Reporting from SXSW: Saturday 3/14

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I’m here at the 2009 SXSW Interactive Festival and I’m taking a break in the lobby of the Austin Hilton hotel to share some exciting things I’ve seen today.

In addition to our live feed, a few others from the attending AgencyNet team will be posting throughout the conference, so stay tuned for more updates as we publish them.

This year, I’ve been focusing primarily on the mobile segment and its emerging technologies and  devices.  The rest of the team will cover the broader topics you’ll read about soon.  Right off the bat, I can say there has been a dramatic increase in the focus on mobile web compared to previous years.

With that, let me get to the notes! Since I’ll be attending a large number of panels each day, I’ll keep these posts as brief as possible.

Emerging Mobile Technology and Trends

If the increasing movement to data-connected mobile devices wasn’t already apparent, there are nearly 3 times more mobile subscribers than internet subscribers today.

One of the big questions at this year’s conference is whether or not Android will  take off as quickly as industry analysts predict? Consider this: The first and only Android phone in the market is on T-Mobile, a provider which holds only 7% of the US wireless subscriber market. Android is still primarily considered an early adopter device, so as additional  providers and devices supporting Android hit the market, the adoption rate will almost certainly accelerate significantly.

If you were wondering where all the emerging technology for mobile is coming from, the majority of it is actually based on existing, already proven technology deployed in non-mobile implementations. For example, augmented reality, motion sensitivity, GPS and IR-interactivity all existed well before their implementations on data-connected mobile devices.  The reason they generate so much excitement now is because these technologies are significantly more valuable in the palm of your hand than they are on your desktop.  In short, they’ve gone from pure gimmick to relevant utility.

Let’s Develop!

The industry is continually impressed with each new metric Apple reveals regarding the iPhones success. Its impressive user experience, seamless media and application management capabilities combined with the powerful Apple brand make it appealing to most age brackets.

But to develop a native iPhone application (that can be downloaded from the App Store), that’s another story. When an audience of (approximately) 250-300 attendees was polled for iPhone app developers, about 10% raised their hands. A follow-up poll revealed only 2 developers had previous experience with Objective-C (the required programming language for native applications). That meant the rest of the developers in the audience had to learn Objective-C specifically for iPhone development in a short time.  Would it have been easier to engage the developer community if the core programming language was build around a legacy language?  Would the number be higher if the poll was seeking Flash Lite developers?

Mobile Application Distribution Channels

Manufacturers are working to make it easier to get applications on phones.  Mobile application marketplaces are everywhere and their prevalence is growing. There’s the iPhone’s App Store, Google’s Android Marketplace, Microsoft’s upcoming Mobile Marketplace, Blackberry’s market, Nokia’s market, and now an emerging jailbroken-iPhone marketplace. That’s not to mention the upcoming platforms for Palm and a number of other platforms and providers… Giving consumers the ability to extend the functionality of their phone is getting easier every day.

Good for Brands, Good for Developers, Good for Consumers, or…?

Micropayments for applications ($0.99, $1.99, $2.99, etc.) make it increasingly easier to spend a larger amount of money if the buyer isn’t mindful of their combined spending. After all, those micropayments will add up to a larger price at the end of the billing statement.

Location-Based Services

An example of an iPhone app prototype showed a user mounting an iPhone’s camera pointed towards the front of the car.  The app composited live path information on top of the live camera image to show turn-by-turn directions in real-time. (Note: Current iPhone SDK restrictions will not permit applications with this implementation to be officially downloaded.) [Update: In Apple's preview of the iPhone's 3.0 operating system on Tuesday, March 17th, 2009, it appears as if this restriction has been removed.]

See related post: Building a better HUD

Where will mobile phones take GPS next? Nokia is working on a prototype (being tested in malls in Finland) that allows the user’s location to be pinpointed inside a building… sweet. That will lead to enhanced navigation, security and asset tracking implementations in the future.

Ok, that’s about all the time I have before I run to the SoDA Digerati Mixer. I’ll post another update tomorrow after the SoDA unConference.