360|iDev 2018 Conference Highlights

Multiple developers and speakers descended upon Denver for 360|iDev 2018. Learn what you missed and see to watch to hone your mobile app development skills! By Tim Mitra.

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250 attendees and 41 speakers recently descended upon Denver, Colorado to take part in the annual 360|iDev conference.

360iDev 2018 had much to choose from; running from Sunday to Wednesday, there were six workshops and 34 sessions to choose from. It was easy to find a mix of sessions tailored to your interests — yet hard to narrow down the field of amazing talks and workshops!

In this article, I’ll share my thoughts on the conference and help you sort through all the great presentations to highlight the “can’t-miss” moments from the conference. Let’s dive in!

Keynote – Wired For Connections – Tammy Coron

Tammy Coron felt like an outlier in the early part of her life. Like many of us, she suffers from imposter syndrome. She would often act and speak like those around her, all the while believing that it wasn’t worth another’s time to be friends with her. She identified who she was by mimicking those around her, transforming into style of the group she was with. Driven by self-loathing and the acceptance of others, she couldn’t find her own voice.

However, Tammy tells us that we are psychologically wired to connect with others. Since the early days of man, we have had the need to assemble with others, to hunt and create small groups within an even larger group. To illustrate her point, Tammy shared with us the Parable of the Broken Pot, where even a broken water pot that could not complete its main task of carrying water could still benefit the flowers along the path to the well. The moral is that even a broken pot has value and a beneficial purpose. Finding Tammy’s unique benefits she had to offer the world was a challenge for her.

“Nobody cares about the shoes that you have on, because they are worried about the shoes they have on.” — Elaine Manganello, Tammy’s Mom.

Tammy’s advice is that you need to realize your own worth. Recognize that you are no worse of a person than your friends and colleagues. Make the connections with others, and step out of your comfort zone. Be genuine and celebrate your own value; others aren’t judging you because they are worried about themselves. Collaborate with others; it’s easy to make your own contribution by working with others and not being afraid of what others think of you. Find out what it is that you can bring to your group; extend your hand and introduce yourself. Everyone else in the group is likely just as worried and as afraid as you are.

How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love Voiceover – Rachel Hyman

In this session, Rachel Hyman set the stage with the basics of accessibility. 1 in 5 people in the United States have special needs, but as a society, we tend to treat persons with special needs as second-class citizens; we react to their needs instead of proactively putting accessibility first. There are affordances around that all people benefit from; sloped corners on sidewalks, closed-captioning on television and eyeglasses to correct vision.

iOS has plenty of built-in features to assist with accessibilty; the most commonly known feature is VoiceOver. This system-wide screenreader is based on the UIAccessibility protocol, which lets you define accessibility traits to indicate the type of object on the screen:, such as strings, links, and even buttons. VoiceOver uses these traits, along with other accessible properties of values and controls on the screen to read out the relevant elements on the screen.

Auditing your accessibility implementation is just as important as the rest of your app testing. The Accessibility Inspector Tool can be used to check your app’s accessibility by running an audit of the elements. Perhaps a hit area is too small, or a label’s value is incorrectly overridden in code. These are the things that are easily missed by developers or testers who aren’t familiar with the challenges of accessibility.

To build empathy with the attendees, Rachel challenged us to take a selfie with VoiceOver. To add to the challenge, we were to triple-click with three fingers and enable Screen Curtain, which turns off the display. Using only VoiceOver assistance to find the camera, flip to the front facing camera and take a selfie, I managed to take the interesting selfie, which you can see above.

Before wrapping up the session, Rachel covered Dynamic Type, which uses type styles rather than fonts to preserve the relative design hierarchy while allowing users to set the font size of their device to something that suits their needs. Starting with a plan for building accessible apps means that everyone ends up with apps that are better-designed overall.

