25 Sept 2014
Connectivity Protocols Vie for Consumer Approval at Biggest Ever IFA
Appliance manufacturers from across the world debuted new smartphone-friendly connectivity and digital monitoring systems at this year's IFA in Berlin, one of the world's largest home appliance and consumer electronics events.
Berlin's IFA is a big show and the organisers of the 2014 event are making typically big claims. Never, they say, in the event's 90-year-history have there been quite so many products launched as there were this year. A good sign, indeed, for those still sceptical about Europe's tentative on/off recovery.
If other positive signs were needed, well over the period of six days, the event apparently generated orders totalling some Euros4.25 billion. It also saw 1,538 exhibitors participating across a display area of 149,500 sqm, with more than 240,000 visitors signing in this year. Tellingly, the floor space was larger than at any previous IFA event.
Assessing this year's success, Hans-Joachim Kamp, Chairman of the supervisory board of Gesellschaft für Unterhaltungs-und Kommunikationselektronik (gfu), the organiser of the IFA, said: "In 2014, the IFA once again fulfilled its role as one of the key driving forces for the markets. With the larger than ever volume of orders at the event, the foundations have been laid for good end-of-year business ahead of the most important sales period of the year. The IFA continues to be the ideal venue and marketplace for both industry and commerce."
Echoing his words, Dr Reinhard Zinkann, Chairman of the Home Appliances Trade Association, said: "Once again, the IFA has strengthened its position as the world's leading trade fair for consumer electronics and home appliances. Its contribution to boosting the home appliances market – for which the outlook is already good – is exceptional."
Moving more to specifics, in his keynote opening address, Boo-Keun Yoon, President and Chief Executive of Samsung Electronics, predicted that the home of the future would not focus on technology, nor would it be overly-concerned about being smart and connected.
Instead, he said: "The home of the future will be more about human-based innovation, technology that isn't overwhelming and works discretely behind the scenes to adjust to consumers' needs at just the right time."
Despite Yoon's sentiments, technology, connectivity and smart devices were very much in evidence at this year's show. Stands were dominated by 4K, UHD, bigger screens, wearable technology and Bluetooth products. In terms of the major domestic appliances, manufacturers also tended to focus on larger capacities and more efficient products.
The long-debated subject of connectivity finally seems to be a reality for many major domestic appliance manufacturers, with a number of companies previewing products that could be controlled via smartphones and tablets.
As ever, the event was awash with new tech. Despite the tidal wave of new kit, a few items did manage to command particular attention. Siemens, for instance, was clearly intent on making an impact on the personal digital infrastructure sphere. The company's iQ700 ovens, steam ovens and dishwashers have all gone online, the start of a process that will roll out across many of the manufacturer's other ranges.
Explaining the move, Roland Hagenbucher, Chief Executive of Siemens-Electrogeräte GmbH, said: "The appliances can be operated as before – directly by the panel – but also via smartphone or tablet, as they can all be connected via WLAN. The only requirement is a need to install the Home Connect app, which can be downloaded free of charge from iTunes or the App Store."
Bosch, a stable mate of Siemens at BSH, is also adopting Home Connect in November, with it rolling it out to other markets, including the UK, from early 2015. In addition to simply and securely controlling the linked appliances, the app offers a number of other practical functions, including a recipe tool, instructions for use, tips on optimal device operation and essential data on individual models and customer service.
Harald Friedrich, Chief Executive of Robert Bosch Hausgeräte GmbH, said: "From installation and settings to maintenance, the system is designed to perfect the use of household appliances in daily life. It helps us create completely new options for the modern kitchen."
Miele, meanwhile, also unveiled its own new interactive offering – the Miele@mobile app. This enables users to call up machine status information and, depending on the model, even allows machines to be operated remotely.
The app, designed for use with washing machines, tumble dryers and dishwashers, is due to hit the market in early 2015 and offers an impressive range of functionality. Alongside programme start and status queries, it has a number of mode-specific options. In the case of a washing machine, for instance, programme selection, delay start, spin speed, temperature and detergent dispensing can all be controlled via a smartphone.
In terms of slightly more conventional operation, AEG's ProCombi Plus – making its debut in Berlin – is said to offer intuitive baking, stewing, steaming, roasting and sous vide cooking. It is being billed as the first automatic combi steam oven on the market, complete with an advanced humidity sensor and Full Taste Steam System, said to ensure precisely the right amount of steam for every dish.
Jonas Samuelson, Head of Electrolux Major Appliances for EMEA, said: "Together with the launch, we are introducing the AEG Let's Taste app, which allows users to directly control their oven via Wi-Fi from wherever they are. Swiping on a smartphone or tablet allows for temperature, time and oven function all to be changed. In order to give you full control of the food, even when you are not in the kitchen, the oven camera provides a view of the food direct to your device."
