MCD represented at South by Southwest Interactive (SXSWi) again this year, leaving the spring-like weather in NYC to join the throngs of techies that flock to SXSW Austin for the parties, the BBQ, the occasional celebrity sighting, and of course, the hundreds of panels and sessions about the latest in emerging tech.
An interesting overall theme we noticed this year was the breaking down of boundaries. Specifically, we saw this in payments, mobile strategies, user interfaces, and brand marketing:
The evolution of mobile wallets: Mobile wallets had a lot of mindshare at SXSWi this year. Isis used a cyber-illusionist to showcase its mobile wallet platform (see video here). Jonathan Stark talked about how his crowd-funded Starbucks card experiment showed people can be not only generous to strangers but also perfectly willing to put money on and pay through a mobile app. More than a few speakers spoke about how mobile wallets will win over leather wallets when they offer value-add beyond payments. We definitely see a future where a mobile wallet will contain coupons, loyalty cards, customer service, security protection, and more — all in an extremely easy and secure user interface. We can’t wait.
Smarter multi-device strategies: When Apple first launched its App Store, the buzz was all about apps – it seemed like everyone, from entrepreneurial go-getters to big brands, needed a mobile app strategy. This year, we saw a shift in thinking: while mobile apps can work well for some experiences, it can’t be the answer for everyone. Responsive design is a smart way to create a design that dynamically detects device size and optimizes accordingly (re-size the browser while on the MCD home page to see a responsive design in action), while hybrid apps, such as Flipboard’s, are able to leverage the best of the web and the best of native apps through loosely-coupled APIs. As mobile usage continues to grow, it’s becoming even more important for brands to choose the mobile strategy that works best for them.
Invisible user interfaces: Amber Case documented the history of the human/computer interface in her keynote and pointed to a future where the machine becomes almost invisible. Ray Kurzweil also spoke about how humans and computers are becoming one and how, as technology becomes more advanced, it’ll enable us to improve our understanding of and interactions with not only our surroundings but also our genetics and biology. And Dennis Crowley spoke excitedly about his vision for Foursquare to become an all-knowing, always-on companion that provides recommendations and tips wherever you go. It was evident from these keynotes that user experiences will continually evolve to become ever more intelligent, invisible, and interesting.
Brands acting more like startups: Each year, a lot of hype surrounds which will be the next big startup emerging from SXSWi (after all, Foursquare, Twitter, and GroupMe all launched there). This year, it seemed like it was the bigger brands creating all the buzz. American Express’s Sync enables Facebook, Foursquare, and Twitter users to easily pre-load offers to their card for seamless automatic savings later. Chevy, recognizing the desirability and different mindset of Millennials, crowd-sourced not only its Superbowl ad but also its car concepts. Samsung’s U.S. Olympic Genome Project will show anyone how they’re connected to Olympians. And marketers for large brands such as Dell, Disney, and Pepsi recognize the need to shift from waterfall to agile development.
We are excited and inspired by the innovation coming from all directions, and can’t wait to see what startups and brands alike come up with this year.