Big Brands Play it Safe with Wearable Tech at SXSW

MB Business Development Lead, Nick Monkhouse and I had the privilege of attending this year’s SXSW Interactive conference in Austin, and first, let me just say what a total blast it was! We listened to Neil deGrasse Tyson talk about the importance of childlike wonder, rode on the back of a Pedicab whose startup’s sponsor we are in the process of rebranding, drank delicious Texan beer at SF-based startup parties, and danced the night away to Questlove. It was four days of utter madness.

Due to the scale of an event like SXSW there will inevitably be hit and miss panels and speakers. It’s easy to get sidetracked and you have to create your own continuity in order to feel like there’s a thematic conversation around what you see. We chose to focus on wearable tech and the internet of things—both particularly interesting in light of recent issues in SF, where Google Glass wearers have been reportedly subjected to violence and banned from certain SF pubs (including our SF studio locale).

Unfortunately, we were struck by the lack of meaty dialogue taking place. Big brands clung to safe ground by talking about seemingly pointless technologies, such as ink that can tell you when your soda can is cold (as opposed to our horribly low-tech sense of touch).

Conversations concerning both the moral ambiguity and the actual impact on convenience of wearable tech might have happened and we just didn’t catch them, but at an event like SXSW and on a panel that included some of the biggest brands in the world, it would have been far more interesting to hear them discuss what those things meant for the future of brand and the impact on consumers.

As we made our way back to San Francisco, both Nick and I were left feeling elated and deeply moved by much of what we had seen and heard, and yet, the conversations recounting the gadgets, wearable tech and embeddables (yeah, get ready for that) at SXSW kept coming back to a continually unanswered question: Why? Do any of these massive brands stop to consider why they might be creating something, or are they merely executing “cool” technologies based on their current capabilities. What’s the story being told? Without that core story, there’s not much beyond the surface sheen left to latch on to.