UrbanThings @DroidCon: Battle of the Platforms!

UrbanThings sent our top Android guy to this year’s DroidCon UK – but, in a unique twist, his iOS counterpart too! What did they think of it? Which platform is best? And did they have a fight about it? The results are in and the verdict is below…

Part 1 – Droid Guy does DroidCon

Ian Manders, Head of Mobile (Android)

My previous visit to DroidCon was the 2012 edition; I found that to be deeply informative and took a lot of useful things away from it, so was looking forward to this year’s edition for the same reasons.

After the initial keynote talk (on the evolution of VR and AR over the last 40,000 years – yep, you read that right!) it was straight into Chris Banes’ talk about the support library or, as he put it: “the giant mountain of hacks Google wrote so that you don’t have to”! Following this, Huyen Tue Dao gave an overview of ConstraintLayout, which is effectively RelativeLayout on steroids, and its tight integration with the latest Android Studio Layout Editor. She insisted that the typical developer scepticism for WYSWIG was worth putting aside to see how far the editor had come… with a good handful of caveats!

Next up was a talk on advanced RxJava by Paco Estevez – unfortunately I’ve not yet grokked enough RxJava to have made the most of this talk, but could see the concepts being discussed would be useful and worth revisiting as I power up my RxKnowledge for some imminent app refactoring work.

A host of lightning talks followed this, with the highlight being iOS for Android developers by Darryl Bayliss. I’ve dabbled a little in iOS, but that was back in the days before Swift, so it was interesting to get a bit of a look at the new language for iOS, and some of the general framework similarities to Android.

Day 2 brought about a keynote from Google’s own Chet Haase: a lively discussion of all things new in Android dev, ranging from some 7-7.1 features to new developer tools such as the Espresso test recorder, APK analyser and much more… although he quickly threw up the defences at the end when someone raised a question about Google’s plans around Kotlin, offering no hint about a much-hoped-for official adoption of the trendy new JVM language!

Aptly enough, the keynote was followed up by a introduction talk on Kotlin by Kai Koenig. I was familiar with some of the content, but having not used it for a few months it stoked my interest in the language and I’m now actively looking for an excuse to use it. If you’ve not heard of Kotlin, I highly recommend having a read up on some of the fantastic features it offers, including extensive reduction of boiler plate code, extension methods, type inference, null safety and smart casting – just to name a small selection of the new features.

Lisa Wray gave an excellent talk on advanced usage of RecyclerView, with many points being very relevant to our own apps and I intend to be making the most of these points very soon. Last up for me was a talk on Android Architecture Blueprints from the entertaining duo of David Gonzalez and Jose Alcerreca talking about the Google Samples Github repo where a variety of architecture styles are used to implement a ToDo app, with feedback on how well each worked – well worth a deeper dive.

Overall, DroidCon UK 2016 was great – there was so much content across the five tracks it was frequently a difficult decision on which talk to attend, so huge kudos to SkillsMatter for getting so many videos of the talks online so quickly so I was able to catch up on talks I’d missed. And after a raft of mostly excellent talks, it’s got me thinking about what I might want to present at a conference given the opportunity. With a fresh new Android SDK for the Urban Things API in the works, maybe I should be pitching a talk at DroidCon NY next year. Actually – “Hey, boss, I’ve got a great idea….”

Part 2 – iOS Guy does DroidCon

Mark Woollard, Head of Mobile (iOS)

As a veteran iOS developer of eight years with a smattering of Android experience (I published a few Android apps some years ago for a client), I arrived at #droidconUK feeling like a bit of an outsider. As I stood waiting for Ian, I wondered how my shiny new iPhone 7 would be viewed as I checked it for messages on his progress!

With five conference streams running in parallel, I decided to follow sessions that as far as possible were not Android specific but had a wider audience such as Firebase, Reactive programming and Testing strategies.

I picked up some useful ideas from the testing and Reactive programming talks and the Firebase gave some great insight into how it could be used to implement features we have on our roadmap – I’ll be digging into this further.

I certainly enjoyed the conference and got some useful information and ideas to take away, but the real conclusion from the conference is that it isn’t Android or Apple, but mobile that we all have a passion for. Providing a great mobile experience for the user is what we are all aspiring to achieve, and digging below the surface, both platforms have more in common than not and adopt many of the same technologies and methodologies.

Be it Reactive programming, moving beyond MVC architecture or testing or cloud services (to list just a few), good software engineering principles and innovation apply regardless of the platform. A user is there to engage with and delight on either platform. As software engineers, we can all learn from each other and grow mobile and bring new exciting concepts to both platforms.

So which mobile platform has the edge? Following their foray into DroidCon, we put a few key questions to Mark (iOS) and Ian (Android) to settle the score.

Part 3: The Verdict

• Are there any obvious physical differences between Android and iOS developers?

Ian: Android developers haven’t thrown away any wired headphones they own. 🙂

Mark: Android developers have far more fun thinking up release names – Ice Cream Sandwich, Jelly Bean, Gingerbread sound far more appetising than 8, 9 or 10.

• If you could steal one key bit of tech from the ‘opposition’, what would it be?

Ian: Not necessarily tech, but I’m jealous of iOS only developers lack of exposure to certain device manufacturers…

Mark: Last time I looked at Android Studio (pre 1.0 release) it was terrible. Now, three years on, it’s a solid IDE and Xcode could learn a thing or two from it – dare I say stability?

• Ian: Google just stole everything that Apple did with the iPhone, right?

Yeah! Notifications, widgets, multi process, cut and paste, etc etc etc… Google just ripped them all off. Oh, wait…

• Mark: Apple products are just like Android ones but in a frustrating walled garden, right?

Well.. as a user, I appreciate the wall, even if at times it constrains what we can do as developers!

• Who throws the best parties – Android developers or iOS ones?

Ian: Is there beer? If so, I’m platform-party-agnostic.

Mark: ‘Parties’? I don’t get time for parties! That said, the food at Apple events I’ve attended tops the Android offering at DroidCon (although it wasn’t bad).

UrbanThings can neither confirm nor deny that, after answering these questions, our Platform Heads had a big fight.