I have previously published a separate article about the Internationaler Funkaustellung, celebrating the 50th edition of this show and “positioning” it as a pillar when it comes to consumer-electronics technology in Europe. In that article, I have also positioned it alongside the Consumer Electronics Show hosted in Las Vegas every January as a key consumer-technology event, especially whenever new technologies are being launched or commercialised.
From the various press reports that I have read, it appears that the industry sees the European consumer-electronics and domestic appliance market as being very stable even through the Financial Crisis.
Since 2008, the IFA have been exhibiting domestic appliances and there is still the desire for energy efficient appliances that are easy to use and make less noise during use.
Again, there hasn’t been any innovations concerning home-automation or security equipment shown at this exhibition. Nor has there been any activity concerning “backbone” heating or domestic-hot-water equipment. This may also be due to such equipment being provided by building owners rather than by householders.
There have been a few innovations concerning large appliances. This is mainly in the form of an automatic “as-needed” detergent dispensing mechanism for washing machines.
But the main technology that this site is looking forward to is for Miele and Liebherr to release appliances that work tightly with the “smart grid”. The “smart grid” uses automatic meter reading and “time-of-use” pricing to encourage optimum use of electricity. It also integrates “demand-side load management” so that certain loads can be run with less power drain during peak power-usage times as well as support for “reverse metering” for client-managed power-generation installations like solar panels.
In Miele’s case, their washing machines, tumble dryers and dishwashers can be set to commence their cycle during the time that the electricity rates are lowest. In Liebherr’s case, their refrigerator can run the freezer at a colder temperature during the time that the electricity rates are lowest so that the freezer becomes an “ice-block” thus avoiding the need to run as much during the day.
This class of appliance has been mainly focused on lifestyle but there haven’t been any major innovations here. Still, the coffee machine is considered integral to most people’s lifestyle and there is still two different platforms (Nespresso and Senseo) existing for capsule-based espresso machines.
Now this is where the real activity starts.
Real competition to the Apple iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch and iTunes
This year, IFA 2010 has taken the shine off Apple’s face with the arrival of effective competition to the iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad and iTunes. This has mainly come in the form of Android-powered smartphones and tablet-style computers being supplied by different manufacturers.
The event organisers even created a special show area for companies involved in the tablet-computing market to show their wares, whether through hardware, software or accessories.
Samsung used this year’s IFA to launch the Galaxy Tab device which has an AMOLED display, Wi-Fi networking capability, 3G wireless broadband and has integrated memory capacity of 16Gb. They are also putting more effort behind the Android platform even though they have their hands in other smartphone platforms like Bada and Windows Phone 7. This is while other manufacturers like Lenovo and Toshiba presented devices for launch at a later time. Hanspree also fielded an LED-backlit LCD tablet computer which, like most of iPad’s competitors, is Android-powered. As well, ViewSonic had offered the ViewPad 100 which the first dual-boot tablet computer to run Android or Windows 7.
As far as smartphones go, there is an increase in the number of Android-powered touchscreen smartphones even though Microsoft took Windows Phone 7 to the final “gold” stage where manufacturers can roll with phones based on that platform. But on September 5, LG had exhibited the Optimus 7 smartphone prototype which was powered by Windows Phone 7 and was demoing it working as a DLNA media control point application that was used to differentiate the phone from other handsets running the same platform.
At the same time, the Apple iPod Touch has found a legitimate competitor in the form of the Philips GoGear Connect. This is a touchscreen-operated multifunction Internet device that runs on the Android platform. Similarly, Samsung have provided an iPod Touch competitor with their Galaxy Player 50. This device is styled similarly to their Galaxy-series Android smartphones in a similar vein to how the iPod Touch and the iPhone were styled.
Sony has also answered iTunes as a content store by offering Qriocity as an online-content-retail platform.
Apple tried to answer this competitive environment by staging their own product-launch event that was ran concurrent with the IFA. This is where they launched iTunes 10 which was a major revision featuring their own social network and extending the AirTunes concept which worked with AirPort Express to select AV-device manufacturers like Denon and rebranding it AirPlay. They also launched a revised iPod Touch which has many of the traits of the iPhone 4 and rolled out a major refresh of iOS 4.
