Consumers care about the real world. At least that was one of the strong messages delivered at this year’s South by Southwest Interactive (SXSW). Over the past five days engineers, programmers, designers, academics, and marketers gathered for SXSW in Austin, Texas, as they do every year, to consider the future of interactive applications and platforms.
In recent years, this event has been a showcase for social networking; Twitter took center stage in 2007 and last year there was much buzz around mobile apps focused on social. While social networking companies still had a strong presence this year, there was a noticeable shift from virtual, networked products and enterprises to physical, hands-on products. In other words, real world hardware was hot.
The re-focus on hardware was embodied by one of SXSW’s key note speaker, Elon Musk, the man who built PayPal but who is now immersed in the real world of rockets, cars and solar panels through his leadership at SpaceX, SolarCity and Tesla Motors. The new hardware on display at SXSW included MakerBot’s 3D printer and its new prototype for 3D “Digitizer.” On the event’s opening day, in a keynote address to a packed house, MakerBot CEO Bre Pettis, demonstrated the capabilities of the digitizer, which uses a turntable and lasers, to scan a three dimensional object and create a file that can then be read by the company’s 3D printer. The digitizer and printer together offer an easy way to duplicate three dimensional objects. The next day at SXSW, in the same room, the inventors of the Leap Motion controller demonstrated their product, which enables computer users to control their computers with gestures. On top of these high profile roll outs, the trade show floor at SXSW offered looks at much, much more hardware.
The shift to hardware at SXSW should not be a surprise. It’s a shift that reflects what we’ve seen so far this year at other industry events like the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January and the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in February. All of these events show a movement toward translating the advances in mobile data and the “Internet of Everything” into hardware (and electronic components) for business and individual consumers – a movement that offers a bright future for the electronics supply chain.