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Major software conferences stay virtual for another year

Peter Griffin, Contributor. 08 April 2021, 7:11 am

In a reminder that Covid-19 remains a grave threat to human health around the world, Microsoft, Google and Apple have all opted for a new round of virtual developer gatherings.

The rise of the online-only tech fest has had its pros and cons. Conferences that I've tuned into over the past year have seemed anaemic, with mainly pre-recorded keynotes and a lack of opportunities for useful engagement.

Microsoft managed to create a bit of buzz around its new mixed reality platform Microsoft Mesh at the Ignite conference last month. Attendees were at least able to download an app to watch Microsoft Technical Fellow Alex Kipman's keynote in augmented reality.

The real value in a year of conferences has been the tutorial and explainer sessions tucked away in the programme and usually involving American, European or Australian tech experts camped out at home, dispensing advice and wisdom as remote workers.

With the virtual conferences typically being offered free of charge or at least available to registered developers, there's a decent chance that the format is more inclusive, allowing developers to participate who otherwise would be left on the sidelines due to the cost of entry and associated travel.

So what can you expect in the coming months in the virtual world of conferences?

Google I/O - May 18 - 20 - Google didn't go virtual last year for its flagship conference, it just cancelled it altogether. But I/O 2021 will be an extensive virtual affair according to the company, with consumer and developer keynotes, technical sessions, workshops and meet-ups. There'll also be an I/O Adventure interactive feature too. I've been to I/O in the past and its a quality event where major new software and occasionally hardware products are unveiled.

Microsoft Build - May 25-27 - Microsoft Build attracts vast interest from the developer community due to the ubiquity of Microsoft products around the world. There will be virtual keynotes from executives and partners and the usual extensive list of workshop sessions. Microsoft is apparently also holding a series of separate "What Next" virtual events to focus on key aspects of its business, such as video gaming and Windows.

Apple WWDC - June 7-11 - Rounding out the big three, is Apple with its Worldwide Developers Conference in an all-online format. WWDC21 will apparently offer "unique insight into the future of iOS, iPadOS, macOS, watchOS, and tvOS". Apple claims it had "record-breaking" attendance at WWDC due to hosting it online.

Facebook F8 Refresh - June 2 - Likely of less interest to Kiwi software developers is Facebook's virtual one-day developer conference. This appears to be a more slimmed-down affair and follows its cancellation of F8 in 2020. Facebook says F8 Refresh will "celebrate, inspire and help developers grow. The virtual stage will be open to developers across the world and live-streamed on the Facebook for Developers page."

Local conferences have largely reverted to physical gatherings, including the upcoming AI Summit which was postponed and is now scheduled for May 21.

The popular ITx conference, the largest independent tech conference in New Zealand, has reverted to a nationwide format - with 8 "Innovation Day" events around New Zealand in July rather than a single multi-day event.


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