Every March, downtown Austin transforms into a bustling hub filled with the latest, art, tech, music, and film, taking on an almost “Spring Break” like vibe as out-of-towners flock to the Texas capital to take it all in. South by Southwest is a conference unlike any other—it’s less of a launchpad for new products, and more of an “ideas” show that brings people from various fields together to talk about what comes next.
One question we get all the time is, “What is SXSW even about?” What isn’t it about, really? By day, representatives from some of the biggest companies in the world (like Google, Apple, and Sony) come to speak and show off their most bonkers prototypes, just for fun. By night, they hire bands to come play at their pop-up space and host events. Startups arrange demos, enter contests, and give out business cards and free app downloads in hopes of becoming the next Twitter. Tech-centric art installations pop up all over town, showing how the varying SXSW tracks seamlessly converge.
This year’s conference had a little bit of everything. The biggest story actually had very little to do with SXSW and everything to do with Texas legislature: Uber and Lyft are no longer allowed to operate within Austin, so other ride-hailing startups stepped up to fill the void. The difference? These startups have agreed to fingerprint their drivers, as part of a rider safety initiative. Even though this has been in effect for almost a full year, many show-goers were caught off guard once they landed at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. We documented our experience with these local apps, and—spoiler alert—it was fine... mostly.
Besides the ride-hailing meltdown, augmented and virtual reality concepts were the breakout trends of the year—we saw headset-free setups, a VR cinema chair with full rotation and haptic feedback, a full-body VR suit for gaming, and tons more. This will be the trend to watch this year and into 2018. SXSW also brought in several political speakers this year, alongside their usual array of big tech names and thought leaders.
Read on for more SXSW 2017 coverage you may have missed.
Everything is political
Perhaps (OK, definitely) due to our challenging political climate, many of SXSW’s biggest speakers were political figures—including former Vice President Joe Biden and current U.S. Senator Cory Booker.
- Joe Biden’s passionate plea at SXSW: ‘We need your help’
- Senator Cory Booker on tech regulations and social media slacktivism: ‘We cannot get left behind’
Tech’s biggest thought leaders
Sure, many of the speakers focused on the political space, but many of tech’s biggest thought leaders, from company CEOs to reality star entrepreneurs and everything in between, also gather during SXSW.
- Planned Parenthood and Tumblr team up to turn the internet pink on March 29
- Reddit’s grand vision: ‘Come for the cats, stay for the empathy’
- Gawker founder Nick Denton believes the ‘good internet will rise up again’
- How Bumble is becoming the connection queen of the App Store
- Mark Cuban on pitching, predictions, and the President: ‘Disrupters are everything’
The breakout trends of the show weren’t that surprising—we saw a ton in the augmented and virtual reality space.
- Sony’s virtual reality suit is why people go to SXSW
- Buzz Aldrin’s hologram will take you on a dazzling virtual mission to Mars
- Take a ride on Positron’s Voyager, a full-motion chair for VR cinema
- Meet SwapBots, an augmented-reality toy that pairs with the iPad
- Inside the Infinity Room, SXSW’s trippy art installation
A smart jacket from Google and Levi’s, NFC flash tats, and a pair of payment-enable sunglasses from Visa. Would you wear any of these?
- Google Jacquard’s denim Levi’s jacket proves smart clothing isn’t a dumb idea
- Visa’s payment-enabled sunglasses are ready for the beach
- SXSW’s best new tech: NFC flash tattoos, VR drum kits, and more
Though the entire conference is full of prototypes, we saw some behind-the-scenes demos that strictly focused on next-level concepts.
- Panasonic pushes buttons with smart home prototypes at SXSW
- Siri, Alexa, and robots could change how we talk
- Playing the name game with Intel’s object recognition software
Brands on parade
It wouldn’t SXSW without a few wild brand stunts. Some knocked it out of the park (HBO!) while others made us scratch our heads (Carvana’s car vending machine...?).
- 8 of the weirdest, wildest, most WTF scenes from SXSW
- HBO brought its best shows to life at SXSW with an awesome escape room
- A lesson on making the perfect meme with Jerry Media, Instagram’s viral masters
This story, "Buzz Aldrin in hologram form, a zero-gravity VR chair, and other SXSW 2017 moments you may have missed" was originally published by Macworld.