The era of the Social-Mobile-Local app has finally closed at SXSW Interactive, thank goodness. This year, according to multiple on-the-scene previewers, variations on the same boring apps have not taken over the interactive conference, which famously launched SoMoLo champion Foursquare, and also helped lot of other apps attract tech nerd fans. Last year the trend was still in full force, as chronicled by The New York Times's Jenna Wortham: "Kismet, Glancee, Highlight, Ban.jo, Meeteor, Pearescope, GetGauss, Intro, Qrious, Mingle and Sonar, hope to transform the smartphone into a social dowsing rod that delivers an alert when it detects other people nearby who share interests, friends or career goals." But today, at SXSW 2013, it's not apps, it's stuff that's hot. "This year, it might be a piece of hardware that steals the show," writes Wortham in her SXSW preview this year—a big shift for a festival that arguably made Twitter big.
One of the big reasons for the change? So few of those services touted last year caught on in a big way one year later. Writing from SXSW last year, our correspondent Dashiell Bennett explained why aspiring app makers had hoped to use the conclave of techies as a hothouse for their social creations: "Success here in Austin may or may not translate to the wider world, but if you can't make these people care enough to adopt early, then you can't make anyone adopt it ever." So this year, there's a new strategy and products, to which we say, it's about time.
The SoMoLo fatigue described by AllThingsD's Lauren Goode has been taking hold for quite some time. "There are so many apps, the barrier is harder to break through," Venture Capitalist Bill Tai told Goode. "For mobile start-ups it can be very frustrating and difficult to fight your way through the noise," an industry analyst added to Wortham. People only want so many apps that essentially do the same thing. That's the big picture. In the microclimate of Austin: people can't use your great new app if the overwhelmed Austin WiFi network isn't working and people are desperately trying to preserve their battery charge. Macro or micro, the thinking is that things which do not rely on smartphones may have a better chance of breaking through.
"There is more hardware happening at South by Southwest this year than ever before," Hugh Forrest, SXSW lead organizer, told Wortham. He estimates at least two dozen gadget related inventions this year, like this Leap Motion Controller, which allows people to control gadgets without touching them. But the hardware revolution also reflects changing trends in the tech world. "It’s a new thing and that newness is always sexy," Forrest told Bloomberg's Adam Satariano and Douglas MacMillan. This "newness" has to do with a drop in manufacturing costs because of better methods that make it faster and easier to develop things, as The New York Times's Nick Bilton and John Markoff explained last August. Trends like 3D printing, for example, have made making things a lot less risky. So, people are just putting together devices and gadgets and seeing what happens.
Looks pretty useful. And even if none of these things take-off, at least we don't have to say the word SoMoLo again.