iconmobile at SXSW 2013

Read our trip report from the 2013 South by Southwest (SXSW) interactive, film and music festival!

Since 1987, thousands of thinkers, doers, investors, fans, startup hopefuls, and lovers of all things tech have been descending on Austin, Texas to share their new ideas, technology and products. Just to give you a sense of the growing interest in this festival, this year alone, a record 30,621 tickets were sold for just the interactive portion, on which we always place a special focus.

iconmobile at SXSW 2013

March 15, 2013
Paul Booth, Director of Strategy, iconmobile

Augmented Anything?

In a world where everyone wants a piece of the mobile activated action, is there such a thing as the augmented-device-too-far? When our whole experience is crowdsourced and curated does that lead to excellence or ambivalence?

A Frog kickoff event saw the event outsource its musical playlist - not to the latest DJ - but to the audience of creative, hipster, SXSW partygoers via a bank of touchscreen digital jukeboxes. Did crowdsourcing the music to this audience of on-the-cusp digital mavens give us the latest underground sounds? Actually no, it mostly resulted in mostly Top-40 hits and manufactured bands.

At the Microsoft Bing event, attendees were fitted with RFID bracelets which connected to their Facebook profiles, and posted updates about what everyone was doing at the party (using RFID connected photobooths that identified who the subjects were, for example). Let's hope they weren't updating status based on the number of bar visits.

Google GlassAll of which begs the question: In the world of Google Glass, how much do we really need to augment reality? How much data is too much data? What is the line between information ubiquity and privacy? When and where should we expect that our every action, word and gesture should not be recorded for posterity? (A side note about the Google Glass is that while the wearer found them a bit strange, the person they were talking to found the wearer very distracted.)

Google's Concept ShoesSpeaking of Google, if shoes could talk, they'd probably snark about how much we sit at our desks. Which is exactly what these Google Concept shoes did. Google concept shoes are essentially talking Nike fuel bands for your feet. The point of these Google-shoes however wasn't to open a new line of business for the search giant, they were to prove that sometimes good advertising might not be an ad at all, it might be a product or service extension, a utility, or an application.

Mobile Mainstream?


Last year, reports from SXSW proclaimed that the year of mobile was upon us: "mobile everywhere," with services such as Uber and GroupMe. This year at SXSW we expected to be inundated by fresh mobile ideas.

We weren't.

What we found were a lot of brands struggling to get their hands around mobile with varying degrees of success. For example one panel promised insight into creating seamless customer experiences across the device spectrum. What we heard from many major brands, agencies exhibitors and attendees, however, was confusion, lack of vision and a sense that no matter what they were doing, it wasn't enough. This was true for more than just the panel: after the session we asked attendees for best examples of brands that approached their customers seamlessly from device to device, physical to digital.

There was no real "big mobile epiphany" at SXSW this year. We saw a lot of the same ideas (AR, systems of engagement, product activation...) applied in new ways (some interesting, some plain copycat). But not a whole lot of innovation.  

Perhaps that's the definition of mobile becoming more mainstream.

App Overload

An underlying theme or off-the-cuff remark at more than one session concerned app overload, or the inability for app-silos and connected devices to  integrate. Of course every brand wants to control the on-device experience for its service, its product...but the result is that if the mobile device is the remote control for our lives, it will wind up with a complex array of functions, and no big picture. How do we create experiences for our clients that both let them get their message out and truly provide value by integrating with others?   Can we create interoperability for the end user and enable our clients to get their brand/message across in order to create real value for both? This might be the biggest challenge we face this year. If not, it becomes "just another app."

Enabling the Sharing Economy

In "David over Goliath: Power of the Sharing Economy," panelists from Etsy, RelayRides and Airbnb discussed how social and commercial technologies have collided with the recession and the failure of large established businesses to cater for the post recessionary world. It stuck us that of all technologies - the ability to connect to these services with the immediacy and context of mobile has enabled such businesses to land. We were also struck by the power of the concept of unlocking  value from the things we already own (spare rooms, cars, parking spots, talent...), which of course have value both to the owner and the customer. This of course underscores the importance of continuously considering value to the end user in our deliverables and making sure we address all the motivations of our end-customer - as this concept works for both individual-to-individual AND brand-to-individual and should form the basis of anything we do (assuming we want customers to actually use it).

As an example: Chevy had 60 cars parked around the perimeter of the conference center, available on a first come-first serve basis to anyone who wanted to use them, for any purpose. Chevy got one of our team to take a test drive, and he got to haul our booth materials back to the suburbs where we were staying without hailing a taxi.

Alternate Interfaces

Other Thoughts & Interesting Things

For more information, contact Paul Booth, Director of Strategy, iconmobile

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