#sxsw

David Carr’s takeaway from SXSW:

And in a move that might seem redundant given the irony that she had already coated herself with, Lady Gaga invited the performance artist Millie Brown on stage to drink a bottle of neon green liquid and vomit all over her. Her actions — to happily shill for Doritos, then deliver a lecture on the importance of independent thought — perfectly encapsulate the conflicted state of the industry.

(You could say it was a new low, but last year, I saw Public Enemy, musical heroes of my youth, perform “Fight the Power” inside a mock Doritos vending machine.)

At her keynote address on Friday, Lady Gaga thanked Doritos and said plainly, “Without sponsorships, without all these people supporting us, we won’t have any more festivals because record labels don’t have any” money.

This is art.

SXSW Year 7

2008 was my first year in Austin. The year of the Zuckerberg interview. I knew basically no one in tech. And even fewer people knew me. I had just started working for VentureBeat. My badge, which I had bought before starting the job with VentureBeat, said I worked for ParisLemon.com.

Seven years is not a lot of time in SXSW-years — I know plenty of people who have been going for twice as long as that (and many more who have gone even longer). But it is enough time to have some perspective on the event — at least as it has existed in the “social, local, mobile” (I refuse to use that forced acronym) world. So here are some thoughts having just left SXSW 2014.

The entire thing feels muted. I don’t necessarily mean this in a bad way. It’s not like I’m saying “SXSW sucks!”, I’m just saying it doesn’t feel like it has the same energy that it did even in 2008.

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Ellis Hamburger of The Verge reporting on MakerBot founder Bre Pettis presenting at SXSW:

"The MakerBot Digitizer is an innovative new way to take a physical object, scan it, and create a digital file — without any design, CAD software or 3D modeling experience at all — and then print the item again and again on a MakerBot Replicator 2 or 2X Desktop 3D Printer," Pettis said. The Digitizer is capable of scanning objects up to 8 inches by 8 inches in less than three minutes. As the Digitizer scans your object, it spins in a circle on top of a platform. "This is kind of like what happened when Flynn (in Tron) gets digitized into the game grid," Pettis said. "This takes us from being a 3D printer company into being a company that’s building out a 3D ecosystem."

I am extremely bullish on MakerBot and the 3D printing space in general. It just seems so obvious that this is the way we’re going to create a lot of things in the not-too-distant future. 

Some good thoughts on Highlight (a CrunchFund portfolio company) by my good friend Brenden Mulligan. I wrote up my thoughts leading up to SXSW, Brenden’s thoughts are obviously post-SXSW.

I’m with him that SXSW was far from an ideal place for the app to fully break out for a number of reasons, but remember that Highlight didn’t actually launch at SXSW, it has been out for weeks. Instead, I viewed SXSW as more of an interesting challenge for them to figure out how the service would/will work at scale. I think they learned a lot in a few days.

I also think Brenden focuses too much on one use case: meeting people. It’s easy to see why that is — that’s the most obvious application, and the one that apps in the space have clung to in the past. But in my opinion, if Highlight is to be a success, it won’t be primarily devoted to meeting people. This will always be a part of the app, but ideally just one part. 

I still think we have yet to see the actual break-out application of the app. (Though I do still like this idea.)

I also think it’s extremely important to remember that many of us in the tech sphere are not the end goal in terms of users here. Brenden hits on this towards the end of his post when he talks about why he thinks Highlight can work down the line. I think he’s right.

Just to use networking/meeting people as an example at SXSW, clearly many of us don’t need a way to network more. My schedule, for example, was already packed nearly solid with meetings while I was there. But I remember going to SXSW for the first time a few years ago when I had just taking my first writing gig at VentureBeat. I knew almost no one in the industry. And I was alone in Austin. An app to help guide me to who I should connect with (or at least know) would have been very useful.

Having said that, the networking issue would likely remain from the other side. Even if I wanted to connect with someone, that person may have been busy already. Still, just going up and introducing myself would have been nice. Many people did that to me this year at SXSW, which is great. Hopefully some of them saw that I was around thanks to Highlight.

