Observations from TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2013

I had the opportunity to attend TechCrunch Disrupt this week. Here are my quick takeaways.

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Information Still Rules

Maybe I’m jaded, but it continues to strike me that more and more companies are becoming information services providers – which in turn means they are leaning even more heavily on software.

Ten years ago would you have expected Chevy to have the largest display at a hip tech conference in downtown San Francisco?  Well, they did at TechCrunch, where they were aggressively recruiting product engineers.

Did you notice that TechCrunch itself is pushing more and more into the information services world?  How else do you explain the significant investments that TechCrunch has made in the CrunchBase, which was struggling to remain relevant not so long ago?  Now it may just be their crown jewel.

Sir Michael Moritz, of Sequoia fame, gave a talk on the data factory as the next industrial revolution.  Honestly, it wasn’t the best keynote I’ve ever heard, but the actual content, if you could get through the presentation, was quite compelling.

Education Still Sucks

Speaking of beating a dead horse. . .The disruption underway within the education sector continues to be a hot topic at any conference I attend.  There is a desperate need and a lot of money being thrown at the problem.

Three years ago when I first started noticing it, the message was very subtle.  Now it’s front and center and a part of every single discussion at an event like this.  It’s just a matter of time before we don’t even recognize our education system.

Bitcoin Is on the Radar

Bitcoin is the new hot topic.  It’s slowly becoming a regular, albeit heated, discussion point at events like TechCrunch Disrupt.  People tend to be at opposite ends of the spectrum about Bitcoin. Interestingly, it doesn’t seem to be love or hate, it seems to be whether this will stick or not.

Whether it’s technical limitations or regulatory concerns, there seems to be a bit of skepticism about Bitcoin.  That said, there seems to be a lot of excitement about the potential of it.

It seems to me that Bitcoin will ultimately fail, but it will pave the way for a successful digital currency.  Perhaps Bitcoin is the predecessor to the “next big thing.”

Detroit Has Moved to San Francisco

Despite their huge display and strong recruiting efforts, Chevy isn’t the only ones making noise in the tech community this week. Ford had a (very) large contingent at the event and I hear they were quite deliberate about finding a way to really connect with the TechCrunch community.  Automakers seem to be making a push and embracing the fact that software product rules the world.  While Chevy and Ford were engaging with the community, Nissan was unveiling its new smart watch.

San Francisco Wants to Be DC

I was astounded at how political the conversations at TechCrunch became.  Michael Arrington took the cake for pushing the envelope, as you would expect, but frankly, his banter seemed to take away from the conference more than it helped.  A word of advice to Michael – if I wanted to discuss politics, I would have stayed in DC.  I came to San Francisco because I wanted to discuss software products.

Hardware Is Making a Comeback . . .We Just Call It “Devices”

Hardware had a bad reputation for a while – and then we started talking about “devices.”  The “Internet of Things” and the reliance of software on sensors to create a seamless interface for data collection has created a new wave of popular devices.

These devices strike me as fairly immature.  Take Fitbit Flex.  I recently bought one and while it’s a great product, it seems to have so much more potential than has been realized.  It’s silly to me that the device doesn’t monitor my heart rate, my temperature, and other aspects of health.  It should.

I think we will find that the device market will begin to converge.  Activity sensors will merge with bio sensors.  Visual sensors will merge with audio sensors. Wireless battery charging, sensor availability, and new creative use cases are coming to the forefront.

Remember, true disruption typically takes place when inventions are combined in new ways to address real problems.  The iPhone was the reincarnation of a phone, wireless connectivity, and a media device – repackaged into a single device.  That type of disruption is coming in the device world.  Someone will figure out how to package all of these things into a device that creates the next “explosion.”

Will it be a watch?  Perhaps, “watch” as they are released.  If done right, these devices will be more than gimmicks, they will combine a myriad of sensors and displays from multiple devices into a single interface that the world is already used to wearing on their wrist.  They will allow software to come to the forefront of wearables (right now, they are embedded devices that allow for very little interaction beyond the original intent).

Oh, and I’m surprised that we haven’t heard about a wearable computing hat yet.  I expect one to come out in the next few years that monitors your brain waves.

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