Toronto, Another Town in the Mobile Game?

Mobile innovation is heating up the North.

Mobile Innovation Week

Many mobile software conferences take place within an earthquake’s rumble from northern California. If you reside in that neck of the woods or prefer to rack up your frequent flier miles, then that poses little challenge or obstacle to participating in these events. I’ve often wished I could drop in on a presentation or two without making a long and expensive investment in getting out to the conference or have to miss too much family (or work) time along the way.

Fortunately for those of us not running Reto Meier’s popular Earthquake application, there is some balance coming to the mobile conference arena. For the second year, the folks in Toronto, Ontario have hosted a mobile conference named Mobile Innovation Week, or MIW. By the way, for those in southern California, the Ontario I am referring to is in Canada. And yes, Toronto in September is actually quite nice, though I believe the water parks were already closed!

Toronto is probably best known for its film festival but they can draw a pretty mobile-oriented crowd as well. Or perhaps piggy-backing the events is just a good way to bring people to town. Either way, judging by the number of speakers, attendees and sponsors who came from a distance, this event just might stick and earn a regular spot on the calendar.

Mobile Innovation Week is not necessarily a conference unto itself, but rather a collection of conferences and events complete with its own fledgling website with links to each of the sub-conferences. There was even a “hack-a-thon” to kick things off.

The participating conferences included:

What is impressive to me is the collaboration of the mobile business community in Toronto pulling off these coordinated and complementary events. This was not an Oprah conference — you know, a vendor giving away a device with 30 days free service in exchange for simply coming to a seminar on how to develop for their device. Note to vendors — many of those devices just wind up on eBay anyway! To be fair, Samsung did give away a few gadgets as door prizes and development books were raffled off after presentations, but it was not the reason for attendees to show up.

Being someone from out of town, I was impressed with the number of designers and developers from the local Toronto area. Clearly “mobile” is part of the business fabric of the area as evidenced by the diversity of the topics offered across the events. My omni-present powers had to be left at the border while I journeyed to the event, so I could only be at one place at a time, which was the FITC conference.

FITC

The FITC brought together mobile professionals (and amatuers) from a variety of backgrounds with presentations split out between four different tracks:

  • Business
  • Marketing
  • Technical
  • Creative

iOS (iPhone, iPad, & iPodTouch) and Android were the focus of many workshops and presentations, along with topics on Windows Mobile 7 and even Blackberry. Samsung made their presence felt with both their Android-powered tablet and a strong promotion of their BADA platform. Not to be left out, Motorola presented on Android development topics.

Tool and platform vendors had a significant presence at the event as well including presentations on Adobe’s AIR, Unity’s gaming platform, Appcelerator’s Titanium, infrared5′s BrassMonkey, and others. One of the other contributors that was perhaps a bit unexpected was the Yellow Pages Group. Yes, the original “address book” application company has gone mobile, including an Application Programming interface available for third-party developers.

Yes, Google was there too. Among other contributions to the event, they sponsored an after-dinner party again proving that the only thing more attractive than a free device is a free drink. Or two. Good or bad, I didn’t make it to the event as it was past my bedtime.

I was privileged to participate in the FITC conference as a speaker, leading an all day workshop on Android development and a separate presentation on native Android development techniques.

I spoke with more than one attendee who said that their day job was working for company XYZ, but in their spare time they developed mobile applications. I saw one of the FITC event volunteers being openly recruited for a development position with a not-to-be-mentioned company looking to make a splash with some competitive iPhone functionality. Not bad for a guy who was attending the event for free through FITC’s volunteer program.

The mobile market is growing and its roots cross borders and cultures. Keep an eye out for next year’s Mobile Innovation Week in Toronto as it is likely to pick up additional sponsorships and draw a bigger crowd. Hopefully it keeps its “small-town” feel, the give-a-ways stay confined to book raffles and Oprah stays home.

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