One more quick related story: I was at brunch one day with Paul Davison, the co-founder of Highlight, in Austin. A young woman came up and tapped him on the shoulder asking if he was the co-founder of Highlight. She had seen that he was nearby on the service and wanted to introduce herself and talk a bit about the app. She went on and on about how she and her group of friends loved the app. 

For those of us who have seen thousands of apps come and go, it’s easy to be cynical. But cynicism doesn’t make or break services; the real world does. 

Power

My single biggest takeaway from SXSW was all the talk about battery life. Every single person. All the time. People changing plans because they needed to recharge their phones. People walking around with chargers. People who were chargers. Mophies galore. People uninstalling apps that would drain power. People putting phones into airplane mode in areas of weak signal. People borrowing other phones so they didn’t have to waste the power on their phone.

Power. Power. Power.

This talk is nothing new of course, but it’s ramping up. As we transition into an LTE world, it’s going to be more and more of an issue, as Farhad Manjoo points out today. One of the most impressive things about the new iPad is the fact that it maintains the 9 to 10 hour battery life even with the addition of LTE. The next question is if they can do that with the iPhone as well. We’ll see. It’s gonna need a bigger battery.

To me, the most impressive thing about my MacBook Air isn’t its size, it’s the battery life. I routinely get 6 to 7 hours on one charge. Just a few years ago, this was unthinkable for a laptop (especially one this size). Part of that is better technology, but a large part is also simply a larger battery.

Manjoo is right that unlike the rest of the technology we use everyday, battery technology hasn’t evolved all that much over the past few decades. It’s constantly being refined and perfected, but it’s still largely the same. Want more battery life? Get a bigger battery.

If someone can truly disrupt this space, it will act as a lubricant that accelerates our already amazing pace of technological transformation. 

I want a laptop that lasts for a week on one charge. I want a cellphone that lasts a month. I want to be able to go to SXSW without a Mophie in each pocket. I don’t want to have to be constantly worrying about battery life every single time I leave my house.

Today’s battery technology is holding back several other advances in technology in major ways. And we are about to see just how bad the situation is in the coming months. Maybe wireless power sources that constantly charge and re-charge devices is the ultimate answer. But it just seems like battery technology is really ripe for disruption.

Meeting People Is Easy, Remembering Them Is Hard, Knowing Them Is Harder

I understood the value of Highlight immediately. Within hours of downloading the app, I walked into a cafe and ran into someone I had met before, but only in passing. Who was he, I wondered while talking to him in vague generalities so as not to give away my poor recognition skills. It was a pretty pointless conversation that perhaps could have been a great one if I could have just remembered who the hell he was.

I sat down and pulled out my phone which had been buzzing since I entered the cafe. There, right in front of me in the form of a push notification was the name of the guy I was just talking to. I swiped it and got taken into Highlight where I could see his picture, where he worked, and our common friends. Brilliant.

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iPad 3 (or whatever it will be called) will be announced during an event in San Francisco in the first week of March, reports John Packowski. Makes sense — that’s exactly what Apple did last year. 

The only question I have is on the specific timing. Last year, Apple announced the iPad 2 on Wednesday, March 2 and shipped it on Friday, March 11.

But this year, March doesn’t start until a Thursday. Do they do it on that Thursday or Friday or wait until the following week? I only wonder this because last year, the device launch coincided with SXSW, which seemed like it might be a headache at first, but thanks to some pop-up shops in Austin, ended up as great press for Apple. They were the talk of the event despite have no real presence there. 

SXSW starts on Friday, March 9 this year, so that launch date would make sense again. And it happens to line up perfectly with a snippet of carrier code found yesterday that suggests iOS 5.1 will launch on March 9.

So does Apple do a Thursday/Friday unveiling (not unheard of, but they typically do Tuesday/Wednesday)? Or do they wait until the following week and then ship the iPad just days later? Do does the iPad ship the week after SXSW Interactive? The Ides of March?

None of this really matters. I’m basically just thinking out loud so I can plan my trip to Austin.