Since its inaugural edition in 2012, Úll has become Ireland’s pre-eminent event for Apple- centric designers and developers. Úll attracts high-profile figures from across the Mac and iOS design community for a diverse range of talks and presentations, as well as the chance to get to know one another.
For the fourth instalment, running next Monday and Tuesday, Úll moves to the lakeside setting of the Europe Hotel & Resort in Killarney, Co Kerry – not the most obvious setting for a boutique technology conference, one would think.
However, particularly in its current format, calling Úll a conference is somewhat misleading. Last year, developers and Úll founders Paul Campbell and Dermot Daly decided to reinvent their event after two successful Dublin-based editions.
They took Úll on the road, moving to Lyrath Castle outside Kilkenny, and experimenting with a series of day-long “feature presentation” installations in various rooms.
As co-organiser Sasha Wilson puts it, this year's version is an "upgrade release" on that format, to use software parlance.
“We take a philosophy where we do a major release every two years, and every other year we do an upgrade release,” she says. “Last year was the first year with the concept of the festival environment, with a day-long feature presentation experience alongside stage talks.
“This year is really sort of an evolution of that, a chance to tinker with it and perfect it.”
Families and children
Last year’s event had more than a hint of an
for technology creatives, with plenty of spouses and children in attendance. The picture- postcard Kerry setting is likely to see that atmosphere continue in 2015.
For Wilson, a Canadian native, organising the event meant a first opportunity to get to know the Kingdom, and she is eager for attendees to experience it themselves.
"We're really fortunate in that a big percentage of our attendees come from overseas [about two-thirds in 2014], and that gives us an opportunity to show off Ireland, " she says.
“This year, we have the opportunity to take people even further into Ireland, and we are really proud to show off the country – Killarney is absolutely stunning.”
This year's headline sponsor is Wordpress. com, extending its involvement of the past few years.
The first day's proceedings will close with the Úll Show, a sort of live podcast-meets-Late Late Show, with former MacWorld editor Jason Snell and writer/developer Guy English interviewing the speakers and organisers.
As it happens, podcasting has emerged as a sort of theme of this year’s event, just as it emerges from the technology scene into the mainstream.
“There is a lot of focus on audio, as well as a big focus on television, and the intersection of technology and performance,” says Wilson. “One of the feature presentations involves recording some live television, and it will be interesting to see how people embrace that.”
In terms of speakers, plans were disrupted when John Gruber, probably the foremost Apple commentator in the business and who was due to deliver a fourth successive keynote address, was forced to withdraw for health reasons.
However, the line-up features such luminaries of the tech world as Anil Dash, one of the most renowned bloggers and entrepreneurs on the web, and esteemed analyst Horace Dediu, who offers data-rich, revelatory presentations on the rise of mobile devices and apps.
Homegrown speakers and presenters include Baz Scott, a Belfast-based Scottish developer, who will discuss the concepts of ability and disability in app design; and Oisín Prendiville of Supertop, the design and development duo behind podcasting app Castro and RSS app Unread.
And what of the latest addition to the Apple product line-up, the Apple Watch?
“I expect that a good number of the folks on the stage will have a lot to discuss about the Apple Watch,” says Wilson. “I’d be incredibly surprised if it wasn’t a major theme of this year’s discussion. Horace, in particular, will have some interesting insights on the watch.”
Last year's experiment with the feature presentations brought mixed results, though highlights included a video exploration of the singular appeal of Instagram photography by Michael Lopp. There was also Jean MacDonald's App Camp for Girls, a day-long version of the app-development course she runs for young teen and pre-teen girls in Seattle and Portland.
Still, the format managed to cultivate a degree of interactivity and community that is one of the hallmarks of Úll – Daly and Campbell consistently emphasise that the focus is very much on fostering relationships between people, rather than encouraging financial deals or attracting foreign investment.
For Wilson, it is that focus that makes the event so special. “We aim to create the serendipity that comes with bringing new people together, but also having a thread that runs through it, the sense of developing a community of people who already know each other, in a way, through having a shared frame of reference.”
Focus on quality “It’s exciting to see people register for their fourth Úll in a row,” Wilson adds, “and it’s just as exciting to see people we’ve never heard of registering for their first Úll.
“We think it’s all about the people, about trying to unite them through this lens of Apple and its mission and focus on quality. That involves leaving attendees a lot of space to carry on that conversation, and that has been an important part of the success. We’ve had people leave Úll with new friends, new jobs and new business partners.”
For Campbell, Daly, Wilson and the Úll team, you get the feeling there is no greater measure of success than seeing those relationships flourish.