With SXSW just a few days away, the entire tech world is getting excited about a week of fun and craziness in Austin, Texas. And while we all know attending events and conferences is an important way to meet people and build your network—if you shell out several hundred dollars for a ticket to an event like this one, there's a bit of pressure to bring home something more tangible than a few handshakes.

You want to bring back results, but it can sometimes sure feel that those “results” are at the whim of serendipity.

Here’s where your smartphone comes in. SXSW has long been the place for apps to make their debut, and this is the place that having the “cool” apps can actually go a long way to making the most of your experience, from finding the best hangouts to meeting great new people.

These four apps will bring a touch of fun to your time in Austin—and hopefully give serendipity a helping hand, too.

Find Great Places

Foursquare is a classic but must-have app for SXSW. The social check-in app became known for its successful debut at SXSW in 2009, and it’s still one of the best apps to have with you for your time in Austin.

Since launching version 3.0, Foursquare now helps you to discover great new, popular places, whether you’re looking for a good café with free Wi-Fi or a great burger bar. Since the best bits of the conference tend to happen outside the convention center, and since there are guaranteed to be masses of check-ins telling you where everybody’s hanging out, Foursquare will be your ticket to finding the best bars and parties happening right now.

Meet New People

Now, back to serendipity: "Ambient discovery" apps have become the hot new space this year. App developers are working on building tools that’ll let you find relevant people standing 50 yards away from you—based on mutual interests or friends from your preferred social network—without you having to put in any effort.

Glancee and Highlight are the current cream of this new crop. These apps run in the background on your phone, and then alert you with a push notification every time somebody who might be of interest to you is nearby. And then, the app lets you ping the person of interest and initiate a quick meet-up.

Glancee and Highlight are both vying to be the people discovery app for SXSW 2012. But what’s the difference between the two? Highlight has a quicker and simpler user interface, but is only on the iPhone so far. Glancee’s biggest advantage is that it’s available for both Android and iPhone—and that just might give it the edge on creating a bigger network effect. (Then again, maybe not—how many of the tech crowd are on an Android, anyway?)

The one major downside to both these apps, though, is that they’re pretty hard on your battery. With your GPS always on in the background, you might find your precious device dead halfway through the long day. And that’s definitely not the route to productivity nirvana—or to winning any favor at SXSW.

Capture Your South By

One of the most important parts of SXSW is making your friends back home jealous of the time you spent in Austin. And that means you need a killer photo app. Since smartphones have taken over our communication, it’s been all about photos: 10% of all photos ever were taken in the last 12 months.

Up until now, though, photos have mostly been a single player game. Which is a bit odd, really—we all know that we want to share all (well, almost all) of our photos, and we’ve all experienced what a pain it still is to do so. That’s what inspired us to build Popset—my final pick for must-have apps for SXSW. (OK, I’m a little biased here.)

With Popset, you can create group albums with all your friends in real time. After taking the first photo, just invite your friends from Facebook, and they can start adding their photos, too, with the press of a button. And voilà, a group album is born.

Plus, once it’s done, you can upload the whole thing to Facebook for the rest of the world to envy.

Photo courtesy of Dru Bloomfield.