Getting the trends out of the interactive festival of SXSW in Austin is always quite a challenge when you know there’s more than 1000 events, conferences, demo, startup pitches, not including the famous parties. Still, this year was one of objects rather than apps, of hardware more than software, in a nutshell: the real world strikes back, and I can’t wait the next few months!
Change the world first, then think about money
I’ve done a few events back from Austin in Paris to spread what I think was important. My first trend is not a tech-savvy one, but has been underlying all the top speeches and the atmosphere in town.
The big speakers all embody the ideal of a science which serves a broader cause, a general interest. Be it Elon Musk, who is making us nuts with SpaceX and its reusable rockets in order to have the NASA invest in space exploration, or the Leapmotion founders speaking not of a $90 device but of a new way to access and spread knowledge, or even Foursquare’s CEO and his vision of cities which context will be pushed to us on wearable devices. Marketing and big dream? Might be, but it is convincing, and before making money, all these guys are speaking of a vision, a will, to change something.
Notably, all big speakers didn’t have easy-to-follow speeches, they can’t help jumping from one topic to another, to create connections when you see little, like bees flying around and getting the best of several ideas to fuel their creativity. The lesson, then, would be: follow your dreams, and keep your mind open to new things.
Back to the real world: from 3D printing to the Makers
Bre Pettis, founder of Makerbot, one of the most successful companies in the field of 3D printing, opened SXSW by presenting its Digitizer, a 3D scanner that allows easy duplication of any object. Bruce Sterling, a futurist and sci-fi author, concluded SXSW wearing a jumper with laser-cut holes.
Other than 3D printers – which I still don’t know exactly what to think, in an hesitation between a great tool for Makers and micro-production economy, or Jeremiah Owyang’s call to ignore – the Google Shoe and many other objects at the Maker Faire did put the real back on stage.
Lytro, for instance, is an interesting camera that will allow you to re-adjust focus after taking the pictures, and bears interesting potential for a food or fashion blog in my opinion. Memoto is another picture stuff that shoots automatically every 30 seconds, to create at the end of the day automatic albums with GPS tags.
It may sound like a gadget, but take this with the coming trend on touchless interface and connected objects, and it begin to make sense.
Touchless interfaces: will the tablets be the CD-ROM of the 2010s?
From Google Glasses to the Google Shoe, from the connected objects and quantified self worn by Dennis Crowley (Foursquare), or LeapMotion and its cheap and impressive device, there has been a net of devices all converging with touchless interface. Forget the mouse, the tapping, or the “fat finger” effect, say hello to a world where we are less on our screens and more into objects.
A consequence of these objects that are more and more intelligent is that we should spend less time watching at them, as they’re able to push us information. Take Jawbone, a bracelet which records your motion and heartbeat. It’s able, on your sleep record, to tell you to wake up after a nap in order to keep your sleep cycles in order. You don’t even have to set an alarm or tell it you’re asleep as it knows it
This is also a U-turn from previous year when we all waited for the newt Twitter or Facebook. From apps we turned to objects, and the big guys are back in the race, with Google or Samsung never too far.
For everyone of these objects, the trend of open ecosystems and stores seem to go unquestioned: these devices will be faster adopted if everyone can produce apps and ways to make it useful for a larger audience or niche markets.
Caution, also, with a growing number of sensors, captors, not talking of drones, there’s also a growing concern about privacy and the way these data will be stored, accessed, used.
A world of ecosystems: beyond the Silicon Valley model
My last trend for this year is more personal as it’s a research I’m conducting with other people and agencies in France, US and Asia. Austin is definitely a successful innovative ecosystem, with 4.3bn revenues from the creative industries and 40K employees in these gaming studios, ad agencies, music groups, film makers, tech startups.
We took time to talk with the key players from Austin education community, creative industries, investors, and so on. There’s a ton of initiatives, from these two Kenyan startupers hosted for one year in town, or the fiscal incentive to move one’s startup to Austin for free. More: Austin doesn’t try to copy the Silicon Valley model (read again: they DON’T want to be like the Valley). Every town and ecosystem is unique, and trying to copy the recipe from the Valley makes no sense.
We’ll be publishing more content about our research on ecosystems as it seems we’re gathering a team able to look at the US, Europe, and Asia. If you’re in Africa or South America (hello Nairobi, Cairo, Santiago Chileâ€¦) come and join our project as it’s going to be exciting, and everyone will be able to learn from other good and bad practices.