Top 5 Tech Trends at SXSW

Posted by Matt Brown / March 10

SXSW 2014 is in full swing, and we’re on the scene with the biggest tech trends of the year. Here’s what we’ve seen so far.

Proximity Technology: Geofencing, iBeacons, & RFID

As you may already know, a geofence is a custom-defined set of boundaries around a specific location (like a store) that can trigger a smartphone push notification as users enter or exit that area. Similarly, iBeacons are Apple’s new low-cost positioning transmitters that can send push notifications to iOS 7+ devices that are in close proximity (technology that was first popularized at this year’s Super Bowl). And RFID is the decades-old technology that allows radio frequency electromagnetic fields to wirelessly transfer data (which you’ve probably used in your office keycard for years). These proximity technologies became more visible at this year’s SXSW, with users receiving push notifications from the event app depending on their location. There were also dozens of workshops and presentations discussing best practices and legal concerns.

Data Science and Marketing

Data science refers to the rapidly growing field of analyzing, digesting, and applying the huge troves of data that companies are harnessing. The main goals of data science include improving user experience, utilizing dynamic pricing, segmenting audiences, and increasing revenue. It’s easy to see that this is an incredibly popular topic right now given the number of workshops and presentations at SXSW (which were mostly overbooked and sold out).

3D Printing

SXSW attendees seemed to agree that the manufacturing industry is in the early stages of a massive renaissance. Traditionally, bringing a new product to market would’ve required finding a factory, committing to a large batch size, and making a significant up-front investment. However, with the new advent of 3D printers, all of those upfront barriers to entry have disappeared, and anyone can manufacture a new product from their basement. Some SXSW attendees compared this time to the 1970s, when the Steve Jobs and Bill Gates of the world could suddenly start developing software from their garages. One can only imagine what the future will hold as this kind of democratization and innovation spreads into the realm of physical product development. This technology is also relevant to agencies that might want to build event-marketing tactics without sending the manufacturing revenue out of house.

Live + Digital, Incentives & Rewards

Many of the presentations at SXSW reflected a newer approach to digital and social that incorporated the real world and yield tangible, measurable results. For example, the Esurance booth invited users to sign up for their CRM program in exchange for an “access card” that they could immediately scan to discover if they were an instant winner of a cash prize. The tangible results for the brand included thousands of new potential customers that they can continue the conversation with in the future. As another example, there was some discussion of the Marc Jacobs Tweet Shop that used tweets as currency, which could buy actual products in the store. The tangible results for the brand included massive exposure for the new store online. As Jeff Dachis (cofounder of Razorfish) pointed out: traditional advertising is dead. Users don’t want to be interrupted while consuming content and they don’t trust brand copy. Users get their news from their social feeds now, and are much more likely to trust an online user review or a friend’s recommendation rather than an advertisement.

Wearable Tech and Sensory Devices

It’s no secret that the big tech players are all pursuing some sort of wearable technology such as Google Glass, Samsung Galaxy Gear, and Apple’s rumored upcoming release. SXSW 2014 started exploring the potential future of this technology, but really emphasized the sensory component of how smart machines can recognize our human needs and respond accordingly. I attended Jennifer Dunnam’s presentation on “Designing Smart Objects for Emotional People.” After explaining her MIT work for an Audi campaign, Jennifer predicted success for devices that can enhance six aspects of human experience.

  1. For self-awareness, she described the Rationalizer bracelet – a technology that day traders can use to detect stress levels and trigger a warning to help prevent hasty, rash, and costly decisions when their emotions are running high.
  2. For self-control, she described Nevermind – a biofeedback-enhanced horror game that teaches users how to control breathing and become conscious of stress levels (since the haunting game play becomes more terrifying as you let your emotions get out of control).
  3. For motivation, she told us about Clocky and Tocky – the cute alarm clocks that roll around your bedroom in an attempt to rouse you out of bed in the morning.
  4. For self-expression, she described Affectiva – a facial recognition analysis technology that can recognize people’s moods and adapt messages or advertisements accordingly.
  5. For sociability, she described new clothing in development that recognizes your mood and responds (via colors or movement) to enhance a user’s self-expression.

And it goes without saying that SXSW attendees discussed Google’s recent acquisition of networked sensor device maker Nest in pretty much every other conversation!