Think of SXSW, or "South-by" as it is affectionately known by its attendees, as a sort of amalgamation of film, music, and interactive media conferences, but topped with copious amounts of booze and barbecue sauce, and neatly packaged in a charmingly chic weeklong festival. It is a geek gathering like no other.
But more than just the expected parties, panels, and conference sessions, SXSW for the past few years has also been seen as a potential springboard to startup success, particularly for mobile apps. Considering the well-documented launch of Twitter at SXSW 2007, and the less epic, though still successful follow-ups by Gowalla and Foursquare in 2009, it's no wonder why. Thus, we are expecting app developers to come strong this year, all converging on SXSWi (the interactive arm of the festival) on a mission.
This, of course, makes for a potentially eventful week for us of the CNET digerati. So, as we make our way through the festivities, allow us to share with you some app-related SXSW stories that we are particularly excited about:
Robert Scoble has written effusively about it, venture capitalists are psyched, and a lot of movers and shakers in the industry are already crowning this location-aware people discovery app the next big thing in mobile. What Highlight does is notify users to the nearby presence of others with similar connections and interests. This makes it a whole lot easier to forge a meaningful connection... with a stranger. If you're not creeped out by the idea, then it sure is a clever way to dial up the serendipity in your outings, or in CEO Paul Davison's words, "give you a sixth sense about the world around you." As you can imagine, such a sense will be incredibly useful in Austin, Texas, over the next week or so. And Highlight's founders are betting on it.
This one is similar to Highlight in function, but seems to be getting slightly less buzz (and I do mean, slightly). Perhaps it's the arguably more clunky interface. Who knows? In any case, we will soon see which of these people discovery apps (if any) emerges as the darling of SXSW 2012.
Angry Birds Space
While "people discovery" apps are certainly poised to be all the rage at this year's festival, we're still saving some excitement for our old friends from Rovio. At this point, we don't know much about Angry Birds Space, but I think we can safely assume that it will involve some tricky gravity manipulations and extra-terrestrials. If these assumptions are correct, then I am all for it.
At this year's SXSW, Samsung is planning to give the world its first live demos of the anticipated game on the oversize screen of the Galaxy Note. It's a clever bit of cross-promoting that Rovio hopes will reinvigorate dormant Angry Birds enthusiasts, and Samsung hopes will help sell its enormous stylus-toting phone-tablet thingies. We'll see how it all shakes out.
While it's not an app you can download (yet), at this year's SXSW CardSpring is offering a new API developers can use to create coupons and loyalty discounts (in an app or on a Web site) that are tied to your credit card. Check out the linked CardSpring site for more info.
The way it works is, you might sign up for a particular discount Web site or in a smartphone app. By entering your credit-card number at this CardSpring-enabled site, you could then go to the advertised store that offered the product and when it was time to purchase the item, you would swipe your card, and the discount would automatically be deducted from the price. This would allow Web site and app developers to offer coupons and loyalty discounts that are tied to the credit card rather than having users physically bring a coupon with them or present a bar code on their phone.
We can envision a ton of uses for this technology like discount apps on your phone where you could sign up before a big purchase, then get the discount as soon as you swipe your credit card. We'll be excited to see what developers can do with this API and what other features they'll be able to come up with.
Made specifically for iPhone and iPod Touch, the new Vibop app essentially lets you create video postcards with your mobile device. To give you an idea, the app offers love note, Super 8, and comic book themes among others to wrap around your footage. In addition, at this year's SXSW, Vibop's developers are pushing its brand-new Twitter theme, which styles your video with elements from your Twitter profile. Sounds interesting, sure, but useful? Not so much.
Anyway, we think an app that can quickly stylize your videos before you share them is a fantastic idea. While we won't yet peg Vibop as the Instagram for video, we are interested to see how users--particularly those at SXSW--feel about it. In any case, we'll be keeping an eye out for any other standouts in this category.
After enjoying significant growth in international markets, Maii, the popular multiplatform communications app for iPhone, has hit U.S. shores by way of Austin, Texas.
