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Will the Gadget Show Live make the leap from Birmingham to Beijing?

With the Gadget Show Live, a spin-off from a UK TV programme, looking to launch on Chinese mainland, its British incarnation seems busier than ever. While electronic devices dominated, there was still a place for low-tech simplicity…

Photo: “Invention of the Year”: The CD Slot Mount.
"Invention of the Year": the CD Slot Mount.

The pan-European passion for gadgetry seems to be showing no sign of abating, at least if the Gadget Show Live is anything to go by. The event, an annual consumer show, is a spin-off of the popular UK TV series Gadget Show and regularly attracts 85,000 plus visitors.

Testifying to the event's popularity, Matt Hodgins, Head of New Business for Upper Street Events, the show's organiser, said: "We've been very pleased with the number of people attending and the very positive feedback we've had via social media over the last week. Both Saturday and Sunday sold out and the other three days were also extremely well-attended."

There was widespread speculation among exhibitors that the format may be replicated in China next year. This follows the launch of a Mandarin version of the programme last year, which ran for 28 episodes on Shenzhen TV.

Acknowledging the possibility, Hodgins said: "Although the TV show is now airing in China, any discussions about staging a live event there are very much at the embryonic stage."

If the success of the UK event is anything to go by, its mainland incarnation could be huge. Pre-show media reports suggested that, this year, the five-day Gadget Show Live would top its previous level of 85,000 visitors, although Hodgins was reluctant to confirm attendance levels. He said: "We will not publish the official visitor statistics until we have conducted an audit, but pre-sales would seem to indicate an attendance in line with last year."

With 286 exhibitors packed into Halls 6, 7 and 8 of the NEC – one of the UK's largest exhibition spaces – there was a huge amount to take in around Gadget Show Live. A quick overview of just a few of the exhibitors will give some idea as to the diversity of this year's event.

One popular exhibit came courtesy of Pano Pro, the UK distributor of the myFC PowerTrekk. The product is a revolutionary portable charger that, thanks to Swedish fuel cell technology, generates electricity from water.

Explaining its application, Barnaby Brown, Pano Pro's Managing Director, said: "Just by adding water and a myFc cartridge containing sodium silicide, you will be completely independent of the power grid. The great thing about this product is that it is like a portable power plant – it actually produces the electricity you need."

Brown, whose company has the rights to the product in the UK and Ireland, said that its Swedish manufacturer is now looking for distribution partners across the globe. Aside from the charger, Brown's company was also promoting the Pano Pro MkII, described as being the "largest, sharpest mirror lens on the market".

Photo: The fun Onewheel.
The fun Onewheel.
Photo: The myFC PowerTrekk.
The myFC PowerTrekk.

Staying with mainland European companies, Libratone, a Danish audio brand, was also – appropriately enough – making a big noise at the event. Overall, Tom Martin, the company's Regional Director for the UK and Ireland, said he was pleased with the footfall at this year's event.

The company was in Birmingham to promote its Zipp range, described by Martin as "the first-ever truly no-compromise and hassle-free wireless speaker". Claiming it truly stood out in what is a pretty packed market, he said: "We wanted to design a speaker that makes high-end sound portable and truly wireless. As with the rest of the Libratone family, the Libratone Zipp works seamlessly with the iPad, iPhone, iPod touch and Mac as well as with a PC."

Making its UK debut was another electronic product – Simple.TV, a US system that facilitates live HDTV streaming and DVR technology. The system is set to be rolled out across the UK this summer.

Mark Ely, the company's Chief Executive, said: "Simple.TV will change the way consumers watch television. It will allow consumers to stream live and recorded HD TV content anywhere – at any time – to a range of portable and home devices."

The system has now been available in the US for a year. Following its UK launch, the company plans to introduce the product to mainland Europe, Asia and Australasia.

Among the other companies also looking to revolutionise the TV experience was Otone Audio, a British company. Its focus – perhaps understandably, given the company's name – was more on sound than on vision. It was highlighting two of its products in particular this year – SoundBase (a sound bar that fits below a TV) and Accento (a rechargeable Bluetooth portable speaker, offering 10 hours of listening time).

Another British audio brand that was doing brisk business at the event was Orbitsound, a Swindon-based company keen to promote its proprietary airSOUND technology.

According to Richard Williams, the company's Sales Director, its new M9 and M12 sound bars represent a major step forward for audiophiles. He said: "Our airSOUND technology delivers a natural and immersive audio experience wherever you are in a room. The M9 and the M12 are both wireless sound bars and subwoofers and are ideal for watching movies, listening to music or playing games."

While companies such as Orbitsound were majoring on their high-tech credentials, other companies were winning plaudits with their distinctly more low-tech approach. The CD Slot Mount – produced by Clacton-on-Sea-based Slotmount – is a universal car dash mount holder that simply slots into your CD player, providing a convenient perch for your SatNav, mobile phone or MP3 player. And you can still play your CD. Small wonder it was voted "invention of the year" at the British Invention Show.

Other everyday problems, of course, do require high-tech-solutions – the Boosty for instance. Making its debut at the Gadget Show, the Boosty, devised by Ipswich-based Boosty Ltd, is said to speed up your home broadband by 'topping it up' with a second broadband connection. This is accessed via a small Boosty box, which plugs into the back of your home router.

Matt Pick, Boosty's Business Development Manager said: "We are current exploring potential sales channels and we're also looking to work with partners worldwide who want to license the product. As a portable software solution, Boosty could also be incorporated into router manufacturers' core products, potentially widening its appeal."

While a lot of items at the event were primarily fun products, some had a genuinely serious intent. One such innovation was ReSound LiNX. This ingenious device utilises Apple's proprietary wireless streaming technology to allow users to control their hearing aid and stream audio directly from an iPhone, iPad or iPod touch. ReSound has also developed an app that is said to allow a wearer to directly control their hearing aid as never before.

Overall, though, the Gadgets Show is first and foremost about fun and nowhere was that better exemplified than on the Future Motion stand. With shades of Back to Future, the Californian startup had on show Onewheel, a self-balancing electric skateboard that lets you fly over the pavement on only a single wheel.

The board – the company's debut product – allows riders to accelerate up to 12 miles per hour simply by leaning toward their front foot. Leaning back slows the board down or even puts it into reverse. Its regenerative braking also acts to recharge the battery during deceleration.

Photo: The Gadget Show: mainland-bound in 2015?
The Gadget Show: mainland-bound in 2015?

The Gadget Show Live 2014 took place on 9-13 April at the NEC in Birmingham. The event returns on 7 April 2015.

Simon King, Special Correspondent, Birmingham

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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