SXSW wrap-up: Apps, homeless hotspots and nonsense

The SXSW Interactive festival is just about over (the music part is still going strong) and I’m still recovering from what has lovingly been called, “nerd spring break.” Yes, SXSW is never really a bastion for news but it does give us some insight into what the tech world is using and thinking. Let’s take a look back at this week to see what was going on in Austin.

Hot apps

Going into SXSW, everyone likes to predict what will be the new big breakout app. After all, the conventional wisdom is that Foursquare and Twitter both went on to success after a launch at SXSW (although Twitter actually launched at GDC). Was there a killer app that totally “won” SXSW 2012?

No. Not really.

Before the show, many thought that Highlight could be the winner because this passive location-sharing app would be an easy way to find and be introduced to tech people you’ve heard about but have never met. I used the app during SXSW and found that even though it found people next to me with similar Facebook likes, I didn’t feel that was enough of a connection to actually make me want to talk to them. Maybe I’m just built differently but at SXSW, it’s easy enough to just walk up to people and say hi that I didn’t need an app like Highlight (also, having the location feature on all the time killed my battery). Sonar was also trying to do something similar, except it gave you a bit more control over when you’re broadcasting and it was easier on my battery.

SXSW is all about the hot parties at night so I was excited to see if apps could help me out. Glomper launched at SXSW and I found it had an amazing design (on iOS at least) and some great functionality. I thought its data base still needed some work but this is one to look forward to. WillCall bills itself as a HotelTonight for live events and this idea sounded great at SXSW, but it only offered a few events that were quickly sold out.

Ultimately, I found myself to be kind of boring and relying on the same apps I generally use. Tweetbot was essential for seeing what was going on and communicating with people, GroupMe was vital for keeping track of the IntoMobile team and Foursquare was alive with check-ins and recommendations. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t a few cool new apps at the show.

While Draw Something may be killing all your time right now, Angry Birds Space may become the time-killing king come March 22. We got a chance to play it for a bit and I really liked how the new gravity aspects played into the game mechanics. This is the largest launch for Rovio in a while, so I look forward to playing the full game.

We’ve been hearing about the NFC-payment system Isis for a long time and this was the first time we got to see it in action. While it was in a demonstration environment, Isis looked very, very slick and it seemed to work as promised. There will be a trial rollout in Salt Lake City and Austin this summer with a larger rollout in 2012, so it won’t be too long before your phone can kind of replace your wallet.

Homeless hotspots

One of the biggest controversies at SXSW were multiple homeless people hanging around the convention selling access to a 4G mobile hotspot. They would have shirts saying, “Hi, I’m XYZ and I’m a 4G hotspot.”

Upon first glance, this seems very exploitative and dehumanizing but when you dig deeper, it’s a much more clouded issue. These people were working with a legitimate homeless shelter, were able to keep the money that was given for access to the 4G hotspot and the move was also meant to make people interact with them and to hear their story. Still, there was something very “icky” about the whole thing and it seemed like a marketing move gone bad.

Ultimately, I think what makes this icky is the guilt all SXSW attendees feel. We’re desperately scrambling to get connected to update our Twitters or to upload a photo to Facebook while people in our tech playground are really hurting with real issues. The juxtaposition of real problems with SXSW is what really caused the stir, I believe.

Check out this video below from BusinessInsider for one of the “hotspot’s” take on the situation.

The fun times

SXSW was a lot of fun. Whether it was the awesome Today show food trucks providing me fuel in the mornings, watching Kobayashi destroy grilled cheese sandwiches or listening to some live music while discussing the future of technology, I’m glad I came to this year’s festival. Here are a few of the good times we encountered.

MGo sponsored a cool Cash Cab during SXSW


Top Chef's Tom Collicchio stops by the Today food trucks



SXSW 2012

Companies try all sorts of things to catch your eye


SXSW 2012

RIM had a cool bungalow for its developers


SXSW 2012

A funky and functional iPad case


Oh and I can’t resist showing you these two videos:


Until next year

SXSW 2012

Sometimes I like to complain about SXSW because the news value isn’t really as big as other conferences. When I step back though, I realize that this is the one place where I can have amazingly in-depth conversations about tech with complete strangers almost anywhere. Some of the things I’ve talked about here will help color my perspective moving forward and for that, I am grateful.

For all our coverage, visit the SXSW 2012 section.

  • Me

    database is one word 🙂

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