March Of The Droids 2015: As It Happened

folder_openEvent Coverage

This post was published 8 years, 10 months ago. Due to the rapidly evolving world of technology, some material it contains may no longer be applicable.

On Saturday the 21st of March, I went up to Birmingham for March Of The Droids as an Android fan and to represent Little Green Dude. For those of you weren’t fortunate enough to join us, here is summary of the event and what happened.

So, having travelled for quite a few hours by coach from Cambridge to Birmingham via Milton Keynes, I arrived at the University of Birmingham just before the first talk from James Bricknell welcoming us to March Of The Droids and explaining how the day was going to be run.

On arrival we were issued our named passes and handed a little bag with our Twitter handle on it. You may have seen me share pictures of these on social media live during the event. I left you guessing what was in that little paper bag and it turned out to be a load of (very delicious!) fudge. Mmm…

The day was composed of a mixture of talks and time spent just mingling in the intervals between each of presentations – speaking to other attendees and the different companies present. These intervals also gave people time to go hands-on with the tech the likes of Honor, HTC, Asus and others had each brought with them.

The Talks

We actually recorded all the talks from the event and uploaded them to our YouTube channel so if you want to watch any talk in its entirety then simply choose the video you’d like to watch from the playlist below. Or, if you’d rather watch them all through, make sure you’ve got plenty of time on your hands and then simply let it play though them all.

However, we know you all lead busy lives and so not everyone will necessarily have the time to watch through the talks fully. Therefore, I have summarised each of the talks below. Besides, even if you have watched the talks through or were even at the event, you may just want to read through our take on them anyway.

Honor: Introducing a Brand

Honor March Of The Droids 2015

Once the introductions were out of the way, Wilkin Lee (Sales & Marketing Manager for Honor UK) was first up. Wilkin spoke about the introduction of the Honor brand to the UK and how it differs from that of their parent company: Huawei.

The Honor brand isn’t just a name which was made to be easier for westerners to say than Huawei (which yes, is correctly pronounced “wah-way”), although we are sure it will have that benefit too! The Honor brand, as they put it, is “for the brave” and made to serve what they refer to as “digital natives”.

What they mean by this is that Huawei is still a name you can expect to see on devices sold via mobile networks and in stores such as Carphone Warehouse and it will remain the primary brand, while Honor has been introduced with the aim to be a little bit different.

Honor will behave somewhat independently from Huawei, offering devices with a heavier emphasis on serving the needs the community and will primarily by sold unlocked and sim-free either directly from them or through Amazon (although they did also speak of a special tariff they are working on with Three). This is sort of like the old Nexus sales model.

Another way to put it might be to think of them as the giffgaff of the phone manufactures. O2 owns giffgaff and it runs on O2’s network much as Huawei own Honor and are building their devices, but they operate differently.

Honor devices are sold without the traditional sales model which looses commission to the mobile networks and retailers while giffgaff ditches uses online-only customer service with a more community oriented approach – saving money by ditching the traditional call centres. In both cases, the savings of doing things a little differently are able to be passed on to the customer and help them get a better deal.

In fact, the similarity should mean that if you are in the UK, purchasing a giffgaff SIM for an Honor device might just make a very good partnership, as they both aim for a low-cost no-contract pricing model.

Later in the presentation, Wilkin also talked about their product line, including their recently introduced Honor 4x and 6+ which they announced during MWC. We were lucky enough to join Honor for an MWC tie-in event in London a few weeks earlier and so this was actually my second opportunity to see and play with these devices (along with their existing portfolio.

I therefore am hoping to do a write-up about the Honor brand and a review of these products shortly, along with hands on videos if I can get review units from Honor.

Something that particularly caught my eye (aside from the devices themselves) was the promise of same-day replacements with their Honor VIP replacement service, which comes free with the Honor 6 and 6+. With this service, it seems Honor will send a courier to you collect a faulty device and exchange it with a brand new one free of charge in the unlikely event you should have any hardware issues.

One thing was clear from both this presentation and the launch event for the 4x and 6+: Honor are a brand to watch!

Honor may be a new name to the scene but they are already producing exciting, powerful hardware at cut-throat pricing and are regularly taking feedback from users and the greater Android community to help improve their products and so things are looking very exciting for the future.

 HTC One M9 Presentation

HTC One M9 Presentation

The second talk of the day was from HTC. First up was Graham Wheeler who discussed the design and thought process behind the creation of their new flagship the HTC One M9.

