Watching worlds of mobility, entertainment, and social media collide and helping customers navigate through this new technological landscape has been my passion for the last few years since I founded Left2MyOwnDevices. As a new arrival in Texas, I had my first chance to see just how big the convergence is at the premier event in Austin this week: SXSW.
“Oh, that’s not a technology show, it’s a music festival.” I heard similar disparaging remarks tossed at CES a decade ago. Many said it was just a TV and camera show, until the major players in semiconductor, mobile, and software showed up in force and brought the automotive and healthcare folks along for the ride. Those who think of SXSW only as a cultural event and not a place for technologists (the SXSW Interactive portion) are missing the picture.
SXSW does have a different feel to it. It’s not an exhibit-based “show” in the sense that you just walk into a convention center and wander around a bunch of booths. There certainly is that component; the Austin Convention Center, where we will be for DAC in June, is probably my favorite tradeshow venue. There were a suitable number of vendors on display – we didn’t actually have badges to take a look inside. (I wasn’t even planning on going to SXSW this week; we closed on our new home here on Friday and couldn’t take possession until Monday, so my daughter and son-in-law suggested we just go look around for a bit.)
However, I was amazed at just how much of SXSW was accessible without a badge. The event takes over the Austin entertainment district between 4[SUP]th[/SUP] and 6[SUP]th[/SUP] Streets for blocks. Most of the bars and restaurants were configured for various panel discussions. For instance, the very first place we arrived was the Pandora House – many establishments are rebranded with sponsor signage for the week. On stage there was a panel, including heavy hitters from both Pandora and Verizon, discussing the impact of virtual reality on real-world events as a new channel for artists and festivals.
Then we moved down a few buildings to the Mashable complex, actually several buildings and a courtyard. My kids asked, “Do you know anyone at Mashable?” I pointed to @LanceUlanoff on the social media board, chuckling a bit. (Later in the day we stumbled on another panel discussing diversity in healthcare research, and the three twentysomething female panelists proposed the hashtag #NotAllOldWhiteGuys – but they were quick to point out that some of us get it, or at least a good portion of it. I’ve never been one of the cool kids, it’s OK.)
They immediately recognized the Amazon logo and ran over to their display for Amazon Launchpad – send a Tweet, get a t-shirt. I went the other direction to a booth I recognized, one with a familiar logo but a rather cryptic display:
I can recommend a good book about those chips you can’t see inside your phones. Qualcomm was showing an augmented reality demo one could view with a tablet. Also scattered around the downtown area were similar panels and displays from Facebook, Google, IBM, Samsung and more. Most of the new media outlets were there as well; in addition to Mashable, Fast Company had taken over a restaurant. Even McDonald’s was sponsoring a restaurant just outside of the convention center. SXSW has long been a haven for startups, but the large corporations with a major social presence are now seeing the benefits of being there.
One of the startups I ran into was Bolt Motorbikes, with CEO Josh Rasmussen showing his creation on a hotel patio for passers-by. Bolt is right up against the Vespa, without the European panache – short range, urban transport on a more serious looking bike without the license and insurance requirements of a motorcycle. Rasmussen has drawn on Tesla-like battery and charging technology, with removable battery packs which can be taken into an office for charging, and regenerative braking to extend the driving distance (between 30 and 40 miles at up to 45 mph).
We all noticed the huge Chris Hardwick sign on another building (and I missed @Midnight this week, still waiting for the DIRECTV installer as I write this). I was then able to one-up my kids on coolness for a change – one of my other favorite TV shows had a large presence. I’m definitely a ‘1’, while my kids are looking up this show to binge Season 1:
One message I’d have everyone in this industry take away: this is what our customers look like today, and going forward.
They’ve grown up with MP3 downloads and smartphones and game consoles and satellite radio and streaming video. These are the customers we’re designing for, be it mobile, or automotive, or IoT, or wearables. They are consuming content from multiple channels and telling all their friends on social media. Anyone who doesn’t embrace these changes will get run over by them. The thing is, if you’ve been going to just the established electronics and EDA shows, you may not appreciate the degree of changes we’re dealing with – I know this was an eye-opener for me.
Welcome to fsociety, y’all. Look me up next time you’re in central Texas.