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The CEO, the Android-Maker, and Augmented Reality. Oh my!

The first InsideMobile conference brought together about 100 developers, product managers, entrepreneurs and even some hobbyists to discuss the future of mobile.

A Community of Interest

So what does the CEO of a multi-million dollar startup, a visionary Augmented Reality entrepreneur and an Android-Maker have in common? They and about one hundred others spent a couple of days at a conference held on the eBay campus on July 26 and 27. The InsideMobile conference, organized by O’Reilly publishing and 360Conferences.com, covered many aspects of current and future mobile technologies and business issues.

Developers, product managers, market-data analysts, entrepreneurs and technology fans from all over including local Silicon Valley-ites, Las Vegas, Boston, New Jersey (that would be me), Europe and South America attended the inaugural event. The first day of the conference highlighted multiple half-day hands-on training seminars led by consulting firms Agile Commerce (Palm webOS), Pivotal Labs (Palm webOS) and the folks representing the open source PhoneGap project. Meeting at eBay’s TownHall facility was ideal as there was power for everyone’s laptop, Internet access and plenty of caffeinated beverages to keep things moving at a quick pace.

After the hands-on training on Sunday, a number of conference participants had the opportunity to demo their solutions, which was a fun and interactive time of sharing, learning and laughing. The second day included a presentation by Fabio Sisinni from PayPal‘s mobile payment team. Fabio shared about upcoming payment API features to be released in the fall and the kinds of applications they will enable. Eui-Suk Chung from Samsung demonstrated Samsung’s Caxixi project which provides advanced music capabilities for their mobile phone line. The music project sprung up out of an effort to perfect their accelerometer sensors and APIs. Samsung also gave away T-Shirts promoting their developer resources.

OK, so a T-shirt is not as cool as the Android device that Google gave away a few months ago at their I/O show, but it is a start. From there the event attendees split out into different rooms for “Fireside chats” about various topics of interest. It was the kind of event where you wished you could be in multiple places at once because there were quite a few interesting presentations. I’ll try to recount some of the topics introduced — obviously I could not attend every session so some entries here have more detail than others. I am providing as many links as feasible so you can dig deeper as your interest and time permits.

Presentation Topics

Eric & Gary from Agile Communications presented a session about Palm webOS – the platform you already know. These are the guys behind the FlightView application, one of only a handful of applications available for Palm Pre at present. Nice work, gentlemen.

Brian Fling of Fling Media presented on aspects of mobile application design. Brian was called upon quite a bit throughout the conference for his expertise in the area of visual design and its impact on mobile applications.

Francisco Diaz-Mitoma of Tonnect led a discussion entitled: “Maxing Out Mobile: Persistence and Virtual Economies”. Francicso also particpated in an end-of-conference panel discussion on monetizing mobile platforms. One of the interesting take-aways I received from Francisco’s comments is the idea of creating monetizing opportunities for both real and virtual assets. It is easy to think about selling your application for a license fee, but there are other revenue generating opportunities as well. This might look like selling a super kung-fu-gripped sword for a multi-level iPhone game or perhaps a get-out-of-the-dungeon-free card. My examples, not his, but you get the idea. With the challenge of navigating the numerous AppStore’s and their somewhat restrictive nature (talking about Apple here…), the idea of outside-the-box monetizing opportunities was a frequent topic of discussion.

Alex Quillici from YouMail presented a talk entitled, “Using Apps to Drive Multi-Platform Service Revenue”. Alex’s company offers products for managing your mobile voice mail. You can think of it as visual voice mail on steriods. They give their application away and sell functionality “on the backend”. And they’re making more than .99 per user!

Yours truly led a discussion of Android development topics as we examined the creation of a proto-typical “field service application” — or a template for data collection applications. The application is borrowed from the Unlocking Android book project. The application is writen in Java using the latest SDK. We also reviewed the Python Twitter client based on the Android Scripting Environment and the took a quick peek at a native application written in “C”. By the way, you can find the slides here and you can download the code to the field service application from Google code hosting if you’re at all interested in learning more about Android.

Romain David from Lumosity led an engaging discussion about moving on-line content and games to mobile platforms, with a particular focus on the cross-promotion opportunities available to developers. Romain had lots of helpful market data and suggested some techniques for maximizing revenue and testing price elasticity in the AppStore(s).

My new friend Arno Puder from San Francisco State University led a small group of cross-platform thrill-seekers through a tour of his XMLVM project. If you recall from a prior Linux Magazine article, XMLVM allows you to convert your application from one platform to another as a native application. Support is available presently for Android, iPhone, Palm webOS, .net, native Java and Javascript applications. In fact, Arno demonstrated a game he wrote for Android which now runs on Android, iPhone, and Palm Pre. The games are identical, except for the fact that the user interface widgets (buttons, check boxes, dialog boxes, etc.) are all native elements — exactly what you want. It is a very impressive demonstration!