Secrets and Lies – Rob Napier

Rob Napier is a builder of tree houses, hiker, proud father, and sometimes developer. This year’s talk compared security by obscurity against security by design. In 1942, the US Army used Navajo natives to encrypt messages. The Germans, on the other hand, built the Enigma Engine to mechanically encrypt and decrypt messages with shared keys. It’s a well known fact that the Allies cracked the Enigma codes regularity. In comparison, Navajo speakers were able to encrypt messages faster than their mechanical rival, and no Navajo message was ever cracked. The Navajo language was effective because it was not that well-known outside the Navaho community. In this case, the more obscure Navajo language won out over the highly-designed Enigma codeset.

Another interesting example of security through obscurity is the common lock. Invented by Alfred Charles Hobbs in the 1800s, the same lock mechanisms designed then are still in use today. Locks aren’t difficult to pick, and many keys can be simply upgraded to create a master key. It’s this master key that locksmiths use to open your locks when you lose your keys. The lock industry has known about these flaws in locks for hundreds of years. You might think that security by obscurity is not secure at all, but in fact, it’s a very thin layer of security. It’s kind of like the old joke, “I don’t have to be faster than the bear, I just have to be faster than you.”

Rob also covered some tools that he uses to test apps for vulnerabilities, as well as harden the app’s security. Every app on the App Store can be downloaded and scanned for secrets stored as strings inside the app. Simply run the “strings -n 8” command on a file to reveal all the strings in your app. You might be surprised at what you find. Rob also recommends running the Hopper app to see what makes up your app in pseudo Objective-C. 
“Objective-C is a reverse-engineer’s dream”, he tells us.

Obfuscating your code makes it harder to reverse engineer. Rob goes on to suggest some more measures to secure your apps, like making things harder for hackers to find by creating honey tokens for them to find, then watch as they take the bait. Don’t simply use base-64 encoding, which is predictable and obvious; randomize the data instead. Use certificate pinning, and hire a team to help secure your app. You can even try to attack your own systems, since you know the most about them, and if you can get in with your knoweldge, you can be certain that other hackers will find those same holes. Obfuscation is about protecting yourself, not your users. Rob also shared some great resources for beefing up your security, which makes it worth your time to check out this talk.

You Are Whatever You Tell People You Are – Joe Cieplinski

Everyone who knows Joe Cieplinksi, knows him as an app designer. Otherwise, they might know him as a podcaster who talks about the business of apps and web sites. That makes him an entrepreneur right? He’s also the bass player in the iOS-centric band Airplane Mode. Even though Joe himself had his doubts after nearly ten years in app development, he’s ready to embrace the title of “developer”.

Maybe people even know Joe as fitting into other roles beyond this, but they just don’t know where to categorize him. In this session, Joe covered the various roles a person can assume, how a person can be capable in multiple roles, and that people’s impressions of you will be based on you think of and represent yourself.

Joe tells the story of a young child encountering a dog for the first time. The child creates a mental box to classify what a dog is. When the child encounters a slightly different dog, and receiving positive affirmation that this is in fact a dog, the types of dogs in this mental box grows. One day, the child encounters a cat and learns that he needs another box for the “cat” category. The trouble with using this analogy to categorize people is that many of us may not fit in one box — we may be multipotentialites, or renaissance people, who, like Joe, are skilled in many disciplines.

Joe presents plenty of examples where people can be fooled when trying to classify things. One example is the classic meme of knees vs hotdogs. It’s hard to tell which is which in the image. Another is the musician Sting, who became famous playing reggae and ska. He eventually created a second career for himself playing R&B and jazz-influenced music, but many fans just couldn’t accept the fact that Sting crossed multiple genres. As yet another example, Cynthia Nixon is running for New York senator, but most people still only see the actress who played a lawyer on Sex and the City.

The gist of the talk is that it’s important to discover who you are. How you present yourself will help others see your true value. They may have you in the wrong mental box, or worse, you may be putting yourself in a crappy category of box. Who wants to hire a developer or designer who is unsure what box they belong in? Instead, you should want your box to be bigger. Check out Joe’s talk for more insight into finding your way and presenting yourself.

App Camp For Girls – Jean MacDonald & Sarah Cloud

App Camp for Girls’ mission is to achieve gender equality in software development. Their focus is on middle school-aged girls and those who identify as such. The aim is to demystify the process of app building; design, architecture and development. The camp aims to demonstrate that there are no special incantations required produce and deliver an app to the App Store. They break down app building into easy to understand steps.

