Inside the real Google I/O

Think Google I/O is all about swanky hardware launches? Think again. Swiftkey's Joe Braidwood takes a look at the event from the developer's point of view

Google I/O 2013 may not have featured any flashy hardware launches – but that's not really what the event is all about. Swiftkey CMO Joe Braidwood takes us behind the scenes at the developer conference, for a look at the real Google I/O.

Google I/O

For many in the real world, Google I/O this year has been something of a disappointment. No shiny new version of Glass, no smartwatch, no new super-smartphone. But for SwiftKey, the budding London software startup I work for, it’s been an exciting week.


That’s because Google I/O isn’t about the glossy keynote announcements. It’s not even really about the products that Google announces here from time to time. Nor is it about the high-value hardware giveaways that happen (this year everyone got a Chromebook Pixel – worth about $1400).

It’s about the developers – the ecosystem of individuals and businesses that focus almost entirely on building products that embellish and the make the most out of Google’s products and platforms.


SwiftKey, whose focus is building better keyboard software for Google’s Android platform, fits this bill perfectly. And so when Ellie Powers, Google’s product manager for Android developer services, unveiled a smorgasbord of new features in the Google Play backend that allow Android devs to more effectively launch and monetise their products, I was very excited. But that's only because it will help us do our jobs better, and reach broader audiences as we go.


Once you've digested the big announcements that affect what you do, making the most from I/O as a software company is far more about talking to the other attendees than it is about attending sessions. The sessions, which are far-reaching and technical, are very interesting for developers who engage with the various issues they address. But all of these can be watched later on YouTube.


It is in the break out sessions, over lunch, or in some of the fun lab showcases that are set up in the foyers of San Francisco’s Moscone West conference centre, that the real meat of Google I/O is to be found.

It’s here that the serendipitous conversations take place and like-minded developers are able to discuss all of the opportunities and challenges that they face. I’ve not been to any other event so rich in terms of bringing this talent together – albeit a heavily geeky, male audience.

Through the Glass

The most surreal thing about Google I/O? The seemingly hundreds of cyborgs wandering about, wearing their Google Glass headsets. I’ve yet to be convinced that Google Glass – the smartphone-meets-pair of glasses product that Google unveiled here a year ago – is worth the hype. But one thing is clear. People wearing Google Glass look hilariously silly, and if you consider that this event has more Google Glass owners than any other in the world (you had to sign up here last year for $1500 to get one of the early devices), it’s almost as if I’m the odd one out.

Appy, now?

The shame here is that Google Glass has been seemingly absent from the list of announcements that were made here this year, and there’s not yet much excitement about the prospects that developers have to create new and innovative apps for the headsets. All of that is set to change in the next year though, so it’s simply a question of patience for a very new and cutting-edge direction that wearable technology is taking us.

Worth the trip?

In sum, I’d say that coming to Google I/O is totally worth it if you’re representing a company like ours and are eager to meet other like-minded people. Next year, it’s hard to imagine an event that doesn’t have some kind of major keynote announcement, but in the meantime it’s off to the coffee zone to grab a beverage, strike up a conversation, and be inspired.