The Best of Tech from SXSW 2014

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The standouts for 2014 included contextual-based technologies like IoT, IBeacon and other technology designed to bring people and things together.

Every year the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas, acts as a playground of sorts for technologists. It was once aptly described to me as "Spring Break for techies." And it’s true; the event is a melting pot of the newest and hippest, with nary a technophobe in site.

In 2013, I covered a wrap-up of the event, where tech highlights included 3-D printing, the Vine app, NFC, affordable video technology and a breakout gaming console. This year, many attendees seem to describe a kind of convergence of technologies.

Also, perhaps a little less gimmicky than 2013’s Grumpy Cat and Shaquille O’Neill side show, this year featured Edward Snowden and Julian Assange, and both echoed key themes of privacy and openness.

Internet of Darn-Near Everything

"Your washing machine may not be following you on Twitter just yet, but it might pretty soon. The Internet of Things is likely to explode as it is becoming easier than ever to tap into for entrepreneurs, hobbyists, or as school projects.

"There was quite a bit of talk about the Internet of Things and no-screen devices, and one of the big exhibitors was Kinoma Create, which sells kits for building connected devices for hobbyists to play around with ideas, or entrepreneurs to prototype with."

-Elena English, CEO and founder of


What’s Old Is New … and It’s Getting Smaller

"Some of the coolest gadgets at the show had an emotional pull toward devices that dominated society in the past, like Polaroid cameras that hook up to your iPhone or Vinyl cutters that let you pipe in MP3 files to create your own actual record.

"The miniaturization of innovation was also on display. Arduino boards (from Atmel) and 3-D printers have completely changed the world of invention. They’ve enabled hobbyists and enthusiasts to design and build electronic devices and all sorts of objects at a depth never before possible. What used to require organizations like Xerox Parc and A.D. Little to create can now be built by enthusiasts in a garage."

-RJ Bardsley, senior vice president and tech practice lead at Racepoint Global

A Shift Toward Open Internet, and Away from Apps and Social

"Individual startup/apps didn’t really shout out from the noise as in previous years – I can’t say I downloaded a single app during the event. Brands seemed like they were getting smarter with more targeted parties, promotions, RSVPs and panels. Overall, the conversations centered around open Internet, privacy and big data instead of social media and content curation."

-Sean Patrick Henry, developer at OKCupid

Snapchat-Style Secrecy

"The Secret app is absolutely blowing up! It was neat to see that they dropped a new feature right for SXSW. It allows anyone within geographical proximity to you to receive your secrets. It fit the SXSW audience super well and is leaving a mark on SXSW for sure."

-Simon Burns, head of communications at Robinhood

Debate About Wearable Chic … and "Glassholes"

"All the Google Glass wearers in one panel said the reaction they get from people is 99 percent positive. And yet, as I see it, there’s a generalized cultural uneasiness around the technology and those wearing it. People sense that the early Glass adopters – the "Glassholes" – are pushing us to a place we’re not ready to go with technology. It’s that generalized uneasiness more so than privacy concerns that’s driving the Glasshole vibe."

-Sara Grace,

Context, Content and Coding for All

"Wearables, sensors, big data, social and visualization – the expected trend-darlings are in force at SXSW. Two standouts rise above the rest for CIOs to take note of. First, contextual experiences and content, enabled by iBeacons/Bluetooth LE have reached prime time. The technology is incredibly useful, capable and ready. Second, Stephen Wolfram may have changed how we program computers forever if he delivers on his promise make code and data equal citizens at scale."

-Sheldon Monteiro, CTO of SapientNitro

A Demand for Responsive Design

"With as much as everyone in the tech atmosphere is pushing the need to develop and design for wearables, I didn’t see much information about how people are succeeding in that area. At every turn I saw many people craving information on how to develop responsive websites that are also personalized for the user in real time."

-Kristin Samuelson, digital managing editor for RedEye Chicago

The Blurring of Digital and IRL in Culture and Commerce

"Last year, it was 3-D printing and the Maker Movement, as well as big data. This year, it’s wearables and digital as an enhancement rather than an alternative to IRL. It’s one giant leap beyond mobile. How will brands use it to talk to customers and what will those customers want? All we seem to know for sure is that it’s coming. Our Bluetooths are on and they’re broadcasting."

-Sara Grace,

Getting More Out of Big Data for CRM

"Almost every conversation I had with a big brand was more about how to put the right piece of content in front of the right person, on the right social platform. It’s exciting that clients are trying to use data collection and social interactions to lead their CRM strategy. Secondly, it seems like a lot of brands really want to figure out tools that make CRM easier and more customized. It also seems like they are using social, email and mobile to do it. I love this idea of taking the time to understand who I am (the customer) what I want and how I want it to receive that info. Which leads me back to my beginning point of getting the right piece of content in front of a person at the right time."

-AJ Vernet, founder and CEO of the Republic Project

First Use of iBeacons in the U.S.?

"Once I downloaded the SXSWi app, I could get access to a quicker registration code using the iBeacon. Several beacons were placed around the event space and sometimes I was prompted to join a conversation about a session inside the app. My company, Appconomy has planted location-aware technology in retail spaces in China, but this was the first time I’ve seen the use of iBeacons at SXSW Interactive – and frankly in the States at all."

-Steve Papermaster, CEO of Appconomy

No Dominant Trend at SXSW

"In previous years I’ve seen major themes being pushed, like GeoLoco, transmedia and big data. This year there is no major trend/theme that has caught my attention. This might be a good thing, making the experience more organic."

-Chip Roberson, founder and CEO of Brandle


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Brad Hines
Brad Hines

Brad Hines is a digital marketing strategist and freelance writer at, and founder of, a nonprofit that is partnered with the United Nations World Food Program to raise world hunger awareness and for other humanitarian issues. Brad is a lover of art, travel, cooking, and design.