you up inside. As that enthusiasm wells up inside it causes people to act. At the end of the day technology developers are about getting developer to act. To create the next wave of great innovation. My desk is my desk, the energy does not change a lot day-to-day, nor do the people I hear and see.
It’s human nature to like to be wined and dined. The old-fashioned developers conference was like that. It was there to make developers feel special, to feel important. When I see an event like Google I/O where developers were treated like royalty it makes me think that there is something to be said for the old ways. Sam Walton the founder of Wal-Mart used to sat about economic downturns “There are those who react to market climates and there are those who do nothing, the latter always gain market share”. There is frankly no reason for companies with billions in the bank to react and cut like they do when a gigantic piece of the market is open to conquest and lays before them. It’s simple advice but no one seemed to follow it. Google seems to be “gambling”..not really. They, probably not intentionally, are not being shy and investing in the market so they can grab market share. They are seeing what is before them and realizing the best way to get there is to try to get as many developers on board as possible. I for one would have loved to be invited (not that I can code a single line of C#, Jave or SmallTalk) and get my hands on a Nexus Tablet.
Good Night and Good Luck
Hans Henrik Hoffmann July 3, 2012