Skip to main content

Welcome to the real world: Hardware takes over SXSW

SXSW Interactive week has always been all about the apps. While social-networking platforms and novel new apps still have major pull here, there’s no denying that hardware – real palpable gadgets that you can see and touch – stole the show this year. Virtual reality, consider this your notice: Real life is back.

It’s impossible to ignore. Leap Motion took over an entire corner block, complete with finished units for anyone and everyone to test out, hands on.

Lytro grabbed prime real estate at the SXSW Create tent, where the team held talks, demos, and photography how-to sessions, and even rented its magic focus-and-refocus cameras out to the public. For days, everywhere you looked in Austin, someone was snapping with a Lytro.

You can’t turn a corner without running into a 3D printer. In fact, Makerbot CEO Bre Pettis spoke at the opening day of SXSW keynotes this year. “We’re launching hardware at SXSW,” he said while unveiling the Makerbot Digitizer, a product that scans items and then allows you to recreate them with a 3D printer. “It is the best time to get into hardware … Join the next industrial revolution.”

lytro sxsw
The Lytro photo booth, where users had a variety of objects available to test the one-of-a-kind camera. Image used with permission by copyright holder

The star of the SXSW hardware show isn’t even trying to grab any spotlight – it’s just doing it. During the first half of this week, Google Glass sightings were everywhere. Tumblr creator David Karp was strolling 6th Street with a pair. A nameless developer told me I wasn’t allowed to get a shot of him wearing the specs (we did anyway – not sorry). A friend convinced another privileged Google Glass-wearer to let him try them on – mid-party, many drinks deep, mind you – but says the results are everything we’ve hoped for. “It’s just like in the video, where you see the box pulling up all the information,” he tells me. “This tech has a mystical exclusivity around it, and I was excited to see how I would like this new quasi-reality.” The verdict? Awesome.

It wasn’t always like this. Last year, we were all glued to our phones, still newly-addicted to Instagram, just learning what the hell “SoLoMo” meant, still trying to grab that damn Mayor’s badge. This year, we’re waiting in line to get hands on with hardware we haven’t been able to try anywhere else.

If SXSW is any indication of digital and social trends – and whatever your opinion of the festival, it’s certainly had a cyber-cultural impact – the fact that more than a dozen panels were dedicated to talking about the world outside of our smartphones is a big indicator of where our interests lie. The shift has provoked a series of “apps are over!” articles from pundits, who claim that since SXSW (among other things) has signaled a returned interested in products we can touch and prod, this means the age of the installation has come to an end.

But that’s too simple. Couldn’t it be that we’re just starting to merge our virtual-reality fixation with our actual-reality lives better? That the barriers between staring at smartphone screens and reaching out into the world surrounding us are being lowered?

Life-logging camera Memoto.
Life-logging camera Memoto. Image used with permission by copyright holder

We’re not all about to give up Facebook to buy 3D printers. But our social-network fatigue could be pushing us to start experiencing things outside of our smartphones, laptops and tablets. But these things, by and large, come with a heavy software component, one that you can bet will leverage all that personal data we’ve been stacking up on social networks for years. And that’s likely what most of us want, anyway. We’ve had a taste of personalization and customization, and the mainstream user isn’t going back from that.

Still, it’s all extremely exciting to see. Apps were a huge step in digitally experiencing and interacting with the world around us, and SXSW had its way with them (and then some). Now we’re tip toeing beyond, and it’s resulting in more creative, beneficial products and services. Now we can track, share and monitor our bodies and activity, thanks to FitBits and Fuelbands. Now we can snap photos with cameras that help us record and stream everything we’re doing.

SXSW is a cultural pulse taker, and this year we learned that the confines of a digital social life are no longer the dimensions of your smartphone screen. 

Molly McHugh
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Before coming to Digital Trends, Molly worked as a freelance writer, occasional photographer, and general technical lackey…
This new RTX 4070 pulls off the impossible
The RTX 4070 ITX Sakura Blizzard graphics card,

I didn't think it was possible, but GPU vendor Zephyr has managed to trim the RTX 4070 down to a dual-slot card with only a single fan. The RTX 4070 is one of the best graphics cards you can buy, and although there are plenty of slim models available, we haven't seen a card that achieves the petite size that Zephyr is claiming with its new ITX Sakura Blizzard model.

Zephyr shared the new graphics card on Chinese video streaming service BiliBili over the weekend. The dimensions are extremely small, with the card measuring 172mm by 123mm by 42mm. That's small enough to fit in even the tiniest mini ITX cases (though always make sure to double-check your dimensions). For reference, Nvidia's Founder's Edition RTX 4070 measures 240mm by 110mm by 40mm, and third-party options can get much larger depending on their cooler configuration.

Read more
How the new iPad Pro is changing everything for the MacBook
M4 iPad Pro with Magic Keyboard.

iPad Pro (M4) Nadeem Sarwar / Digital Trends

If Apple products from the last decade are known for anything, it’s for being incredibly thin and light. Now, almost five years to the day since former head designer Jony Ive left Apple, his obsession for weightlessness looks set to come roaring back at the company that once employed him.

Read more
Best refurbished laptop deals: How to find cheap used computers
microsoft surface laptop go 2020 on desk

Some of the best laptops you can get are ones that come relatively cheap and have a lot of power under the hood. While that can mean finding yourself a pretty excellent deal on a laptop, another option is to grab yourself a refurbished laptop. Not only are they much cheaper than their new counterparts, a lot of them don't even have a lot of significant issues with them and may just have cosmetic damage, with everything else working perfectly fine. Another great thing is that a lot of these refurbished laptops come with guarantees, so even if something does go wrong at the start, you can have them replaced or serviced.

To that end, there are really great refurbished laptop sales that you can check out as part of Best Buy laptop deals, Dell laptop deals, HP laptop deals and Lenovo laptop deals. Alternatively, if you're in the Apple ecosystem, take a look at these refurbished MacBook deals, or if you still want to go for something new, you could consider checking out these laptop deals instead.
Best Buy refurbished laptops -- starting at $113
Best Buy's refurbished laptops are -- you guessed it -- Geek Squad Certified and while they may not be free and clear of absolutely all cosmetic scuffs they are still exceptionally clean and always in working order. Some of them even come with additional software like virus tools, streaming access, like Apple TV+, and much more. Of course, the best part is that you can get a premium and fully upgraded model for less, often with more storage, more power, and more features than you would when buying a base model brand new. You've got some great options from Lenovo, Acer, HP, Dell, Gateway, and even Apple to choose from. The cheapest models start around $120 and increase from there. The best way to know what's available is to head over and browse for yourself.

Read more