The XMLVM project is open source, so you can try it for yourself by downloading his source code yourself. While the XMLVM project is impressive in the capabilities it boasts at present, it is yet a bit immature and requires more investment in the “blackbox” side of things — if it can gain some momentum, I think it could make a serious impact on the mobile software development community. In particular, the functionality required for 2D games and puzzles with basic configuration dialogs can be built today. Arno and I had an engaging discussion of next steps for bringing greater levels of functionality to the XMLVM tool-chain to support more “line of business” or enterprise applications. Thanks also to Arno for getting my MacBook’s Eclipse environnment setup for Java 6.

Jeff Hanyie, CEO of appcelerator, led a packed sesion through a demonstration of his Titanium Mobile product. Titanium allows developers to build native applications for iPhone and Android (and the desktop) with web technologies such as HTML/CSS and JavaScript. I have not had the opportunity to use their tools just yet, though they look pretty polished. In particular, the tools even support the management of provisioning profiles for iPhone and keystores for Android. This should not be taken lightly as the learning curve for deploying iPhone applications rivals that of learning Objective-C and the entire Cocoa Touch Framework. The Titanium platform deserves a good look.

Noora Guldemond from metaio demonstrated technology from the Augmented Reality application platform called Unifeye. She showed me a demo of a dancing Tramsformer-like robot through her mobile device — it appeared as though the robot was dancing on top of chairs in the presentation hall. Their platform currently supports multiple platforms. She showed some pretty cool presentations of their technology leading visitors through a museum. Their SDK is available for a fee.

Robert Rice also presented some market positioning and vision casting on Augmented Reality. Robert is an engaging speaker and was encouraging developers to push the envelope to create a demand for high-precision GPS capable devices. As I understand it, his business model is focused on creating infrastructure for hosting and enabling massively multi-player online augmented reality environments — the next killer–killer application. Robert shared slides on some of the “state of the art” Augmented Reality glasses. Let’s just say the concept drawings are a bit more fashionable than the working proto-types. He is convinced that the future of Augmented Reality is based around high-capability mobile devices that have wireless connections to sleek A/R glasses and he is working diligently to foster an environment that will create content in advance of the hardware being available.

I found both of the Augmented Reality presentations thought provoking — there was quite a bit of discussion throughout the conference about how in twenty years, much of the “user experience of life” will be augmented with text, enhanced images and other “virtual matter.” Imagine having a beautiful piece of art in your home without having to pay for the original, but simply paying a small usage fee. Don’t like the Picasso, trade it in for a Van-Gogh. Talk about monetizing ideas. I’m not sure if I’m ready for this just yet — I kept thinking of Minority Report and freak-you-out targeted advertising.

There were other discussions, but I was not able to be in multiple places at once, unfortunately.

Keynote from EverNote

The conference keynote was presented by Phil Libin, CEO of Evernote. Phil gave an engaging presentation about his experience with mobile applications and bringing Evernote to market. In particular he stressed the importance of Mobile applications in customer acquisition, even though the core product may not be constrained to the mobile space. Looking at the meteoric growth rate of Evernote downloads he shared, he certainly had the audience’s attention! It wasn’t a hockey-stick graph, but more like a vector heading up at a solid 45 degrees with no signs of slowing down! Phil also presented his 10 rules for deploying mobile applications, which I found both insightful and entertaining:

  1. Make it personal
  2. Make friends with your vendors’ developer relations folks
  3. Focus on devices with self-identified communities
  4. Get it running really well on one device first – expand support later
  5. Invest in your app icon. Seriously
  6. Don’t forget that people in different countries have different data plans
  7. Don’t overload mobile versions with marginal features
  8. Eschew unnecessary words
  9. Develop a staged release plan
  10. Listen, but don’t overreact to, user feedback

The conference wrapped up with two panel discussions. Rana Sobhany, from event sponsor Medialets participated in the monetization discussion. Her company gathers market data on application usage — you can think of them as Google Analytics for mobile. I was very intrigued by the data they were gathering and the value it represents to in-game advertisers as well as to developers looking for an under-served market population. Then there was Daniel Brusilovksy — a high school senior who participated in the first panel discussion about the future of mobile. Daniel works closely with TechCrunch and enumerated a resume which many industry veterans would be proud of. I got the impression that he was eager to finish high school and continue making his mark in the tech scene. One of the take-aways I received from Daniel was a comment he made about the lack of iPhones in his high school — apparently the students prefer more text-messaging friendly platforms such as Palm, BlackBerry and some of the keyboard-laden feature phones. So, for what it is worth, we’re again reminded that texting and twittering are hot. Surprise, surprise.

Lastly, to prove that innovation is still alive and well at the grass-roots level, I want to conclude with mention of Sid Gabriel and his “Android Makers” group. I was chatting with Sid after the conference (when the security detail was asking us to leave…) and he spoke passionately about the beauty of the Android platform and about the group of folks he is leading to bringing Android to non-phone platforms. He is meeting with these folks out of his home — sounds familiar. Steve and Steve from that little company named Apple started in a garage. As did Hewlatt and Packard, I believe. Sid is meeting with others a couple of times a month to bring this project forward. Good luck, Sid! Unfortunately for me, I’m headed back to New Jersey and don’t think I’ll make it to the next Android-Makers meetup. But perhaps you can.

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