Renaissance.io 2014 iOS Developer Conference

I had a wonderful three days at the 2014 Renaissance.io, a small grass roots conference in San Francisco for iOS app makers. The two year young conference is organized by Tim Burks, local iOS developer who also runs the Silicon Valley iOS Developers Meetup. Tim set about to make a community event for developers and designers that is for us, not for people trying to sell us stuff. Its filled with a wealth of colleagues to trade stories and ideas with and thoughtful speakers with insight and pragmatic advice to share.

Day one was titled 'Inspiration', Bill Budge entertained us with stories of Pinball Construction Set and early Mac development. The day was filled with talks about lesser know areas of iOS: spritekit, 3D, accessibility, iBooks, music. The highlight for me was hearing Savvy Apps' Ken Yarmosh describe his strategy for launching paid productivity apps. Ken reflected that his market is growing tougher due free productivity apps from venture funded companies that can iterate fast and release on multiple platforms at the same time. For Savvy Apps, the release early release often mantra we hear from the web space is a misfit for mobile, Ken emphasized that a productivity app needs to be a quality launch or else it will disappear quickly as an 'also ran'. I think that a minimum viable product approach is appropriate for the app store, but the key is that you can't ship bad software. The features you do ship had better work well and make a coherent experience.

Day two: 'Essentials' was a wonderful conference day full of advice on shipping software, avoiding pitfalls, keeping projects on track. Rob Napier gave an excellent presentation on techniques and APIs for security and encryption. His advice is very actionable via his library RNCryptor on github which you can use in both objc and on your server side in Javascript etc. Following Rob we heard from Laura Berger from the Federal Trade Commission. Laura described what the FTC does re privacy, fraud, COPPA, etc. She included specific examples of investigations of known apps and web sites to show us how we could be effected.  Following Laura was a thought provoking presentation by Prof. Shannon Vallor from Santa Clara University on Ethics for App Makers. It was an ethics 101 followed by a discussion of the hot topics for app makers today like IAPs in freemium games. Going through ethics, the FTC explaining our legal responsibilities, and seeing how to correctly use security APIs - where else can you get a top to bottom slice through issues? At which other tech conference can you get a wonderful hour of ethics education?

Still on day two, Michael Mace gave a fantastic keynote on user testing and UX design pitfalls. He introduced us to UserTesting.com, a pragmatic and affordable user testing service, and from all the user testing work he sees he drew up a list of common UX design problems. Michael described each UX problem and showed an example in a snippet from a narrated user testing video. I love talks like his that combine a high level point of view with specific examples and actionable advice. It becomes impossible for a developer or designer of an app to know how a new user will experience it, we need constant reminders that new users are going to see things differently. Michael did this masterfully. I already made two changes to Hit Tennis Multiplayer based on his advice.

Following Michael we listened to talks on project dynamics between consultant and client and developers and designers. Danielle Arvanitis shared her insights about different kinds of designers and how to tell them apart. She shared her techniques to tell if a designer is more interested in form or function, which is critical to hiring a balanced team. When interviewing, does the designer talk more about 'I' or about 'the user'. A form focused designer tends to talk about themselves making something beautiful, a function focused design tends to talk about users trying to get stuff done. Danielle says you need both, but form comes first.

Day three "Opportunities" included looks at bluetooth LE, cloud services, iOS7 design. A great session with Jeff Smith from Smule, where he laid out Smule's marketing strategies. He shared some rare data too: word of mouth distribution around 25% for Smule apps; split testing icons jumped Magic Piano from mid 20s rank to mid 10s rank.

The day three show stealer was Horace Dediu's keynote. You may know Horace's writing at asymco.com or his podcast 'The Critical Path'. His long form live presentation is something much much more than those though, he left me in awe.  Horace used complex interactive charts to tell a story about society, technology, and consumerism, by looking at US household adoption of different technologies over the last 100 years. We then pondered 'what does that story tell us about smartphones and apps?' 'what does it tell us about future technologies, society and the economy, our careers?' Horace said he rarely gets more than 45 minutes to speak, Tim scheduled him 90 minutes I think. Those 90 minutes flew by and I feel privileged to have been there. 

Did I convince you how great Renessance.io is yet, how unique and valuable the speakers talks were? If missing it fills you with regret then keep an eye out, because Tim will shortly be publishing videos of all the talks. Thanks to Tim and all the speakers. For future speakers, IMHO here's what made great talks: a high level point of view, explained with specific examples, and reinforced with actionable advice. See you at Renessance.io 2015.