Graham explained the changes to the design of the M8 (which admittedly appear to be very few from the photos, but are more noticeable in-hand) and actually showed how it had been refined with a new build process and a dual tone finish.

We were also told us how HTC had taken on board the biggest criticisms of the M8, including the low resolution of the rear camera and the slipperiness of the sides. They have addressed the slipperiness by using a grippier finish on the sides of the phone which is now a different texture than on the back and with a slight seam on the edge (rather than the smooth continuous metal that the M8 had).

In terms of the complaints about the M8 camera, the One M9 now has a higher resolution sensor on the rear and makes use of the ultra-pixel sensor on the front this time – where it makes far more “sense” (I know, awful pun but I couldn’t resist!).

Zooming, cropping and 4k video capture are not so necessary with the “selfie-camera” so the high-resolution is not as essential but, due to the lack of flash on the front of the device, the low light sensitivity is arguably more useful than it was the flash-equipped rear.

Later, Laura Kimball took the mic to talk about their fan community “HTC Elevate” and lead a Q&A with audience. HTC Elevate is their invite-only community for avid HTC fans which allows owners around the world to attend HTC Meetup events and parties. If you want to become a member you can get invited at events they are attending (such as March Of The Droids this year) but also can sometimes get an invite link by following @HTCelevate.

Among the questions asked in the Q&A were things like reasoning behind the lack of OIS, which they explained they had to drop due to spacing limitations in order to incorporation a sensor of size which they did.

It was a similar story with the infamous “HTC black-bar” which they explained is an area of the phone housing the display drivers and so is not something they could remove without reducing the size of speakers below to make room – something they don’t want to do as they consider BoomSound part of their brand identity and a unique selling point for the One. We can appreciate many HTC fans would have been disappointed had the speakers on the M9 not matched those on the M8 and I guess HTC felt the same. In truth, it was also less noticeable in person than it might seem in photos and did seem slightly smaller than on the M8.

NFC implants & Android

NFC Implant

XDA Staff Writer, Mathew Bloomer Brack was next and he spoke about NFC implants and how he uses his in his daily life. Matthew explained that he uses his for tasks such as opening doors, storing shopping lists logging into his computer and sharing contact information which all sounds pretty useful. Although the best thing about it is of course the ability to, as he put it: “mess with people’s minds” by pretending you have some kind of super power or Jedi-like abilities to open doors with the force!

He also explained that the process both for inserting the implant and if you should change your mind: for removal, is very simple and almost completely painless. The implants are provided by the company “Dangerous Things” and come pre-sterilised and ready for implantation via injection.

Sadly, the guys from Dangerous Things were unable to make it to March Of The Droids in the end. They were originally supposed to be attending to perform a live demonstration of getting an NFC implant on his other hand (and even offer the opportunity for attendees to get their own!) but couldn’t make it for personal reasons.

Although, this might have been a blessing in disguise in my case because had they been there the temptation may have been all too much and I probably don’t actually need an NFC implant! They promised they’d be around next year though if you’re interested in getting one.

Mathew had this implant put in his hand by a local piercing place who agreed to go on the course and then to do the implant injection. He also said that in terms of removal you would be able to go to your local GP who would be more than capable of removing the implant very easily – much as they would for a female contraceptive implant.

If the idea of using the implant sounds good to you, but the thought of actually having one puts you off, Matthew also pointed out that the same functionality was possible externally through something you wear. For instance, an NFC ring, such as those also shown on one of the stalls at March Of The Droids this year.

Android: More Than Google’s OS

Android Open Source Project

Matteo Doni from Skyscanner gave a presentation explaining the differences between AOSP and the version of Android which is licensed to members of the open-handset alliance (such as phone manufactures) which includes some proprietary elements.

For any of you who have flashed a custom ROM, you will likely be familiar with the idea of having to flash your own “gapps” package separately in order to get access to Google Play services such as the Play Store. These are the propriety elements of Android which cannot be included on a device firmware without a licence. As Matteo explained in this talk, these components are not part of the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) and are not open sourced or available to freely distribute on devices or in custom ROMs.

Also covered in this talk was the manufacturers dependence on drivers from component supplies and why we should cut OEMs a little slack at times when they drop a device from getting updates or take a while to roll out an update, because often their hands are tied.

OEMs need the drivers from the component manufacturers such a Qualcomm, MediaTek, Intel, Broadcom, Nvidia etc and sometimes they just don’t get them as those companies do not create the required updated drivers or even when they do, they can take a while to release them.