The camp initially started with three girls, in 2013. The first app created at the camp was a dictionary, as the girls felt there wasn’t one that suited their needs. It was a simple, one-button app, with a text field for adding new words. Naturally, it had a turquoise background and purple header, and was published to the App Store as well. It was followed by six years’ worth of camps in Portland and five years of camps in Seattle. There have been various camps in cities such as Phoenix, Chicago, Minneapolis and Vancouver, British Columbia.

The camp begins with brainstorming, wireframing and “pinning the tail on the whiteboard”. Each camper gets to build their apps on an iPod Touch so they can quickly show others what they are building. The camp provides basic Xcode templates to get the developers started quickly, and apps are built with just enough Swift to get things working. All of the app art is produced in the camp as well. To break up the development grind, there are breakout sessions of hula-hooping and yoga. One particular highlight is a field trip to an app development shop like the favorite Panic Software. On the last day of camp, there’s a pitch session to women investors and engineers.

Executive Director Sarah Cloud presented us with information on how to create ouw own developers camp. Initially, the organization needs volunteers to prep for about a year. Recruiting more volunteers and sourcing a location for the camp is the next step. A lead developer as well as other volunteer tech positions are required. There’s a local camp budget, which provides a stipend to volunteers. MacBook Pros for campers and lunches are provided by the camp.

To date, 257 campers have attended the camps. The first cohort of students are now just entering college, and reunions are planned to showcase the impact the camp has had on attendees. The unique part of the camp is that all attendees can boast about having published apps on the App Store — which is more than most of their classmates can say.

Fun & Games

The conference was more than just talks. There was some fun & games too!

Stump 360 V: Number 5 Is Alive – Hosted by Tom Harrington

The fifth annual “Stump 360” picked up where the WWDC favorite side show “Stump the Experts” left off. A rag-tag collection of “experts” took on the gathered audience in a game-show style battle of inane Apple trivia. The hosts presented questions to challenge the audience, who in turn wrote trivia questions on 3×5 index cards. Questions were answered by the audience or expert panel, as well as during several speed rounds.

The event was rife with comedic moments, and most often useless trivia, with points awarded to each side. Inspired by the workout Apple Watch lady in the WWDC’18 keynote, five bonus points were awarded to contests who could answer questions wearing an Apple Watch while using a Shake Weight or juggling items. This session is a true highlight, and I look forward to many more years of the Stump 360: The Sixth Sense, or whatever they choose to call it.

Full disclosure: We did manage to stump some of the audience. The experts had the lead early, but were defeated in the end by the audience members!

Roundabout Creative Chaos – LIVE with John Wilker

As a special treat, conference organizer-cum-author John Wilker returned to the hot seat as the Roundabout Creative Chaos podcast was recorded live. John had been on the show previously, but this year he was grilled by host Tammy Coron and guest hosts Joe Ceiplinski, Jean MacDonald and Tim Mitra — all seasoned semi-professional podcasters.

The focus of the podcast was John’s books Space Rogues, which are set in the near future. They follow the adventures of astronaut Wil Calder, one of the last remaining humans. John is currently working on the fourth book. Tammy and her hosts grilled John about his passions for writing, science fiction and space travel. Along with the usual roster of questions, the podcast revealed how John aims to misbehave and vie for a role in Tammy’s zombie army. Stay tuned for the episode to come to a podcatcher near you — eventually.

Other Interesting Talks

There are a few other interesting talks that might interest you. This is a sampling of all of the sessions this year, and there are several more I might have included, if I’d been given the space in this article!

“Advanced Debugging With Xcode Extending LLDB” by Aijaz Ansari was a fascinating talk. It built on last year’s talk about Xcode Debugging. Setting breakpoints in Xcode can be used to manipulate an object’s values during runtime. Aijaz demonstrated how we could explore objects with LLDB, unpacking the results of a JSON packet. He showed how to use his script to loop through a blob of JSON and extract the values within. Using the techniques he presented in conjunction with his scripts available on GitHub, it’s possible to observe the values, validate the contents and transform it into other meaningful data. This talk is definitely worth a look.

