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Brief Published: 18 Mar 2016

SXSW 2016: Key Mobile Apps


The annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas has long been the launch pad for new apps. Twitter and Foursquare both found fame among the creative crowds, while last year's breakout app was live-streaming service Meerkat. Launched days before the event, it boasted thousands of users and industry investment before the week was out.

This year, there was no obvious standout app – a reflection of the fact that the consumer experience is increasingly fragmented across a series of single-purpose apps serving niche needs. Apps like Meerkat that aim for mainstream usage across many demographics are now rare.

Ryan Hoover, founder of tech discovery platform Product Hunt, gave his predictions of potential breakout apps before the event. Top of his list was Anchor, "a social network for bite-sized conversations" discussed in our Live-Streaming Strategies report. He also mentioned Shorts, a photo-sharing app from the team behind another of SXSW's previous buzz apps, Highlight.

While it may not have been that visible at the event, one of the platforms most mentioned at this year's SXSW was Slack, which is seen as a game-changer by many. Ben West, co-founder of event service Eventbase, told us that Slack is a good example of an app "that does one thing perfectly". But what really makes it powerful is its ability to be a "container that can pull in external services".

Dylan Boyd, director of new programs at global ad agency R/GA, pointed to knowledge-finding app Sensay as an example of this. "[Sensay is a] machine-learning artificial intelligence that lives inside your Messenger, Slack, WeChat and so on. The bot finds people across all the networks that might know the answer to a question you ask, puts your question into their channel, and their answer comes back to you."

For Suzy Ryoo, vice-president of technology and innovations at US entertainment company Atom Factory, the most exciting new app is Recharge. "It takes unused hotel inventory and sells it to consumers by the minute," she told us, meaning consumers can take a nap in a luxury hotel and only pay for the time they need. Ryoo was impressed by the app's gaming element: "You press book, then it gives you 30 minutes to get to the registration desk. This gamification element is not new, but it's an interesting way to lock in the customer."

Stay tuned for more insight and innovation from SXSW in our upcoming series of reports from the event. For more on mobile, see our reports State of Mobile: Winter 2016 and Five New Social Media Marketing Channels.