It’s the most wonderful time of the year: the Internationale Funkausstellung is here. Better known as the IFA, the expo is the largest consumer tech show in Europe, and each year it brings together the most exciting, ridiculous, ridiculously exciting and excitingly ridiculous tech bling on the market.
Though not every product on show there is guaranteed to get the crowds swooning, and often products that are exhibited won’t be seen in the hands of normal users for some time, it’s a great way to look at where the consumer tech market is going, and what it says about trends and desires at the moment.
What was there
It’s often argued that the laptop is on its way out, but there was still a fair share of them on show this year. One highlight for Expert Reviews was the Acer Swift 5, which it described as an “intriguing ultraportable,” while praising its lightweight design. Two-in-one laptops also got a lot of praise.
But this is a tech show in 2018 – and one known for its outlandish gadgets at that. So it was always going to be a bit more extravagant than a nice laptop – for better or worse.
There is a lot of talk about the upcoming advent of the smart home, but it is arguable that it is already here. All TVs are now ‘smart’ and an ever increasing number of people are using smart assistants like those made by Amazon, Google or Apple, with stats showing that tens of millions of people own these devices, and perhaps more tellingly, more than a quarter of those have made a purchase using voice ordering.
Getting into the smart assistant market is clearly an important goal for the big tech companies, with many of them integrating with the major traditional retail stores; Tesco, for instance, can be used on both Google Echo and Amazon Alexa.
And that’s why listicles abound with details of the latest smart speakers from all-comers. Big names like Huawei and Sonos exhibited their latest offerings, with Huawei’s sleek looking AI Cube apparently impressing, particularly thanks to its built-in 4G. Others, like the Technics Ottava S SC-C50, seem to be more focussed on a speaker’s traditional job of playing music, but with plenty of smart features thrown in.
Smart homes don’t end with speakers though. There were plenty of smart TVs on show, including heavily hyped 8K televisions, from brands like Samsung, LG, Toshiba and Sharp. A TechCrunch reviewer argues that the content hasn’t really caught up with the TVs yet, so it may be the cart leading the horse to an extent. But it’s still a tantalising glimpse of the future.
And on the subject of the future, some of the more outlandish gadgets at the event looked very sci-fi indeed. Not even sleep can avoid a tech upgrade these days, with the Bescent Sensorwake Trio hoping to start your day differently with an alarm clock scientifically designed to wake you in a less jarring fashion than the traditional beeps and bells.
Gadget designers want to help you drift off, too. Somnox showed off a £500 robot that helps you sleep by matching your breathing, and gives you an app to measure your sleep patterns alongside it.
Lighting up the show
One of the most attention-grabbing bits of tech at the show wasn’t a next-generation smartphone, or an enormous TV, or even a robot. It was a set of lights. Nanoleaf’s LED wall tiles change colour or create a rippling effect as you run your hand over them. The effect is built-in startling, and for any futurist with a penchant for interior design, they’re probably quite appealing.
What we’re looking at when we explore these smart home gadgets is, on the whole, something more than a neat piece of kit. They are the building blocks of the ever-developing Internet of Things – particularly devices like smart assistants.
And big tech expos like IFA demonstrate that trends like IoT are more than just buzzwords. They show how autonomous products, robots and AI all come together to build smart homes and ecosystems that interact with one another.
These types of technologies are often the subject of incredible hype, and much of it is often unfounded. But when the products all come together in one space, it’s hard to deny that some of the hype is there for a reason, and that all the work going on in the background is coming to fruition to bring the future to consumers.