"A lot of people are calling this the year of hardware," said Meghan Casserly, a Forbes reporter who moderated a March 11 session on SXSW trends. "There is not a lot of social making a big splash."
3D printers specifically were a big focus at SXSW this year, with several sessions devoted to the technology.
Bre Pettis, CEO of 3D printing company MakerBot, delivered the conference's opening keynote address on March 8. During his talk, he introduced the MakerBot Digitizer, which is designed to let people scan preexisting 3D objects to make copies of them. Calling it the "next industrial revolution," Pettis positioned the product as a major expansion of the existing 3D printing industry.
One place at SXSW where people gathered to try out other uses of the technology was the Create tent, a sprawling outdoor tented area where people could poke around with Autodesk's 3D printing software on Apple iPads. MakerBot has a partnership with Autodesk that lets people use an Autodesk app to create a digital model that can then be exported to MakerBot's units for physical printing.
Vendors at the show said MakerBot's printer, and other emerging companies, will help to level the playing field between design companies and DIY artist creators, but because the units currently retail around $2,000, it may be some time before they become accessible to the average consumer. MakieLab, a 3D toy printing company, was also present at SXSW.
Another big player at SXSW was Leap Motion, which makes motion-controlled devices for gestural computing, so people can interact with their computers by using their hands instead of, say, a keyboard or mouse. The company also had its own outdoor tent at the show offering games and conceptual digital environments that attendees could explore by moving their hands through the air.
At the moment the technology's broader applications are limited, but some say Leap Motion's open platform could prove useful for larger corporations wishing to incorporate it into their own products. Leap Motion is in talks, for instance, with Google in regards to the technology's uses within the developmental Google Glass head-mounted augmented reality system.
If there were mobile apps attracting attention at SXSW, the apps were literally, physically mobile. The car-riding and car-sharing apps Uber and SideCar were offering free rides to SXSW Interactive attendees, though the service proved so popular that actually finding an available car was nearly impossible.
In the end, the marketing bacchanalia notwithstanding, some say the SXSW technology show is still worthwhile, albeit in a very different way than how it used to be. For networking and building buzz, says Donald Chesnut, chief experience officer at tech marketing agency SapientNitro, "it's fantastic."