SXSW 2012 preview: A big mobile party

sxsw

While the huge news of the week will be the introduction of the iPad 3/iPad HD, many in the tech industry will be heading to Austin for the big party known as South by Southwest Interactive. Every year we see some technology or app break out – the big craze last year was group messaging – so let’s take a look at what should be very popular at this year’s SXSW.

The tech press seems to have anointed Highlight as the winner of SXSW before it even starts and I just don’t get it. This iOS-only app bills itself as a location-based social discovery app: it utilizes your location by running in the background and notifies you when people you know are nearby.

Highlight seems like a perfect app for Silicon Valley people who don’t freak out about privacy but I have a hard time seeing this one breaking through to the mainstream. I’ve found that constantly having your location services turned on can really kill your battery life and I think that real people are going to be weirded out by this type of service until it introduces more granular levels of control. Also, I don’t like their logo. Still, expect location-based services to be big at SXSW and an app like Sonar can offer you a similar experience to Highlight but it’s available on Android and gives the user a bit more control.

Foursquare is the grey beard in this category at this point but expect it to use SXSW as a showcase for its discovery services. Basically, Foursquare wants to be known for more than just being a check-in service and they want people to think of the app as a great way to discover things around them. This is a smart moven because I’ve always doubted if it could get tens of millions of people to check in but it doesn’t need everyone to check in to deliver a relevant service.

SXSW is also about parties as much as actual news events, so that’s why the WillCall app will be on my iPhone because it will let you register for all the parties with a few clicks. I actually think WillCall is a cool service (it’s essentially HotelTonight for live events) so this should be a neat way for it to gain some exposure. We thought LocalMind was a cool service at last year’s SXSW and the revamped version will let you ask even more intelligent questions of people at other locations.

How much does “winning” SXSW really mean in the long run? Well, part of me thinks it’s a bit overblown but there have been a few massive success stories. Twitter captured the hearts and minds of the SXSW crowd years before hashtags became a part of Super Bowl ads and Foursquare first took off at another SXSW. GroupMe arguably won last year’s SXSW and it was quickly snapped up by Skype, so maybe there is something to having a strong SXSW presence.

While SXSW will be more about partying and maybe waiting in line for the next iPad than actual hard tech news, you can be sure I’ll be delivering as much coverage from it as I can. There will be multiple panel sessions on the hottest topics in mobile (social, payments, etc.) and I may even be speaking on one. We know that Research In Motion and Samsung Mobile will be at SXSW and if last year is any indication, we may be in store for a surprise or two.

Keep an eye on IntoMobile March 9-13 and feel free to follow me on Twitter @marinperez for my latest ramblings in the hot, Texas sun.

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