droidcon Italy: Security, Proximity, and Networking

Turin greeted me with a downpour of rain. I couldn’t check in to my hotel for another 3 hours so I decided to get to know the city. And what a great city it is. Convenient metro/subway, beautiful architecture, churches, museums and piazzas (not to be confused with the delicious pizza). Spending a few hours orienting myself in Turin set a positive tone that continued for the whole conference and trip.


Tuesday night, the droidcon Italy team set up a dinner for the speakers. I had the pleasure of meeting Erik Hellman, Google Developer Expert and author of Android Programming: Pushing the Limits, Martin Woolley from the Bluetooth Special Interest Group,  and Mathias Seguy, currently leading the architecture and development effort on Android Auto for a large auto manufacturer. It was great networking and had me excited to meet developers and attend sessions the next morning.


Droidcon Italy started off strong with a lot of traffic to the Zebra booth. There were a lot of people who were unfamiliar with Zebra but quickly identified our value to the Enterprise segment and why to work with Zebra. We met several companies in the midst of projects integrating Zebra mobile computers like the TC18 and TC70x or with Zebra printers. And as usual there were a lot of “A-ha!” moments from developers wishing they had known about Zebra when working on a previous project, showing that my job is never finished in Developer Relations. My favorite group that stopped by the table was a group of middle school children. They were fascinated by the unique form factor of the TC8000 and thermal printing, and asked very sharp questions about Zebra SDKs and customer use cases! It was so great to see young students mingling with adults from all over the world and their curiosity for learning.


Clearly, I must be a total nerd because the first session I attended was on Testing and QA. The Zebra ISV Partner Program offers three software testing services to ISVs: the Zebra Validated and Compatible Programs and iOS MFI App White Listing. Our teams have reviewed nearly a thousand applications and I’ve been surprised to see that Software Quality often isn’t up to the standards we’d expect. I encourage all developers to take the testing component seriously. No, it isn’t as fun as building the app, but the reputation and success of the application is defined by its quality.

I also got the chance to hear Wiebe Elsinga, Android Google Development Expert, highlight the importance of truly understanding your customer’s needs when scoping and designing an application. He walked through his latest project creating an app for a major European airport and how some fundamental miscommunications and assumptions, even to the level of who would use the app, hindered the success of the app. It highlighted the value of documenting users, personas of the users, and their workflows to prioritize feature development. These lessons, combined with those in the testing session, elevate the importance of all aspects of the development process.


Next up was a session by Martin Woolley of the Bluetooth SIG on updates to Bluetooth including a proximity demo, beacons, The Physical Web by Google, and Bluetooth 5. Very cool stuff. It tied in very well with some Zebra initiatives like SmartSense and a project to tighten the range and battery life of beacons to optimize loading of delivery vehicles for UPS. Martin showed a demo on a museum experience where approaching a specific exhibit would display content for that exhibit on a user’s phone via Bluetooth Low Energy Beacons.


It aligned closely with Brian Duff’s talk on the Android Nearby API focused on proximity. Brian did a great job of highlighting proximity use cases and then walking through the Nearby.Messages, Nearby.Notifications, and Nearby.Connections APIs and how to implement them. Nearby is a fascinating proximity technology with significant benefits for the Enterprise audience Zebra targets. I’m excited to share that Brian will be presenting on Nearby at Zebra APPFORUM.


My colleague Pietro Maggi, Developer Evangelist at Zebra, reviewed the myths and reality of Android Security from an Enterprise Perspective to a packed room. Pietro analyzed Android Security reports to go behind the headlines of risks like Dirty Cow or StageFright. He showed that there were no known actual attacks, but that these were only vulnerabilities that Google quickly addressed. He walked through Android OS enhancements, Google Mobile Services endpoint security and antivirus services, the Google SafetyNet program that checks 6 billion apps a day and even how Google hires the broader community to identify vulnerabilities.  Pietro lastly reviewed Enterprise challenges and best practices such as locking down devices and Zebra’s LifeGuard™ for Android™ program which add years of OS security support after consumer support stops to match the enterprise hardware life-cycle. For those questioning the security reputation of Android, I strongly encourage you to watch this session to learn the reality of modern Android.


Overall, droidcon Italy was a fantastic event. I attended several other great talks, in addition to those listed above, learning about new tools and approaches. I introduced Zebra to hundreds of new developers and meet dozens already working with our products and tools. Zebra even received some coverage by media outlets (hope your Italian is good…)


One of the most rewarding parts was engaging with the broader community: talking to other developers and speakers from across Europe and the world about their professional and personal projects, whether adding Android Auto to a car or the specialized equipment needed to photograph the night sky.


And, of course, there was the pasta: