NSNorth 2016 Conference Highlights

Check out some of the best talks and highlights from this year’s NSNorth conference in Toronto, Canada! By Tim Mitra.

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I recently got back from the fourth annual NSNorth, a popular Canadian mobile development conference.

This year the event was held at the the St James Cathedral Centre in Toronto, and organizers Philippe Casgrain and Dan Byers were joined by Adrienne Marshall in presenting another successful conference for designers and developers.

There were 160 attendees registered for the conference, with companion tickets bringing the attendance to over 200. It felt like just the right size for connecting with past acquaintances and making new life long friends.

In this article, I’ll share some of the highlights of the event so you can get a taste of what the event was like, and see if it’s something you might want to attend next year. Let’s dive in!

Note: We will update this post to add video links as they become available.

Tech Workshop – Start Thinking in Swift – Daniel Steinberg

Daniel Steinberg

Author and podcaster Daniel Steinberg kicked off the conference with a day long workshop geared to towards intermediate developers looking to level up their Swift skills.

Daniel walked students though intermediate level Swift concepts, assuming that the basics were covered. For example, he explained how the Swift compiler will treat objects and types, how errors are handled in Swift 2, and how we now have the ability to ask for the “first” element in a collection.

One thing Daniel said in his talk really stood out to me:

“We should pay attention to what Apple tells us at WWDC, because they are telling us about what’s coming without telling us.” – Daniel Steinberg

Consider these examples:

  • Auto Layout led to larger iPhones, size classes and Adaptive Layout.
  • ARC wasn’t just about automatic memory management, rather it was preparing the way for the Swift language.
  • App Thinning was getting our code ready for the Apple TV and Apple Watch.

Daniel’s mix of clear explanations, humor and industry know-how was a great help for budding and experienced developers looking to enhance their understanding of Swift.

Keynote – What Does the Future Look Like – May-Li Khoe

May-Li Khoe, Adrienne Marhsall, Phillipe Casgrian & Dan Byers

May-Li Khoe, Adrienne Marhsall, Phillipe Casgrian & Dan Byers

The keynote for NSNorth was presented on Thursday night. It was followed by a reception sponsored by Shopify.

May-Li Khoe, formerly with Apple, Microsoft and Leapfrog and now with Khan Academy, led off the conference with a talk about reshaping the future. She prompted us to consider the putting the user first when designing our apps, where are they when using the apps, and how they feel about the technology.

“Like a fish in water, we can’t see the water.” – May-Li Khoe

She illustrated her arguments with the story of Antanas Mockus, the mayor of Bogata who shook things up by firing the corrupt police department. He hired mimes to mock litterers and jay walkers. He also gamed the system by instituting white and red cards popular in sports. Like offensive soccer players, bad citizens would get presented red cards by fellow citizens. Good and kind people would get a white card.

She also gave great examples people who successfully shaped the future:

  • Douglas Engelbart gave “the mother of all demos” in 1968, discussing the augmentation of the human mind with technology.
  • Steve Jobs, described the computer as the bicycle for the mind.
  • Grandmaster Flash invented DJing, allowing hip-hop to break out of the debris and poverty of the Bronx.

She left us with an insightful question: “What do you want the future to be?”

Keep Calm and Type Erase On – Gwen Weston

Gwen Weston

Indie developer Gwen Weston gave an interesting talk on type erasure.

She began by asking us to consider what is a “type”. She then went on to explain the differences between concrete and abstract types, the former representing data and the latter representing behavior. With the use of Generics, we use types represented by T or U, we can use type reification to make abstract type concrete.

Protocols present a exception, where we cannot directly instantiate abstract types. In this case we can wrap an abstract type in a concrete type, also know as type erasure.

Gwen took a topic that could have been dry and made it fun by injecting humor: all of her examples were Pokemon based. A great talk all around!

Clean View Layout with iOS9 Features – Ayaka Nonaka

Ayaka Nonaka

The delightful speaker Ayaka Nonaka is looking forward to iOS 10, however she wanted to look back at some new additions to iOS 9 that we may not have implemented yet.

Stating that she preferred to work in code, she likes the new layout tools that empower clean layout:

  • NSLayoutAnchors allow users to create layout settings and constraints with as few as one line of code (which is great compared to the Visual Format Language, which often involves a lengthy set of commands).
  • UILayoutGuides are similar to adding padding in web design – “designers like padding,” she adds. Ayaka showed plenty of code examples during her talk, and noted that Apple had not added UILayoutGuide in storyboards, yet.
  • UIStackViews aren’t just for Interface Builder: they can be used in code too! She also showed a series of slides to demonstrate where stack views are used. “When you start using stack views, everything looks like stack views”, she concluded. For those still supporting iOS 8, Ayaka pointed out TZStackView on GitHub, which is interchangeable with Apple’s UIStackView when developers eventually switch to iOS 9.

If you ever get a chance to see Ayaka Nonaka speak, you won’t be disappointed!

Note: We are quite passionate about Auto Layout, Adaptive Layout, and UIStackView at raywenderlich.com. If you’d like to learn more about these, check out our Auto Layout video tutorials, Adaptive Layout video tutorials, UIStackView video tutorials, or our brand new free tutorial Easier Auto Layout in iOS 9 which covers layout anchors and guides.

Safety, Fun, and Learning – Liz Marley


Liz Marley likes to play. She’s a heavy duty character in World of Warcraft, taking on all foes while sending instructions to her companions. Putting a twist on the gamer put-down “Learn to Play”, she renamed her clan “Play to Learn”. This positive attitude extends to her work in App Camp For Girls.

Empowering young girls to become developers is the mandate of App Camp For Girls. It provides a safe environment presented by other women, whom the girls can identify with. Praise is not given for appearance or for being smart, but rather for working hard.

Relating her talk to the audience, Liz argued that Apple reset the clock with Swift. All developers started off fresh on the same footing, and they even gave us Playgrounds making it easy to get started and experiment.

Liz wrapped her talk up by saying we are invited to play – so go pick a topic and play!

Note: The app created by the App Camp For Girls attendees is on the App Store: App Camp Quiz Compendium.


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