“Concurrency From the Ground Up” by Greg Heo takes a look under the hood of Grand Central Dispatch. With the goal of improve your skills as a developer, Greg shows us the way to better-performing apps and easier-to-maintain code. By breaking things into tasks and demonstrating concurrency building blocks, pthreads and locks, Greg helps us explore concurrency and parallelism. Using breakpoints’ ability to play sound and speak, he demos how processes can initially be run out of order, and then corrected with judicious use of pthreads and locks.

“Customize your Notifications for iOS 12” by Kaya Thomas explores the use of notifications and the new enhancements in iOS 12. Kaya presents a clear interpretation of notifications by investigating local notifications, the addition of Notification Service Extensions in iOS 10 and the newly-minted Notification Content Extensions. She covers grouping notifications with a thread identifier as well as quiet delivery and provisional authorization. This is an excellent survey of everything you need to know about notifications and how they can benefit you and your app’s users.

The Day Two Keynote was given by Jay Freeman. Jay’s session, “Hindsight Can Be 50/50”, takes a different look at history. As the saying goes, “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” Jay briefly examines the Fall of the Roman Empire and disappearance of people on Easter Island. This led into The Fall of Microsoft and how it competed with internet rival Netscape who may have been more “evil” than Microsoft was purported to be. By analogy, Google seems to be similar to Microsoft, but in some ways, worse. Google’s Android OS appears to be moving from open to a more closed model, and may become chargeable in the future. At the end of the talk, Jay discussed the fall of Jailbreaking. iOS has evolved into a more secure platform, and Apple has been recognized to release fixes for bugs faster than before. Because of this, the iOS jailbreak community has lost its purpose and its audience. Jay was once a leader in the jailbreaking community and his perspective is worth considering. Check it out.

Day Three Keynote – John Wilker

On day three, John Wilker gave a keynote about the state of the conference and offered some insights. John also puts on an 360|AnDev conference, which is a sister conference to 360|iDev and is equally well-received. Along with the organizers, John thanked the speakers, sponsors, volunteers, and one special angel investor that helped make 360|iDev possible. This is the 11th 360iDev conference in 10 years; the first conference was presented just after the iPhone SDK was announced, and was developed to be the antidote to John’s underwhelming experiences at various conferences.

The organizers try to have more code-related talks than “not-code” talks, and they try to make sure you walk away from each code-related talk with some insights you can use right away in your projects. However, the “not-code” talks are always amazing full of real-world and relevant concepts that will benefit you and your career years from now.

The community of 360iDev supports Alt-Conf and App Camp For Girls. They also offer two free tickets to various CocoaHeads around the world. Members of the military and students also benefit from half-price tickets to the conference. John notes that this year has been a year of recovery for the conference, and 360|iDev is set to run again in 2019. Early-bird tickets will be available soon, as well as a Patreon campaign where you buy tickets though patronage. I hope to see you all at 360iDev 2019!

Where to Go From Here?

I can’t recommend 360iDev highly enough! It’s a great experience for any developer, designer or anyone involved in app production. There were even more great talks than I could fit into this article. I highly recommend that you check out the other 360|iDev videos when they come out.

The conference hosts, John Wilker and Nicole Wilker, made all attendees feel at ease, and the collective masses of attendees are super-friendly. No matter what obstacles come up, I feel I cannot afford to miss this conference. Every year I’ve attended I come away re-energized, enlightened, and ready to take on the next year’s work.

Ray’s said a number of times that 360|iDev is one of his favorite iOS conferences, and I’d have to agree.

Did you attend 360iDev this year? Will you attend next year? Will you step up and submit a talk of your own? Let us know in the forum discussion below!

Photo Credits: Fuad Kamal, Zev Eisenberg, Ben Chatelain, John Wilker, Tim Mitra.

Note: The videos are being processed by the fine folks at 360 Conferences. We will link them here in the article as they become available.