SXSW & the Search for Mobile Innovation

Well it’s time for the annual SXSW interactive confab in Austin, Texas, so we’ll be on the lookout here for any new innovations around mobile commerce.

Last year, mobile payment provider LevelUp was introduced at every concession stand inside the massive Austin Convention Center, easily signing up attendees as they waited in line.

As I walked through the concession areas during registration day today, there we no early indications that mobile payments would be prominent, at least so far.

I asked the checkout person at the open pizza stand in the middle of the center if they would be using any form of mobile payments this year and he said not at his stand.

Which is not to say mobile payments aren’t happening in Austin. 

Along with Salt Lake City, Austin was the test market for mobile payments firm Isis, the joint venture of wireless carriers AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile. Isis has since launched nationally in the U.S.

And at SXSW two years ago, a panel discussing Isis drew standing-room own crowds and a  vending machine in the lobby demonstrating payments by NFC (near field communication) drew long lines of attendees who wanted to check it out.

Such vending machines by Coke, Mondelez and others are now in the market, of course, with no great fanfare.

Some things in Austin during SXSW are constant, such as the inability to get a taxi.

When a friendly doorman today “made a call” to get me a “taxi,” a white “car” showed up and my new friend said this was a taxi, despite having no meter, no taxi identification or anything that remotely resembled this being a taxi.

But then again, the driver said he could get me to downtown and there were no other obvious options.

As we bumped along back roads on the way to my hotel, from what I could understand from the driver there were going to be 300,000 people at this show (not really) and Lady Gaga would be playing (really).

He lamented that the show was no longer only about music but now it included social. I noted it was really “Interactive” and he said, “yes, social.”

At the end of the ride, I asked if he took credit cards, which struck me as the longshot question of the day.

That’s when the driver very proudly took his phone out of glove box (I don’t really see this very often), plugged in his Square credit card reader and took my AmEx card and quickly swiped it for payment.

“This is from the guy who created Twitter,” he rather accurately proclaimed. “No paper is needed, it’s all electronic. Totally paperless.”

We’ll have to see if any major mobile commerce creations are unveiled at this year’s SXSW, the show that put Twitter and Foursquare on the map.

Or maybe these quiet, individual adoptions of using mobile commerce like from my “taxi” driver will be the underlying story.

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