When the Sonys and Samsungs of the world launch a new gadget, they go to CES. The startups? They head to SXSW Interactive. SXSWi was the coming-out party for modern essentials like Twitter and Foursquare. We look at the companies hoping to use this year's festival as a launching pad to Next Big Thing status—and let you know who seems the most likely to break through into your phone or bookmark tab.
1. MakerBot Digitizer
Proponents of 3D printing claim that the technology -- which allows small businesses and consumers to transform digital designs into actual objects -- has the potential to transform and democratize manufacturing. Even President Obama namechecked the tech at his last State of the Union Address.
The biggest hardware launch at this year's SXSWi should make 3D printing even more accessible. MakerBot, which is currently known for its line of 3D printers with names such as The Replicator, announced it will be releasing a 3D scanner called the Digitizer that uses lasers and a camera to capture an object's shape, allowing a companion printer to produce an exact replica. Why this is a big deal: The turnkey functionality brings 3D printing to users who may not have the expertise needed to use software to make their own designs. Still to come: A price and release date.
Although few companies were foolish enough to actually launch during the chaos and noise of SXSWi, a number of recently launched apps for on-the-fly video editing and sharing -- think Instagram for video -- were everywhere. One of our favorites is Montaj, a video editing app notable for its ability to let users either fine-tune their clips into the perfect cuts or just shake their phone and be done with it. The shaking action causes the app to automatically edit together the selected clips, add a soundtrack, and a apply a filter -- making video editing as easy as pie. Montaj is available for free in the iTunes App Store.
For a more social take on mobile video, check out Vyclone. Unlike Montaj, Vyclone allows users who are shooting footage in the same physical vicinity to combine their footage into a single movie featuring multiple camera angles of the same subject. Look for this one to become popular at big events, such as concerts and football games. Vycole is available for free in the iTunes and Android app stores.
Uber isn't exactly new. The app, which makes it easy to call a car service without fighting cab-hailing crowds, has already proved extraordinarily popular in cities such as San Francisco and New York. But SXSWi visitors to Austin who opened up their Uber app were met by a couple of buzz-worthy surprises.
First: The app brought up a feature for calling one of Austin's omnipresent pedicabs. And, second: There was a chance your pickup was performed by a Tesla electric car. The result is a fine display by Uber of the service's ability to deliver different forms of transportation and to adapt to the needs of different environments and cities.
5. GroupMe 4.1
GroupMe was one of the big success stories of a past SXSW, and now they're back for more. The group messaging app -- which lets users keep in touch with multiple friends at once -- timed a major update to this year's festival. New to the app: a "Gallery View" feature that displays photos shared among your friends in an easy-to-browse collage layout, and "Split," a new feature that makes it easy to divide the cost of purchases between friends (say: a check for a group dinner).
Users can even use the app to collect money from their friends and have it beamed to their bank account. GroupMe is available for free in the iTunes and Android app stores.