What's hot and what's not at Berlin's IFA tech fair
By Daphne ROUSSEAU
Berlin (AFP) Sept 5, 2017
Berlin's IFA technology fair, Europe's largest and a bellwether for the Christmas season, draws to a close Wednesday. Here is a quick overview of what's hot and what's not in the aisles.
- On the out -
- Tablets: the fever that greeted Apple's launch of the iPad in 2010 has long dissipated. Smartphones boast increasingly large screens and high performance in a handier package than the not-quite-laptop devices.
- Energy efficiency: "It was a big topic in 2008, it remains important, but most devices conform to regulations now, we think it's time to turn to other things," said Reinhard Zinkann of Germany's Miele. As for phones, "it's become standard to recharge your phone overnight, now the idea is that there should be no need to charge it during the day," said Raoul de Gelis of Sony Mobile.
- Virtual reality: passion about the immersive headsets has faded from the levels seen in 2015 and 2016. Hardware remains pricey at around 500 euros ($550), restricting VR to true gaming enthusiasts. "The VR market has been held back in 2017 by very limited supply of the OLED display panels needed," said IHS analyst Ian Fogg, suggesting 2018 may be the breakthrough year as more mobile users will be able to try out the tech.
- Photography: digital cameras are thin on the ground at IFA, as high-performance smartphone snappers crowd them out and the mania for instantly sharing lunch, travel and selfie shots on social networks rages unabated.
- On the rise -
- Mixed reality: this technology blends virtual reality with the real world, as computer-generated images are added to the user's field of vision while they wear special glasses or a headset. Acer, Asus, Dell and Lenovo were all showing off headsets this year, while Microsoft announced a version of Windows compatible with the devices.
- Activity trackers: enthusiasm for the trailblazers of the wearable technology world shows no signs of fading, with more gadgets than ever on offer to count steps, swimming strokes, water intake or calories burned -- or to prod you about your health goals. Samsung and Fitbit placed their fitness wearables centre stage at IFA.
- Connected speakers: Amazon Echo, Google Home and Apple HomePod all offer networked speakers that respond to voice commands -- with research suggesting the market is set to balloon in the coming years. Sony's version with no buttons at all could mean the future of choosing music is all vocal.
- Male grooming: IFA's aisles used to host hairdryer or straightener demonstrations, but a growing number of brands are targeting style-conscious men. Bracelets, glasses and smart glasses are in vogue, while a cavalcade of devices promises to help maintain an immaculate beard.
- Vinyl records: In a vintage touch, record players are back on the scene at IFA, with pride of place going to Technics' SP-10R -- touted as the best-ever turntable from the legendary DJ equipment maker. A quirky offer from Thomson attaches to the wall and plays records vertically.
'Gifted' high-tech takes spotlight at Berlin's IFA fair
As smartphones and other electronic devices make greater use of artificial intelligence (AI), the digital assistants already pervasive in our lives are set to become more intuitive and play a bigger role in our homes, observers said.
The humble television, overshadowed in recent years as viewers streamed their favourite shows on tablets and phones, is also poised for a comeback with better-than-ever screen quality and online applications.
This year's IFA is all about "AI to make our daily life easier," Klaus Boehm of consultancy Deloitte said ahead of the annual trade show which kicks off Friday.
Boehm pointed to Amazon's and Google's voice-controlled speakers that can answer questions, turn off the lights and do our online shopping as examples of the "smart home" trend.
And in the race to be the smartest, developers are focussing less on hardware and more on intelligent software to woo consumers.
A so-called innovations "hub" resembling a university library will take pride of place at the conference venue, where researchers, developers and start-ups will give fairgoers a glimpse of the gadgets of the future.
Such is the emphasis on AI this year that Chinese smartphone manufacturer Huawei, the world's third largest, will use the IFA stage not to present a new model but to unveil its first personal assistant, Kirin, which it hopes will rival the dominance of Amazon's Alexa, Apple's Siri and Samsung's Bixby.
From offering restaurant recommendations before you've realised you're hungry to asking if you'd like your usual coffee after your alarm goes off, life without smart aides will fast become unthinkable, observers predict.
As the long-promised revolution of the "internet of things" is slowly making itself felt, IFA exhibitors are also set to showcase rubbish bins that know which items to recycle and fridges that can help you stick to your diet.
- 'Television not dead' -
Smart TVs that respond to voice commands and allow for easy on-demand viewing are expected to help reclaim the telly's place at the heart of the home as viewers are lured back with super-high-definition screens.
And of course, bigger is better.
"TV is not dead," said Roland Stehle of Germany's gfu federation for electronics firms, a co-organiser of the IFA trade show.
"People are buying bigger TV sets, so the picture sizes are increasing and it's necessary to have a high resolution."
IFA organisers are predicting a bumper year for television makers, as the latest OLED and Ultra-High Definition (UHD/4K) technologies become more affordable.
More geared towards the general public than its Las Vegas rival, the Consumer Electronics Show, IFA is known for lifting the veil on the must-have electronics most likely to end up under our Christmas trees.
"The demand for consumer electronics and household appliances is quite high, it's a good sign for IFA," said gfu president Hans-Joachim Kamp.
Sales in the global market for consumer electronics, including mobile phones, are forecast to reach some 887 billion euros ($1 trillion) in 2017, up four percent on the previous year, according to gfu data.
Some 240,000 visitors are expected at this year's fair, which runs until September 6, organisers said at a preview press conference Wednesday.
No major new announcements are expected in the smartphone arena as Apple traditionally skips IFA and Samsung already unveiled its latest high-end model last week, the Galaxy Note 8 that is supposed to banish memories of the ill-fated Galaxy Note 7 and its exploding batteries.
Instead, Samsung plans to use IFA to showcase its newest offerings of smart wearables, the Gear Fit2 fitness bracelet and the Gear S4 smartwatch.
Having failed to live up to the initial hype, tech giants are betting that there is life in the wearables market yet.
The Gartner consultancy estimated earlier this month that wearable devices such as smart headphones, eyewear, clothing and watches will generate global revenues of some $30.5 billion this year.
And wireless headphones will become so standard that phones without audio jacks will become the norm, they said, a path already charted by Apple after it controversially ditched the 3.5-millimetre jack in the iPhone 7 last year.
"By 2021, we assume that almost all premium mobile phones will no longer have the 3.5 mm jack," said Angela McIntyre, author of the Gartner study.
Berlin (AFP) Sept 3, 2017
Europe's biggest electronics show IFA is in full swing in Berlin, and alongside the familiar televisions and smartphones its aisles are bursting with gadgets on the stranger side. Here's a look at some of the most eye-catching inventions: - DIY cyborg - Long the province of amateur "biohackers", some firms are trying to take chips you can implant into your own body at home mainstream ... read more
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