This past week I spent in Atlanta, Georgia, attending Xamarin Evolve and Atlanta Code Camp. This was the second annual Evolve conference and attendance went from 600 the first year to 1200 this year. This year’s event was an impressive affair.
Cultivating an Niche
Not only did the number of attendees grow significantly from last year, there were 700 of those people who attended the pre-conference training sessions. This is a significant amount of demand for what is perceived by some to be a fairly expensive set of tools to build cross-platform native mobile applications.
As Mike Beverly notes, Xamarin are making the transition from a place where C# .Net developers go to create iOS and Android versions of their applications, to a cross platform solution for developers of all platforms who are prepared to learn C# and .net.
The idea that you can build mobile applications that have the look and feel of the native platform, but share a significant chunk of client code between platforms is a lofty goal. One that Xamarin seem to be making significant progress towards.
Building a Community
Numerous people have made comparison between the atmosphere at the Evolve event and Microsoft PDC’s of the past. There is no doubt there was a palpable excitement in the air.
There was a sensation that Xamarin was going all out to make sure that attendees got everything they possibly could out of the event. Xamarin employees were everywhere and highly visible due to them all wearing the same shirts. Attendees could schedule one on one meetings to discuss projects and ask questions. The Darwin Lounge was full of toys and challenges to give developers the chance to explore all kinds of cool things.
The technical production of the event, the food and drinks, the social events, the venue, were all quite spectacular. This holistic focus on quality is what makes developers want to be part of the community. It feels safe. It feels like it will have a future.
We as developers are tired of half finished products being thrown over the wall at us by vendors; those products being milked dry once they become successful and then left to rot when the next cool thing comes along.
When you eat the locally made fruit popsicle and find some Xamarin inspired pun printed on the popsicle stick, you want to believe that the same attention to detail is going into the products.
Heading in the right direction
While preparing for my talk at Evolve I took the opportunity to write some sample applications and test some of my OSS PCL libraries on various platforms. I was impressed that my libraries worked unchanged on Android. Creating simple applications that worked on multiple platforms was quite straightforward once I had figured out how to setup the Android Emulator.
Xamarin have recognized the pain of using the Android SDK for development and announced the release of their own Android player that not only makes setup and configuration way easier, but it is also significantly faster than Google’s own emulator.
In the opening keynote, there were a number of other significant product announcements. The Sketches tool provides an instant feedback mechanism to write code and see it immediately appear on apps running on iOS and Android emulators. This high speed feedback loop is the kind of feature that Web Browser and HTML/CSS advocates have been rubbing in the face of native developers for years.
The Insights real-time monitoring product and new features in Test Cloud demonstrate Xamarin’s desire to get developers to produce high quality apps with their toolset. This is a far cry from Microsoft’s efforts to evangelize the Windows Phone where the marketing department seem to be focused on the quantity of apps in the app store with little care for quality.
Architecture is important
Regardless of all the delightful trimmings that VC funded companies are able to display, when it comes down to it, architecture is a key component to longevity. Native user interface will always have a performance edge over a generalized user interface solution. In the past, cross-platform issues and development speed were barriers that made native development a barrier to many. Xamarin is lowering that barrier.
As someone who has always been a believer in native user experiences, I really hope to see many more editions of Evolve in the future.