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At Berlin tech fair, waterproof gadgets make a splash
By Marie JULIEN
Berlin (AFP) Sept 3, 2016


Oval TVs, smart kitchen hoods: top trends at IFA tech fair
Berlin (AFP) Sept 2, 2016 - Berlin's mega consumer electronics fair IFA opens its doors to the public Friday, offering a dizzying array of high-tech goods from home robots to surround sound systems to drones.

Some tech giants are also seeking to define what they believe will be the next gizmos and digital must-haves to drive the industry.

- The future of TV is... -

Oval. Or any shape, says Sharp, which showed off what it called the "future of TV displays" using its new IGZO technology, during previews before the public opening.

IGZO is the acronym for indium, gallium, zinc and oxygen, and Sharp says the technology has allowed it to build TVs that are frameless, have outstanding image quality and consume little power.

But what's wrong with a rectangular frame? Do we really need oval or odd-shaped televisions?

Yes, says Sharp, explaining that the beauty of such screens is that they can be integrated anywhere -- in a car, in the kitchen or in the bathroom mirror.

The company plans to introduce TVs with IGZO displays to Europe within the next two years.

- The world through 3D glasses -

The 3D experience first began in cinemas, but virtual reality is increasingly entering homes with video-gamers jumping in.

Unveiling a new VR headset in Berlin, Acer chief executive Jason Chen said the lines are blurring between movies and video games, and converging to a more dynamic, immersive form of storytelling, with VR to feature prominently

South Korean giant Samsung also did not miss a chance to tout its Gear VR headset when it presented its latest smartwatch on Wednesday, as it offered a tour in the Russian mountains with the reality-altering glasses.

Experts believe that VR offers many untapped opportunities -- tour agencies can give customers a glimpse of their upcoming holidays, spectators can enjoy the live concert experience or football game from the comfort of their homes, and even news can be viewed in 3D format.

"The list of possibilities is growing each day," said Hans-Joachim Kamp, who heads the German federation for electronics companies, gFu.

- Tick tock, emails -

They began life as mostly square or rectangular blocks on wrists. But the latest generation of smartwatches have had their edges smoothed out, and are now mostly round-faced as their makers seek to broaden their reach to the wider public.

Samsung's latest Gear S3 and ZenWatch3 by Asus unveiled at IFA are both cases in point.

"We believe that the smartwatch market will double in two years, but to really popularise these intelligent watches, one needs to break into the world of watches," said Guillaume Berlemont, marketing director of mobile products at Samsung France.

Gartner estimates that sales of smartwatches will reach 67 million units in 2017, compared to 30 million in 2015.

- When the hob talks to the hood -

From the coffee maker, which can be told to make one's favourite blend from a distance to the dishwasher that picks the best programme, electronics giants Siemens and Bosch believe these smart appliances should feature in every kitchen.

There's also a ventilation hood that turns itself up when the cooking gets intense and a fridge that can take a selfie so users know exactly what's missing while dashing around the supermarket.

From smartphones that can survive a dip in the sink to sweat-resistant earphones and floating speakers for your next pool party, waterproof gadgets are making a splash at this year's IFA electronics fair in Berlin.

As consumers have grown more attached to their on-the-go devices, they have also become more demanding and manufacturers have been working for years to make those products, phones especially, better able to withstand sudden downpours, spills or even the dreaded toilet-bowl plunge.

"The smartphone is now omnipresent and constantly in use, and a lot can happen. So its waterproof capabilities have become a lot more important," said Timm Lutter of the German hi-tech federation Bitkom.

When Japanese electronics giant Sony unveiled its latest handset, the Xperia XZ, at the week-long tech extravaganza on Thursday, it touted the phone's water resistance by showing it from behind a liquid-spattered screen.

A day earlier, Samsung showed off its new Gear S3 smartwatch, which like its Galaxy S7 phone can easily cope with a dunk.

Apple's iPhone 7, to be launched next week, is also widely expected to feature improved water resistance.

"It's a consumer demand, a selling point, a way to stand out," said Jean-Raoul de Gelis, head of Sony Mobile France.

But given the complexities of designing water-resistant devices, de Gelis said it was an add-on reserved for high-end products only.

"You have to work on sealing each protrusion, the screen, all the connector ports, and technically they are much more complex products to manufacture," he told AFP.

It's not just smartphones and smartwatches that are focussing on becoming more water-friendly.

Makers of sports gadgets have long taken the plunge, with cameras like the all-terrain GoPro, headphones and MP3 music players that you can take swimming already widely available.

Japan's JVC Kenwood displayed a range of sweat- and splash-proof sports headphones at the IFA gathering, as well as a small camcorder that can be safely submerged at a depth of up to five metres (16 feet) and can withstand dust and extreme temperatures.

"It's a family product, it needs to work in all situations," said Guillaume Briot, head of the firm's French marketing division, referring to the new generation Everio camera.

- Buyer beware! -

But buyers beware! Just because a gadget promises some level of splash resistance, it doesn't mean it can survive all submerged activities.

Samsung's advertisement for the Galaxy S7 for instance shows a man who absentmindedly drops his phone in the sink while doing the dishes, a submersion lasting just a few moments.

"We're not saying that this is an under-water device," Guillaume Berlemont, marketing director of mobile products at Samsung France, told AFP.

And while tech products are getting better at coping with water, some companies have been reluctant to highlight those capabilities, fearing consumers will misunderstand how far they can take it, said IHS technology analyst Ian Fogg.

Firms that do choose to market their products as such must consider how they will manage customer returns if the devices end up suffering water damage, he said.

"Is it something that is due to a fault in manufacturing or is it because (the) consumer has used the phone in a way that goes beyond the official rating?"

Water-resistant products generally come with an IP68 rating, meaning they can handle being submerged for up to half an hour, at a depth of more than one metre. Enough to withstand rain and accidental splashes or immersions, but not enough to survive being left at the bottom of a pool.

"There is a lot of work to do in terms of educating consumers. It's not easy," said Sony's de Grelis.

Some waterproof gadgets are of course designed to be dabbled with playfully, as demonstrated by Vern Smith, head of business development at Monster Products, who entertained visitors at the trade show by tossing a black, wireless speaker into a bowl of water.

It quickly resurfaced, spat out a few drops and then resumed blasting out music, while gently floating on the water's surface.

maj/mfp/hmn/gw/as

IHS Global Insight

SAMSUNG ELECTRONICS

SONY

GOPRO

APPLE INC.

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