SAN FRANCISCO -- What the heck are these guys doing to our televisions?
In an attack of the codiacs, a group of 100 code-writing, reality-bending developers gathered in a backroom Thursday at Apps World North America 2013 to re-imagine the way we watch TV.
"There's a half a trillion dollars up for grabs as TV collides with the Internet and nobody knows how it'll all play out," said Richard Kastelein, founder of the TV HackFest, one of the big draws at the inaugural mobile-app expo wrapping up Friday at Moscone Center. "But the creative types and coders taking part in HackFest will give us an idea of what might be coming."
Battling for $3,000 in prizes, the hacker teams' mission was simple: Take 24 hours and come up with new mobile apps that will help usher in the era of the "second screen." That much-buzzed-about term describes the coming confluence of traditional television with the Web over new platforms like smartphones and tablets. Analysts say there's an advertising gold mine in the nascent smart-TV market, and experts say mobile devices will soon turn upside-down our entire concept of television and how content gets delivered.
And if Kastelein's first HackFest last year in London is any indication, the code warriors gathered at Apps World could come up with some real doozies.
"One of the big trends we saw at the first HackFest was 'flick-to-TV,' " he said, dropping a term that could soon be on everyone's lips. "You're watching a YouTube video on your iPad and by swiping your finger across the screen you 'flick' the video over onto the television."
The TV hackathon is unfolding in the midst of a sprawling tech smorgasbord at Moscone Center, where an estimated 7,500 registered aficionados can scarf up the latest and greatest in mobile apps. The convention, originally launched in Great Britain and now in its first year in San Francisco, offers a two-day up-close look at one of the biggest booms in tech. With the number of apps available on Apple's (AAPL) App Store and Google (GOOG) Play now into the stratosphere, this year's expo has come to the right place at the right time.
Or as organizers put it in their website promo: "We're heading to the technology brain epicenter, San Francisco, for two days of discussion and networking around the mobile app ecosystem."
"We are thrilled to be bringing the TV HackFest to Apps World," said Apps World founder Ian Johnson. "TV is an exciting new area for developers and our aim is to provide a platform at our events for these guys to really get creative with their coding and design."
The umbrella event has drawn far more than the 5,000 developers, mobile marketers, mobile operators and industry professionals initially expected. And everyone with skin in the content-delivery game, from AT&T to Yahoo (YHOO), was there Thursday.
Attendees can choose from six targeted workshop tracks. And there are networking opportunities galore, not to mention three free developer workshops and an exhibition floor packed with 150 app vendors showing off their wares. Some events, like the expo, are free, while others are open only to paying registrants.
But HackFest was at center stage, thanks to the growing fascination among consumers and developers with the future of television.
"I'm looking for people to come up with great ideas and apps that are ready to ship," said Sylvain Carle, a HackFest judge whose day job is developer advocate, platform relations at Twitter. "And 'ready to ship' means it has to work, even if it's a little bit broken."
As the 30 or so teams started to brainstorm, and then feverishly lay down one line of software code after another onto their laptop screens, hacker Hilbert Guo looked on like an excited little kid. The CEO and founder of a San Jose software firm had a clear idea of what he wanted to create in his app: a way to merge Twitter with live television playing on an iPad.
Holding his tablet and firing up Dopool, a Chinese app that streams live HD television shows, Guo showed how the Twitter-like tool called Weibo can be superimposed over the show, enabling viewers to share real-time comments and add social networking to the viewing experience."By the end of the HackFest, I want to produce an app that meshes Twitter with Dopool," he said. "I want to try to increase the sharing experience that we'll all enjoy in the TV of the future."
Contact Patrick May at 408-920-5689; follow him at Twitter/patmaymerc.