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SXSW Interactive: A Look Back at the Mobile Landscape

Greg Sales Exec | Platform Solutions
March 20, 2013

As I steadily meander my way back to reality from the chaos that is SXSW, I can’t help but reminisce on a few key highlights that caught my attention or were worthy of note. (Keep in mind, there were quite a few more overarching themes, but for the purposes of this post I will concentrate on the mobile aspect.)


Mobile Was King of SXSWi 2013

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that there was a clear-cut winner in terms of the pervasiveness of the channel at this year’s SXSWi: Mobile.

It was literally EVERYWHERE.

RSVPing to something? You can bet you’re doing it on mobile. QR Codes? Oh yeah, they’re on everything. GroupMe? By the end, I was subscribed to 3 lists, each with about 20-30 members confabbing about the next best place for free drinks and tech talks. Tickets? No more paper. They scan the QR Code directly off your phone.

Also, I saw some great and very targeted ad campaigns on places like Pandora and Yelp showcasing specific events or products that were at SXSW. It seemed everyone was taking advantage of the location-aware ability of mobile advertising.

It was at points a mobile overload, even for someone in the industry, but nevertheless it was inspiring to see the level of adoption that mobile had achieved as well.


Mobile Is No Longer Perceived as Threatening

Let me clarify what I mean by threatening.

For the past few years, there seems to have been a subtle aversion to the mobile channel when it came time for attendees to engage at SXSW. Sure they were texting and downloading apps, but last year there were laptop charging stations galore, and it was not uncommon to see someone sitting on the sidewalk outside of the conference surfing the web on what is, in my opinion, a very un-portable device. They seemed nervous to do anything that wasn’t communicating or downloading an app (i.e. RSVPing to an important event) from their mobile device.

That said, this year there was a clear shift in perception. Mobile was no longer a simple means of communication between friends and colleagues via phone call or SMS. Mobile was now the glue that seemed to be holding everything together. For instance, I ran into more than a few old friends (Austin is my hometown), and there were times when I’d be waiting in line for an event that they hadn’t RSVP’d to. Luckily the full-featured Eventbrite app was on standby with a list of side gigs all categorized by location. BOOM. Now my friends were waiting in line with me. A quick text to the GroupMe and voila, 10 more people showed up to make the event even better.

This seamless interaction could have never happened on a laptop, and that is just a simple example. Some other examples that I saw were:

  • Venues that would ONLY let you in with a mobile ticket
  • Shows that, to attend, required users to download an app first (typically the sponsor of the party’s app)
  • DJs that would only take requests via mobile
  • Bus schedules that were accessed by SMS or QR Code
  • A Dorito’s Machine fully powered by real-time Tweets from the audience
  • Apps that allowed users to make 3D renderings of objects from mobile devices (Sidebar: 3D is going to be HUGE)


Mobile Is Here to Stay

There’s no doubt in my mind that mobile is being taken very seriously by big brands, agencies and tech companies. Seeing mobile literally everywhere is great news for those of us in the mobile industry, but moreover I feel that it is great news for consumers in general. Though SXSW is a bit of an enigma in and of itself, I like to think of it a petri dish where great ideas, designs and technologies all come to be fused together.


The result? A first-hand look at the future of digital and mobile technology. The outlook? 2013 is going to be a year to remember!


And of course, I leave you with a few pictures that sum up my week in Austin…

QR Codes EVERYWHERE. Even on trash cans.


Partying with Advertising Agencies is always fun. Especially when they bring life-sized touch-sensitive Super Mario!

 This is what a typical afternoon looks like atop one of Austin’s many bars.

Here’s a view of the actual Convention Center to give you an idea of the sheer size of this gathering. (This building takes up like 4 sq. blocks.)

Waiting in line is all to common at SXSW. Especially for the Spotify House Party.

Taken from the middle of 6th Street. Yes, the entire city shuts down for SXSW. (Shout out to the randoms who posed for this one! sorry for blurriness)

And of course NO trip to Texas would be complete without some Salt Lick BBQ!




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