Matteo additionally explained that this was the reason behind the recent decision from Asus to use more Intel chipsets. As part of an effort to get more of their chips into mobile devices, Intel have promised OEMs good support and timely updates to drivers which should help companies using Intel chipsets in their devices (such as Asus) be able push out new versions of Android more quickly than perhaps they were able to with some of their previous component partners.

With this talk there was also a competition for attendees where we were shown a photo of a place and we then had the work out where it was, look up flights to their with Skyscanner’s app and tweet the link for the flight to him as quickly as possible for the chance of winning a prize.

Sadly, while I worked my fingers as quickly as I could, I wasn’t quite fast enough to win any of the rounds – although I feel I came close in a couple. Of course, I blame my lack of success on having an older phone in the Nexus 4, compared to the faster, Z3’s, M8’s, N5’s etc that most others were using! Well, that and the fact that I may have used the wrong hashtag for the first two which I am pretty sure didn’t help – whoops!

XDA-Developers: Past, Present & Future

XDA Site Screenshot

For the final talk before the prize giving, Jeremy Meiss from XDA-Developers discussed the history of our favourite mobile hacking and development community. If you’re not a developer then you may simply know this as the place you go to get your custom ROMs.

XDA-Developers has had a long history and Jeremy took us back to its origins as a small community for hacking old Windows Mobile devices (before the days of Android, iPhone and the modern Windows Phone) and described the journey it has gone through to reach where it is today as the biggest mobile development community on the web.

Jeremy also discussed some of the growing pains they’ve had along the way such as dealing with spam and trolls. I particularly liked the rather humorous graphic below which was included in the presentation – clearly highlighting the anatomy of these trolls we have to put up with all over the web!

Anatomy of an Internet Troll

Another topic covered was dealing with the derivative work vs original work on XDA. Jeremy was clear to point out that XDA strives to have quality original work over quantity – ideally avoiding loads of near-duplicate works where people are trying to clamour for donations but not really doing a whole lot to earn it.

Often these people are dubbed “Win-Zip” developers because they simply open another ROM zip, replace some of the default apps and the ROM name in build.prop and try to pass it off as something totally new and amazing and then ask for money.

Jeremy likened this to the “snake-oil” of ROM development with these people often claiming to have spent ages making the “smoothest, best battery-saving ROM ever” when really they’ve done almost no development at all. He also explained how XDA are trying to tackle these and reduce the number which you find posted in the development forums on XDA.

Finally he opened for Q&A where many questions about the revenue model and improvements to search, among other things. It was explained that XDA is almost entirely funded by ads but that it doesn’t operate for profit and the money goes back into maintaining and improving the site.

Also, when I asked about efforts to improve the quality of the thread search (a common complaint amongst XDA users), Jeremy said that it was something they were aware of and some improvements had been made but that in order to improve it much further they would need to pretty much redevelop the whole site.

This is because the current search is mainly a limitation of the forum software use, which simply was never designed for the efficient search of such large forums and threads. So there you have it, don’t complain too much!

Stalls

Some photos and details about the stalls at March Of The Droids 2015.

Summary

March Of The Droids 2015

March Of The Droids 2015 was a really enjoyable event and I had a really nice time. The day was packed full of things to do but equally it wasn’t all rigidly structured and there was plenty of time to socialise and chat with like-minded people, as well talk with as the companies which had put on displays and get hands on time with the devices they had brought along.

It was a great opportunity to meet Android fans from all different backgrounds and experience levels as well as directly communicate with the manufacturers of the devices which we use every day. The talks were also very informative and unlike some other events, were targeted in such a way that they were accessible to audiences of both end users and developers alike.

After all of the talks there were raffles and prize giveaways including one sponsored by Three UK. People won all kinds of goodies including power banks and even phones! Sadly I wasn’t lucky enough to bag anything from any of the competitions or raffles but a surprisingly large proportion of attendees did manage to win something!

Overall then I think that MOTD is an event which offers a wonderful experience and great value for money. All the money from the tickets goes straight back into the event and the cost at £20 was a small fraction of what you’d pay for most other Android-related events. It’s also very unique in what it offers – I don’t think there is really another event quite like it and certainly not in the UK. Perhaps the closest event to it is the Big Android BBQ in the states, but for those of us on this side of the pond this is much easier to attend.

We would highly encourage any of you who can make it next year to come along where we shall hopefully also be returning (and hopefully several of us next time as it was only me who could make it this year!). Details of where and when have yet to be announced (the location changes to different places around the UK each year) but we’ll be sure to keep you all informed as soon as we know.

We hope to see as many of you as possible next year for an even bigger March Of The Droids 2016!

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