There has been a fair bit of activity in the “dedicated” e-reader market mainly from Acer, who were fielding their Lumiread e-reader and Sony who were fielding three readers.
3D and network action in the TV market
2010 is the year of TV innovations
2010 ist Jahr der Fernsehinnovationen
Der Standard (Austria) described this year’s IFA 2010 as “2010 is the year of TV innovations” (“2010 ist Jahr der Fernsehinnovationen” – original German language).
This year is also a major technological-improvement year for the main-lounge-area TV. Here, there has been a major effort in commercialising 3D TV and Internet-enabled TV. Most manufacturers are running at least one 3DTV range and running two or three TV ranges with network and Internet functionality. This is because the market is demanding 3D playback and / or online video functionality out of main-lounge-area TV sets or video peripherals.
There is even the possibility of MSI introducing a 3D-capable laptop computer. As well,Viewsonic is to use the show to launch a 3D photo frame, camera, camcorder and portable TV as part of cashing in on the 3D craze. As well, Sony had launched a 3D home-cinema projector but would this unit need a special screen and Panasonic has also fielded a high-end camcorders capable of 3D when used with an optional attachment lens.
At the moment, most 3D TVs and active-shutter glasses only work together if they are from the same manufacturer, but what needs to happen is for a standard communications protocol to be established so that it becomes feasible for 3D screens from one manufacturer to work with active-shutter glasses from another manufacturer. This can allow for concepts like glasses that “look the part” for the wearer or the ability to make active-shutter glasses to an optical prescription so you don’t have to wear them over your prescription glasses.
The Internet-TV function is based upon the TVs having an Ethernet socket and, dependent on the set, 802.11n Wi-Fi wireless network functionality whether integrated or as a plug-in dongle. They will work on a manufacturer-driven platform to provide streamed or on-demand local content via the Internet infrastructure, although some manufacturers, namely Sony, are implementing Google as an Internet-TV platform. Of course, most of these sets will support DLNA media streaming from the home network if you use your home network’s NAS device to store TV shows.
This has been augmented by the HbbTV “broadcast-broadband” hybrid TV standard being set in stone by the European standards bodies. This will also lead to Internet content and broadcast TV content being delivered to the same screen at the same time and can cater for highly-interactive viewing setups. It has also been encouraged by most of the European ISPs and telecoms carriers offering IPTV services as part of their triple-play Internet services.
Philips have released a DLNA-capable 3D-Blu-Ray “home-theatre-in-box” system that has 5 satellite speakers and 1 subwoofer but is able reproduce a sound-field of 9.1 channels. This has been achieved through the satellite speakers being equipped with diffuse drivers to make the sound envelope the listeners. They hava also made sure that this year’s range of 3D Blu-Ray players are DLNA capable with the BDP9600 being equipped with integrated 802.11n Wi-Fi.
Other AV technology
Acer have achieved the slimmest desktop monitors around with their 13mm thick LED-backlit LCD units. As well, South Korea’s LG had shown the EL9500 which is a 31” OLED TV and are releasing a DLNA-ready 3DTV which uses nano-LED backlighting.
Samsung have also continued to push out another compact digital camera which can submit photos to DLNA home networks.
For Denon, this show marks their 100th anniversary and they were using it to launch a set of limited-edition hi-fi components.
Telefunken have come back to the hi-fi scene with a handful of component-style systems. One of these systems, designed like the legendary Telefunken units of the 1970s, is designed to be part of the home network and also picks up Internet radio. They are also offering an Android-powered set-top box for the German market.
Fraunhofer IIS had previewed their TA2 (Together Anywhere Together Anytime) technology. This technology allows for HD-grade pictures and CD-grade sound for videoconferencing with H.264 video codec and AAC-ELD (Enhanced Low Delay AAC) audio codec. It could be supportive of large-screen TVs with integrated camera and microphone for videoconferencing like the recent Skype-enabled TVs that Panasonic, LG and Samsung had released.
At least this year has become one of those big years that has concerned consumer technology and yielded many innovations. It has encouraged real competition against Apple when it comes to handheld computing devices and has provided a standard level playing field when it comes to Internet-assisted interactive TV.