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Guest Post: What I Learned About The Future At SXSW

2013 March 21
by Greg Satell

This post was written by Simeon Spearman, a Senior Innovation Strategist at Engauge, a full-service marketing agency in Atlanta, GA. He helps brands identify emerging media and technology opportunities and devises strategies for experimentation and learning for brands. You can find him on Twitter @srspear.

March is always a month where technology companies receive a lot of attention. Between SXSW and Samsung’s Galaxy S4 announcement, March has been rich with insights into issues facing consumer technology and indications of exciting new spaces to watch in the years ahead.

Machine Vision

Machine vision was placed front and center at SXSW and within the Galaxy S4 announcement. MakerBot, the company behind a line of popular 3D printers, announced a 3D scanner during a SXSW keynote, making it possible for consumers to make 3D models of objects they have laying around the house.

Leap Motion also received attention for its novel approach to gestural interfaces for PCs. By providing more granular motion tracking than the Xbox Kinect, Leap Motion demonstrates that the use of machine vision to drive gestural interfaces is a space of rapid innovation and competition.

Samsung also announced interesting new machine vision features for the Galaxy S4. When an S4 user is watching a video, the video will pause when the user looks away. A user can also interact with the device while wearing gloves through a novel application of gesture recognition.

Not to be outdone, Microsoft has made a series of announcements this month related to machine vision and the Kinect. Microsoft has open sourced the code samples for its Kinect for Windows SDK, giving gestural interface and machine vision developers greater insight into how to create applications for the Kinect.

The Kinect team also announced added 3D scanning to the software development package, making it possible for the Kinect to serve as a competitor to MakerBot’s  3D scanning product.

Wearable Technology

March has also been a month filled with exciting wearable technology announcements. At a private SXSW session, Google finally provided examples of how apps for Google Glass will work. Integration with the New York Times, Gmail, Path, and Evernote demonstrate how the company hopes to create natural augmented reality interfaces for Glass.

The New York Times and Gmail can provide simple notifications about breaking news and urgent emails, while Path and Evernote demonsrate how Google Glass could be used to capture, share, and store photos and videos.

Google and Adidas also demonstrated how wearable technology can change advertising. While Google insists it isn’t getting into making and selling shoes, their connected Adidas shoe is part of their Art, Copy, & Code, initiative to demonstrate how coding can revolutionize advertising in the same way that combining art and copy disrupted advertising in the past.

Most press attention focused on the shoes, but the website demonstrates how a connected shoe could communicate to its owners through display advertising or mobile notifications, altering the way brands encourage use of their products.

But Nike isn’t letting Adidas’s thought experiment go unanswered. This week, the company announced the 10 winners of its Nike+ Accelerator program, hosted by TechStars.  This initiative is a great example of how brands can spur innovation through strategic partnerships outside of their organizations.

The Nike+ Accelerator will bring the 10 winners to Nike’s accelerator in Portland, Oregon, to work with mentors within Nike and from startups like Foursquare.

Interestingly enough, Samsung is getting more involved in the wearable technology space as well. While rumors surrounding an Apple watch have swirled, Samsung has stepped up and confirmed their commitment to developing a smart watch and other wearable technologies that integrate with their ecosystem of products.

Looking Ahead

Reflecting on the announcements coming out this month, I’m reminded of when I attended SXSW in 2007, the year that Twitter really took off with the Austin crowds.

That year a lot of sessions revolved around location-based services and social media, but the available technologies weren’t yet sophisticated enough for mass adoption. The iPhone hadn’t been launched and 3G speed and GPS weren’t available on most phones. Everyone knew these technologies signaled a major shift, but the path forward wasn’t quite as clear.

My impression from the announcements this month is that technologists and marketers are in a similar space. Technologies driven by machine vision and wearable devices are available, but the space hasn’t matured to the point where there are clear leaders or killer apps within these ecosystems.

The rest of 2013 will see more experimentation, learning, and refinement of these technologies so that they will be ready for primetime with consumers in the years ahead.

– Simeon Spearman

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