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Hardware is the New Celebrity at SXSW 2013

Over the last several years, the South by Southwest (SXSW) conference in Austin Texas has been a celebration of new technology, music and film. On the technology side, the focus has been on software. Mostly a launchpad for mobile apps and social networking, SXSW has been the place for startups and the go-to forum to watch for the next big thing. Well, if this year’s conference is the bellwether for startups to come, our tech future going to be more about hardware and gadgets.

We all saw this coming. The investment cycle for mobile apps peaked before Facebook went public in 2012. Social networking has likewise passed its prime because Facebook went public the way it did. In software, the focus has more recently been on big data and predictive analytics. I believe, however, that the new star of the show is hardware. New inexpensive 3-D printing technologies are rapidly being embraced by companies and gadget-heads alike. The SXSW show this year has many 3-D printing technologies being showcased, as well as personal fitness devices, smart thermostats and motion control gaming devices.

Hardware development requires a serious investment for startups and entrepreneurs. Compared to developing an app, which may only require an individual coder working out of his or her bedroom, hardware is a more demanding and different animal. The development of tangible technology demands more capital and more risk. Personally, I find it refreshing. Our recent focus on developing "me too" mobile apps as the center of entrepreneurship in the United States has become uninspiring, even boring. For many young entrepreneurs, innovation was defined by whether you were tossing pigs, birds, or rocks at some target on the screen. Regrettably, entrepreneurship had become a fashion statement. It was more important to say you had a startup than a job. It makes you hip - willing to take risks, own your future, and drink beer on Tuesday mornings.

The exciting thing about this renewed focus on hardware is about redefining our view of innovation. In the United States, our appetite for meaningful innovation seems to have diminished recently. We have degraded innovation by overuse and our own diminished standards. Perhaps this new emphasis on hardware and tangible gadgets will help accelerate consumer focused technology development and manufacturing in the US. You know, creating tangible stuff again. This new appetite for things, blended with the accelerating deployment of 3-D printing and other related technologies, is exciting indeed. Hopefully, it will generate a whole new generation of entrepreneurs focused on things like 3-D food printing rather than yet another piece of software to share that photograph of your hamburger with your friends.