The good, the meh, and the epic: My first Google I/O experience


As someone who has been a tech-enthusiast for as long as I can remember, I’ve always dreamt of being able to go to one of the huge developer conferences that are held every year. Back in my iOS-fanboy days, it was being able to go to Apple’s WorldWide Developer Conference (WWDC) in San Francisco. But since I made the transition to Android, I’ve longed to be able to make it to Google I/O. Luckily, I was one of the folks who “won” the lottery and received a ticket.

Why the lottery?

I get the concept behind the lottery, but Google kind of put themselves in that corner. Let me explain. Back in the day, anyone could sign up to go to the conference, pay the extravagant amount of money for the I/O ticket, and be able to walk in the door; provided that you had a place to sleep and the money for the plane ticket. Well, when Google started giving away devices at events, people were paying the ticket prices with the expectation to receive a device that would outweigh the cost of the ticket itself.

This year was the first year since 2008 that Google didn’t give any products away, and that’s led to a bit of uproar. But there’s something to remember about Google I/O….it’s a DEVELOPERS’ conference. Sure, the press are there to cover all the cool new stuff that Google has been working on over the course of a year, but the conference isn’t intended for the everyday person to be able to go if they feel like it, and walk away with some new device that may never get used, or worse, get flipped on eBay for a profit.

So it makes sense that Google went the Apple route, and turned the ticket-purchasing aspect into a lottery. The problem with this, however, is that those hardcore Android developers, like our very own Steve Albright, may not be among the lucky ones. After all, I/O is designed and geared towards developers, and for someone to not be able to make it to the event is a bit upsetting.

But that was behind us at that point. It was time to hit the ground running.

Badge Pickup

Welcome Android figures Google IO 2016

This year’s Google I/O was in sunny Mountain View California, at the Shoreline Amphitheater, a stone’s throw from Google’s campuses, and across the street from the headquarters of LinkedIn and others. After landing, checking into our Airbnb and getting some food, we made the trek over to the badge pickup lines and got registered for the event the day before the Keynote. We weren’t among the first people to arrive, so the experience was fairly painless, minus a hiccup that Rob ran into trying to get his picture taken for the badge.

There is a slew of pictures showing just how many people were there at 7AM PST when the gates were opened and everyone rushed to get their badges. With over 7,000 people joining in the festivities, this could end up getting a bit hairy, but everything that I heard was that it was a pretty smooth experience.

Naturally, with this many folks trying to get into the fracas, there may or may not be some issues that crop up along the way. Since we arrived later in the day on Tuesday, there was almost no one in line, but you could just tell the team behind the lines were exhausted already. This led to a bit of an issue during my badge creation, as they misspelled my last name, but hey, no big deal. I was registered for the biggest Google conference of the year.


The Keynote was the next morning at 9AM, so we were well rested heading into the venue. We arrived a bit early, closer to 7AM, to get some breakfast and wait in line, and we were lucky that we did. There were two points of entry into the Amphitheater itself, one on either side, with entry points into the lawn if you ended up getting one of those “seats”.

Getting there so early allowed us to interact with others, meet folks you’ve never met before, and get an overall feel for the venue outside of the main stage. Google gave everyone a little tease near the Press area, with one of its self-driving cars roped off, but close enough to let everyone get a glimpse at the future and see this little guy close up.


Once the event staff lowered the ropes, everyone was off to the races, trying to scramble to get to the best seats in your designated section as quickly as possible. Since I didn’t have a Press pass but wanted the best seat possible, my counterpart and I ended up “jogging” a bit to our section, and were able to get front row seats in our section, free from obstructions.


Google made sure nobody was bored in the stands, as they had various interactive games to play with using your device and the screen. The first was of a big sculpture on the main screen that you could throw paint at while you were waiting, provided that you didn’t throw your device at the same time.


The next mini-game was something that got everyone in the world interacting with one another, using their phones or tablets. You needed to create a paper airplane, put a stamp on it, then throw it into the air. Once you had thrown your paper plane into the air, you were given a net to try and catch someone else’s plane so that you could not only see where it was coming from, but also throw your stamp on it and let it fly. This was pretty cool as there were folks from all over the world, and one of the planes I caught came from Iceland, which was pretty awesome.


The Keynote


Once everyone was settled into their seats, we were greeted with an awesome musical performance that lasted a few minutes, then turned to the big screen where Mr. Sundar Pichai entered the stage. The Keynote lasted for a little over two hours, where we learned about everything that was coming to Android with Android N, Google Home and Google Assistant, Instant Apps, Allo & Duo and so much more. There were interactions and applause from the stands that could be heard for miles, and everything really was a sight to see.

A fun little note: during the keynote Google pushed Developer Preview 3 for Android N, so I was hurriedly tapping that “Check for Update” button until it came to my device, and actually upgraded right after the Keynote closed out. I would go into more detail about what happened and was announced during the Google I/O 2016 Keynote, but you can check all that out here.

The Sandbox

The Sandbox is where a lot of the magic happened. This is where there were various tents set up to get a hands on look at Android Wear 2.0, Instant Apps, as well as where the Googlers were hanging out waiting to be asked questions. This is also where the story takes a small turn. The lines.

The night before, three out of the four Phandroid representatives had sat down and gone over the schedule of sessions that we wanted to visit and cover, and at the end of it all, I think I was able to make it into just a few. There were some sessions (which were of no interest to us) that the lines were bearable and we were able to get into, but then there were others where you would wait in line for 45 minutes just to get turned away due to the constraints of the tents.

So instead of being able to be up front and center for some of the “cooler” sessions, we chose to walk around and check out everything else that I/O had to offer. We were able to check out the new Android Auto and the Android Auto concept car, which was made in a partnership between Google, Qualcomm and Maserati. It was amazing to sit in a Maserati and to see Android N in all its glory on a display that big, but I digress.

We navigated our way through the various side sessions, grabbed some lunch, and kept on walking, trying to wait for the next session to come. There were awesome things on display, like Project Loon, and a robotic arm that would throw paint on to a spinning cube while dancing to the sound of music.

The After-Party

PANO_20160518_193604 (1)

On the first day, things started to wind down around 5:30-6PM, and that’s when Google started serving everyone some food and adult beverages. We were able to meet up with a few friends of Phandroid and ended up making our way into the Amphitheater where a concert with Charli XCX and Kygo was planned.

Gearing up for the concert to begin, event staff were walking around handing (or throwing) candy, light sticks, or glow sticks into the crowd, getting everyone riled up for the end of the day. All those glow sticks and light sticks turned into this:

The concert lasted until about 11 or so and we managed to find our way out of the concert area and into an Uber to head back to our Airbnb for the end of the day.

Note: We didn’t make it to Google’s After Party on Day 2 of the event, but were able to explore the Android Garden and check out all the awesome figures from Android releases in the past.


Despite some of the shortcomings of this year’s event — including the madden lottery system that kept some developers out and the lack of space to get into sessions — I still had a BLAST and met people that I would have never met otherwise. Again, I know that Google I/O isn’t geared towards just enthusiasts or press, but even when I sat through sessions that I didn’t understand, I still walked out with more knowledge than when I walked in.

For better or worse, long lines or short, Google I/O was the best experience that I’ve had involving technology. The ability to meet others in the press, and those you admire from afar, is something truly incredible. Add on the fact that you could literally walk up to someone from Google and get some answers that you may have been looking for, and you’ll realize that you’re part of something special.


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