Another year, and another OverTheAir: it's my favourite developer-focused conference and hack day, and the organisers delivered yet another blinder. A small yet tasty slice of FP was in attendance: myself, Mr Hopper and Mr Hoskins.
Friday kicked off with a keynote from fellow Brightonista Aral Balkan, urging the audience to consider the importance of user experience and drawing on some lessons he's learned in launching Feathers and other apps. I found little to disagree with here, and hope that next year we can come back to the theme in more depth: teaching fishing over and above handing out fish.
I popped into a session Bruce Lawson of Opera was running on HTML5, straight after the keynote. All interesting stuff and a good primer. His notion that server-side device detection isn't the way to go rankled slightly, but a subsequent Twitter conversation with some knowledgeable folks led me towards thinking that - as often in mobile - the appropriate strategy is a messy mix of approaches: media queries are great for layout but still usually involve mobile browsers unnecessarily downloading large-form content or elements what won't be displayed, meaning you probably need some sort of server-side element too.
After that, I wandered over to the Open Plaques talk from Jez Nicholson: covering the project he's been working on to catalogue and expose the blue plaques which mark homes of historical significance across the UK. Despite (or perhaps because of) some technical hitches at the start of his presentation, I found it a delightful tale, which I suspect holds lessons for anyone attempting to digitize real-world data: the messiness of it all, the rights issues involved, the practicalities and the technical hurdles. Really good fun.
Lunch followed - the conference essentials, food and wifi, were both excellent - and then my favourite session of the day, Rethinking the Mobile Web by Bryan Rieger. Bryan has a track record of combining broad perspective with a really up-close understanding of implementation details, and the educationally slanted work he's been doing recently shone through in this presentation. Taking a look at mechanisms for delivering mobile optimised content, he dispelled a few myths and proposed a - what else? - mobile-first approach to site design which I couldn't help but agree with.
I popped in on Geoff Ballingers session on Connecting with the real world, but am afraid it didn't hold my attention. Geoff gave a good run through of ways and means to hyperlink the physical, but I was undercaffeinated and distracted by work-stuff during this one.
The panel on mobile and art which Bryan was running (and I was sitting on, as resident non-artist and representative of all things developery) followed. Good fun, we meandered around tooling and interfaces for artists. I have to confess that I found myself at odds with a few members of the panel over their division of the world into creatives and non-creatives - I've been quite inspired by the Joseph Beuys quote that "everyone is an artist" recently - but we didn't get too heated. And Bryan had even taken my dreadfully produced slides and managed to make them fit for human consumption...
Hacking followed. Doug, Thom and I worked on Dance Dance Evolution, a concept which combined a few things we've been thinking about recently: the use of genome data to seed a game (which I've been wanting to do ever since signing up to 23andme); web technologies to produce iPad apps; multiplayer gaming for tablets; and the theme tune from Treasure Hunt, which is as close as we come to a company anthem (it's a long story, trailing back to our trip to Shenzhen last year). Oh, and we directed Mr Hoppers sick caricature skills towards the OTA organisers.
Kudos to Doug, who - unlike myself and Mr Hopper - worked through the night, without a break, on the game. At 3am when I retired for a couple of hours kip on the floor of the main hall, the game was looking frankly ropey and we were sceptical that we'd finish. By 6am it was looking extremely smart, and by demo time we'd done nearly everything we set out to. Geek.com wrote about us, too.
The next morning kicked off with a talk from Pawan Gandhi of Nokia, on Ovi in emerging markets. It's a fascinating topic which would've benefitted from a less corporate presentation, I felt... and perhaps to an audience that hadn't deliberately overcaffeinated and sleep-deprived itself.
Tim Berners-Lee followed with his keynote, which I found quite disappointing. Whilst there was lots of agree with in the big-picture points he was making (yes, data should be open; yes, governments should publish data online), and the technical detail sounded interesting, I couldn't really see a line connecting the two. And I found the reaction of the audience on Twitter a bit bizarre - berating Pawan for poor slides, whilst applauding Tim for a presentation which seemed much less well-structured. In any case, I'd never seen him speak before, and it was a great score for the OTA organisers to have him there at all.
I missed the remainder of the talks that morning, as we finished off Dance Dance Evolution and celebrated with beer. Presentations followed, frantic as every year, with each team having 90 seconds to show off their wares. Dan kept time expertly, though it was a shame that such a short window precluded good demos of, say, SMS-based services. One team in particular had written a little chess game which looked fantastic, but was undemonstratable thanks to latency in SMS round-trips. Ah well...
Prizes! We were chuffed to win an xBox for the Best Game category, and Thom received a Most Fun award for a neat little doodling message app he'd put together. And then it was back to Brighton, for beer, sleep, and general recovery.
So, another fantastic year. A few times I had the impression that it'd been unusually stressful for the organisers, and I hope that we get to see OverTheAir run again. It's a fantastically fun, educational event that draws together the great and good of our industry and gives us a chance to show off, teach, learn, hang out, and generally celebrate mobile-in-the-trenches. Thank you, organising guys and girls :)
Write-up from el Reg here.