Maii's biggest feature is its VoIP calling. It lets you make unlimited free voice calls to other Maii users and paid voice calls to other mobile numbers and landlines. Also, the app's developers claim that Maii offers "unparalleled social network integration, combining your Facebook friends with your phone book contacts." What we really like, though, is Maii's dead-simple registration process. All you have to do is enter your existing mobile number, and you're all set.
Arguably hovering just below Glancee in terms of buzz at SXSW, Sonar has revamped its people-discovery app with a new interface. Now the front page of Sonar has a People tab that lists all friends and relevant people in your vicinity. This is a welcome improvement from the previous iteration of the app, which apparently hid the people recommendations beneath the Places tab.
Also, just in time for SXSW, Sonar has announced that its previously iPhone-only app has finally made its way onto Android devices--sort of. Unfortunately, Sonar for Android is in invite-only beta.
Another people-discovery app being buzzed about at SXSW is Kismet, which performs passive location sharing similar to that of a Highlight, Glancee, or Sonar. What Kismet adds, however, is the ability to actively declare your location a la Foursquare. This function can be useful in high-traffic areas where multiple events and venues are essentially sitting on top of one another--SXSW being the perfect example. In addition, the app lets you easily create spontaneous pop-up events in order to meet with like-minded individuals in the vicinity. Kismet is available only for iPhone.
U.K.-based startup Uberlife officially launched its iPhone app at SXSW in hopes of generating buzz for its offline hangouts functionality. Similar to Kismet, The Uberlife app lets you create and join hangouts wherever you go, and broadcast them to your networks. While the app's design and functionality do appear to be pretty solid, we'll have to wait and see if this lower-profile iPhone-only app gets lost in the South-by shuffle.
Providing attendees a nice break from all the social discovery at this year's SXSWi, Marvel Comics unveiled its own app that could very well change the way we read comics from now on. It's called Marvel AR, and it uses the power of Aurasma, the 3D augmented reality app that made waves at this year's CES, to supplement your printed comics while you're reading. Just open it up, point your camera at a programmed image from your book, and watch as the comic comes to life. It might show Iron Man leaping off the page toward you or give you insight into what the editor or writer was thinking while making the comic. Think of it as DVD extras, but for your book. While Marvel AR may not be quite as buzz-worthy as some of our other finds from the festival, it certainly opens up a world of fascinating possibilities. Unfortunately, we'll have to wait until April 2 to download it.
Zaarly, the Craigslist look-alike app that CNET covered back in July of last year, also has a presence at SXSW 2012. The company doesn't have any specific app news scheduled for release, but CEO Bo Fishback did speak at the Field of Dreams Manifesto panel. And of course, throughout the festival, the whole gang has been promoting Zaarly's potentially market-disrupting technology. For those not familiar with the app, Zaarly lets you name your price for anything, and get it from people nearby. It changes the way people think about performing small, menial tasks.
Instagram for Android
Instagram, the hugely popular photo-sharing app for iOS, is coming to Android "very soon" according to the company's co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger. Speaking on a panel at SXSW on Sunday, the two whet the appetites of many as they flashed a prototype of the app on stage. They then mentioned that it's not quite ready for a full demo yet. However, Systrom did go so far as to say that in some ways the Android app is even better than its iOS sibling. Needless to say, we are extremely curious to see what he means.
Unveiled on Monday at SXSW, Kinoma Play is no ordinary app. It's a platform that gives you a new way to interact with your Android device.
Specifically, Kinoma Play comes loaded with 50 custom apps that can be accessed through five different dashboards. For instance, the Search dashboard lets you conduct a search across its Twitter, Wikipedia, Yelp, YouTube apps, and more, all at once. Similarly, the Play dashboard lets you read the news from several different sources like Google Reader, Twitter, and Yahoo Finance. This makes for a more streamlined experience with less trips to the app drawer, according to Peter Hoddie, VP Kinoma Platform at Marvell. And since Kinoma Play has an open API, developers can create their own apps to tap into the platform, which should make it easier for users to perform a variety of common actions all from a single panel.
Editors' note: We will be adding more coverage of new apps as they are released.