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
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.
All 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.)
Speaking 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.
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.
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.
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.
Natural Motion Interface (NUI) are more prevalent, such as Kinect-powered light shows and Leap Motion's USB-sized device that lets you control computers in 3D motion using hand gestures.
- Other alternate UI are objects of fascination such as wearable devices that transmit biometric data for fitness and health monitoring, and sensors embedded into everyday objects, such as water bottles, sports equipment.
Other Thoughts & Interesting Things
Rise of the Makers - 3D printing and 3D scanning by MakerBot were hot topics. Founder Bre Pettis believes his company is leading the next industrial revolution; an era where creators produce physical things. MakerBot makes some of the most affordable 3D printers in the world, allowing cheap and rapid prototyping. If you have an idea, you can make it.
Rise of the Machines
Speaking of industrial revolution, machines themselves figure prominently in the future of marketing, according to Team Detroit's emerging technology panel of luminaries from Hipcricket, iconmobile, and Somo. They discussed the art of the possible - and the implications - in a world where machine to machine communication is the norm.
3M had a computer-generated booth babe projected on a clear panel which grabbed the crowd's attention. In 3M's case, the projection was coupled to/controlled by an iPad. We could imagine some pretty radical large-screen experiences using the same technology coupled with a Kinect sensor hack to create some very "minority-report" experiences.
Mobile gadgets abounded. Handheld video projectors, music mixers, battery charging cases, headphones.
Robots & robot kits - no real news here as this has been around for a while...but there sure were a lot of automated/robotic things. They might just be multiplying by themselves.
- Speaking of industrial revolution, machines themselves figure prominently in the future of marketing, according to Team Detroit's emerging technology panel of luminaries from Hipcricket, iconmobile, and Somo. They discussed the art of the possible - and the implications - in a world where machine to machine communication is the norm.
Big Data was, well, big. How to collect, store, use, and visualize...and fascination with data visualization was evident in the very popular session by Nate Silver (baseball guru turned election data analyst) who talked about his new book, The Signal and the Noise - what happens when Big Data meets human nature.
Social was everywhere, but also seemed to be an echo chamber. A lot of hopefuls in Start-Up Village pitched social apps, smaller more intimate social sharing groups, cause/topic-based groups, and business collaboration. Yet none really broke through the clutter. However where we see social being effective is a combination of second screening + social commerce. OnStar exec Nick Pudar gave an example of social media monitoring for people commenting on TV shows, home décor, travel locations, etc. they like, and then sending targeted direct message tweets that respond with offers and links to buy.
Payment System Smackdown - SXSW vendors featured multiple competing payment systems/apps/registers with incentives for first use.
Grumpy Cat as SXSW royalty. Presented by Mashable, Grumpy Cat was the hottest ticket in town, if you were willing to wait in a 3-hour long line. We weren't.
For more information, contact Paul Booth, Director of Strategy, iconmobile