Beko, the Turkish white goods manufacturer, used its stand at the IFA – a stand that was double the size of its 2013 presence – to again showcase products related to cooking and, again, with new smart solutions. It was, indeed, a ubiquitous motif across this year's event.
Making its fifth appearance at the IFA was Amica a Polish brand. As with many of its peers across the sector, the company opted to highlight its own take on home appliance control and monitoring – AmicaIn.
Simon Freear, Amica's Country Manager for the UK and Ireland, said: "AmicaIn is an innovative, intelligent and interactive connection for appliances, no matter what the brand, for home or away monitoring and control." Aside from the almost obligatory leap forward in remote monitoring, the company also had on offer a new range of induction cooking ovens in a choice of colours, as well as a new generation of cooling equipment.
Not to be outdone by its European counterparts, Haier, one of Chinese mainland's leading brands, unveiled its latest range of ultra-large capacity refrigerators – a pair of high-end models boasting the previously-unheard capacity of 792 litres.
Explaining the thinking behind the company's giant fridges, Nick Portlock, Country Manager for Haier UK, said: "The new one-metre wide side-by-side S100 and 4D S100 refrigerators are an ideal premium product for large families. We are also the first home appliance manufacturer in the world to offer customers a lifetime warranty on the refrigerator compressor of its one-metre wide range."
Another Chinese brand keen to make an impression at the IFA was Hisense, with the company launching – what it termed – "smart refrigeration for healthy living". Its SBS 616 model allows users to control the device's temperature, humidity and a range of other settings though a built-in touch screen and microphone. Its in-built Food Management app can also trace newly-added or used-up groceries, simply identified via barcode scan, touch screen or voice recognition.
Emphasising the utility of this new function, Monika Dugandzic, Marketing Manager at Hisense Germany, said: "The system allows the user to always have complete overview over the content of his refrigerator, without tediously having to go through each separate compartment."
Over in the consumer electronics sector, Samsung was showcasing the latest additions to its line-up of curved TV and audio products, including 17 curved TVs in FHD, UHD and LED. These ranged in size from 48in to 105in and included a revolutionary 105in bendable UHD TV and a new curved sound bar. The UHD TV is the world's largest curved model and features a panoramic 21:9 aspect ratio, while boasting an 11 million pixel (5120 X 2160) screen resolution.
Over at Panasonic, the company had on offer its new ultra-large X940 series, with 85in screen model taking centre stage. According to staff on the stand, the new VIERA 4K Ultra HD (UHD) model combines large screen size with motion picture quality, cutting-edge design and intuitive features.
Panasonic used the IFA as a platform to announce that many online streaming services – including Aupeo!, Napster, Spotify and TuneIn, as well as their associated original apps – are all compatible with its new European range of multi-room speaker systems, the ALL Series.
The company's cooking appliances area, meanwhile, featured a number of its built-in appliances, including its popular induction hob. The company's own induction hob temperature control technology was introduced through a series of live shows. These were all presented on the cooking demo stage by Japanese cuisine instructor-chefs from the Tsuji Culinary Institute of Osaka.
Highlighting its ubiquity in the sector, the company was also promoting its washer and dryer range, with its latest models incorporating unique steam technology and a proprietary auto-care function. The IFA marked the European debut for these new appliances.
Never one to be outshone, Sony, too, unveiled an array of new products at the event, claiming its latest generation of electronics would "deliver uniquely Sony user experiences, based on an ethos of inspiring and fulfilling people's curiosity around the world, while generating emotional value". Bold words indeed.
Expanding on its objectives, Kaz Hirai, President and Chief Executive of the Sony Corporation, said: "Each of our latest Sony products seeks to do more than just deliver new functionality. They seek to actually change the way you interact with technology and the way it integrates into your life. We are seeking not only to meet consumer needs, but through our Kando-inspiring technologies move them emotionally, and elevate their experience to new heights."
In line with this, Masaru Tamagawa, Sony Europe's President, unveiled Sony's latest product line-up for Europe, presenting a 4K Bravia model featuring a curved display screen. He also unveiled a number of portable products, including a high resolution audio Walkman as well as lens style cameras incorporating large-sized image sensors.
Summing up the show Dr Christian Göke, Chief Executive of show co-organiser, Messe Berlin, said: "As the world's leading trade show for consumer electronics and home appliances, IFA is the most effective information exchange for the industry. Within companies, the IFA is an event that influences decision-makers at the very highest level. We are hugely satisfied with the extremely positive reactions this year."
IFA 2014 took place at CityCube Berlin from 5-10 September. The event will, return to the same venue from 4 to 9 September, 2015.
Simon King, Special Correspondent, Berlin