8 Nov 2017
Smart Home Assistants Take Widespread Utility Control at IFA 2017
Technology suddenly got smarter and better connected than ever before at this year's IFA show, the Berlin-based event that is one of the world's most significant shop windows on the consumer-electronics and home-appliance sectors.
Smarter, more connected and more efficient home electronics and appliances were the focus of the 2017 IFA event. This year, many exhibitors were also showcasing devices compatible with one of the growing number of smart-home assistants and/or Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity. As ever, speed and efficiency were the watchwords of many, with several new and innovative products said to cut cooking time, reduce energy consumption or combat pollution.
In other developments, with consumers expecting an ever-more immersive and realistic video and audio experience, manufacturers have been obliged to up their game in order to sustain the 'wow' factor and their own profitability. Acknowledging this, David Lowes, Chief Marketing Officer of Samsung Electronics Europe, said: "As technology increasingly plays a role in every part of our lives, we're creating products and services that adapt to consumers and set the tone for what is destined to become their 'new normal'."
At this year's event, Samsung debuted a 43-inch version of The Frame, the new television range it first unveiled earlier this year. Previously available only in 55-inch and 65-inch formats, the company billed this smaller TV as being ideal for the living room. The company also announced it was partnering with Panasonic and 20th Century Fox in a bid to establish hyper-real HDR 10+ video technology as the new industry standard.
Meanwhile, Shigeru Kumekawa, the President of Sony Europe, one of Samsung's great rivals, was on hand to introduce his company's newest audio products, including the latest addition to its wireless noise-cancelling stereo headphone range. Taking an overview of his company's progress to date, he said: "We are achieving steady profit growth in our electronics business here in Europe, largely by focusing on the high value-added market, which has seen us well-positioned for the remainder of 2017 and beyond."
The company was also using the IFA as the European launch platform for its 77-inch 4K OLED Bravia A1, which utilises the company's Acoustic Surface technology, a system that outputs sound directly from the TV screen. Also on display was the LF-S50G, the company's first wireless speaker to come bundled with Google Assistant.
Televisions were also front-of-house for LG Electronics, with the Korean company announcing that it was partnering with Dolby, the California-based audio pioneer, and Technicolor, a leading Paris-based multinational media company, on a number of forthcoming projects. During the course of the event, LG also treated show-goers to a sneak preview of its 2017 OLED (organic light-emitting diode) TV range, which incorporates its new Technicolor Expert Mode, offering viewers access to an optimised colour-setting palette. This new facility will be available as standard on all new LG TVs.
On the smart devices front, LG also demoed the IoT functionality of its TV range. This saw an impressive turn from Alexa as it took an LG TV through its paces via an Amazon Echo speaker.
Moving on to neighbouring Japan, and Panasonic had on offer its outsized OLED TV range, with the 77-inch EZ1000 taking pride of place. The Osaka-headquartered company was also looking to promote its expanded line-up of 4K Pro HDR OLED TVs, which is now available in a choice of sizes, ranging from 55 inches to 77 inches.
High-tech, Chinese Style
One of the least surprising developments this year was the expanded presence of the Chinese contingent. Mainland companies have made no secret of the fact that they have European consumers very much within their sights and, in 2017, they were clearly keen to set out their stall.
Assessing the reception many such businesses had already received, Zhang Jing, a Director of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce – which, this year, sponsored 150 of the mainland businesses attending the event – said: "Many of our exhibitors are thrilled. Within an hour of the show opening, several of them already had a number of Europe's leading buyers heading for their stands."
One company with clear European aspirations was TCL Corporation, the Huizhou-based consumer-electronics giant. Outlining its current strategy, Chief Executive Tomson Li said: "With more than 50% of our revenue already coming from our export markets, we are looking to expand our international business still further. In particular, we want to make greater inroads into Russia, while also expanding our presence in the Middle East and Africa.
"Overall, though, we have found that European consumers are particularly open to new technology. For us, then, this is the perfect place to build the TCL brand."
With similarly high hopes of building its European presence, Shenzhen-based Skyworth, one of China's leading manufacturers of televisions and audio equipment, is now set on becoming one of the top three TV brands in Europe by 2022. To this end, it has set itself a target of selling 15 million TVs in the region over the next five years, at least 50% of which will be under its proprietary brand.
Smarter, Healthier and More Efficient…
With this year marking the 10th anniversary of Home Appliances@IFA – the initiative that first brought home appliances within the IFA remit in 2008 – Dr Reinhard Zinkann, Chairman of the ZVEI, the German Electrical and Electronic Manufacturers' Association, said: "The IFA's move to include home appliances played a key role in establishing the event as one of the world's most important trade shows. I am delighted that we are now celebrating the 10th anniversary of that decision."
Amid the many home-appliance exhibitors jostling for attention at the 2017 event, Miele commanded more interest than most. This year, the German company impressed many with the launch of the Dialog oven, its new smart cooking system, which will be available to buy from early 2018.
Outlining the unique features of the oven, Markus Miele, the company's Executive Director, said: "This is the first system designed to allow electromagnetic waves to respond to the texture of food in an intelligent fashion. As a sign of its dexterity, it can, for instance, cook a fish set within a block of ice without melting the ice."
By comparison, rather than focusing on one particular new product, Siemens Home Appliances had on offer several innovative items across a range of domestic categories. Taking pride of place on the Munich-based company's stand, however, was the iQ500, the first Siemens cooker compatible with the Home Connect App – the multi-brand home-appliance control system – meaning it can now be operated via most personal digital assistants (PDAs), including Alexa.
Outlining the other plus points of the iQ500, Roland Hagenbucher, the Chief Executive of Siemens Home Appliances Division, said: "Overall, it sets new standards in the home-appliance sector. It can, for instance, reach a temperature of 175°C in just five minutes, without consuming any additional energy."
Energy-saving was also the focus of a number of Haier's new home appliances, including its F+ multi-door fridge-freezer, which comes with the Antioxydant Zone – an oxygen-controlled preservation system – as standard. Among the forthcoming products from the company is a double-axis washing machine, which offers faster washing and an energy-efficiency rating of A+++.
Staying with the environmentally friendly theme, Nuremberg-headquartered Grundig was showcasing a washing-machine drum made entirely from recycled PET plastic bottles. Explaining the thinking behind this distinctly green proposition, Christian Struck, the company's International Brand Management Director, said: "By using these recycled PET plastic bottles, we can reduce carbon-dioxide emissions by a total of 885 tonnes per year."
The IFA 2017 took place from 1-6 September at the Berlin Exhibition Ground. The show featured more than 1,800 exhibitors and attracted 253,000 visitors.
Simon King, Special Correspondent, Berlin