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Why the IFA Global Press Conference is a Good Check-Point between CES and IFA
By Terence Ang - on 19 Apr 2012, 5:09pm

Most of us know that in January, the world press will cover the latest innovations from CE brands demonstrating newfangled 3D/Smart HDTVs, 3D Blu-ray players, Wi-Fi speaker systems, state-of-the-art headphones and the like at the Las Vegas CES show. Then come September, the world press converges again in Berlin, Germany for the IFA show, where CE products shown are more or less ready to launch or commercialized.

The timing couldn't be more impeccable, as Christmas is just around the corner and retailers would be shopping around the IFA Fair Grounds snapping up billion dollar deals to ensure the latest hardware and software are in their store shelves in time for the Yuletide season. So the formula sort of works. There are differences of course. Unlike CES, IFA is also the only trade show in the world where there are dedicated floors to showcasing state-of-the-art digital home appliances from Fisher & Paykel, Miele, Bosch, Karcher and so on. So if you're in the fields of state-of-the-art coffee machines, cooker tops, ovens, vacuum cleaners (like the robotic ones) and personal health care grooming products, the show's relevant as well.

Hundreds of journalists from all over the world, attend the IFA Global Press Conference 2012 in Dubrovnik, Croatia to hear what the brands, analysts and panelists feel about trends and products in the world of consumer electronics.

Anyway, I digress. So the IFA organizers, Messe Berlin and gfu, being smart and efficient at what they usually do, decided to conduct an annual snapshot of how the various brands, trends and industry are doing by bringing together some 300 journalists from all over the world, putting them in a European resort (this year, it's Dubrovnik, Croatia from 12-15 April 2012), and having brand manufacturers [this year, it's Samsung, Sennheiser, Philips (and TPVision, their new TV outfit), Karcher, Panasonic, P2i (a liquid-repellent nano-coating technology provider for gadgets), Loewe, WMF], research analysts (GfK and DisplaySearch research firms) as well as two international panels of journalists (including yours truly) to present/announce/discuss/argue/debate over the future of CE trends, such as TVs, headphones, coffee machines and tablets.

The event, at least to me, gives journalists a snapshot on whether what they've seen, heard, smelled, touched, experienced at CES is on the right track (or scaled back) and what they can really expect to see, hear, smell, touch and experience at the IFA show instead.

Oh, since you already have close to 300 of the world's technology press in a room, why not make some new announcements as well? Sennheiser did, when Ivan Kuan, Head of Product Management at Sennheiser, announced two new products at the power briefing. One is the IE800, an in-ear headphone which according to Kuan, has "the most number of innovations per square millimeter". The headphone itself comes with an internal channel wideband driver, which is 7mm in diameter with Extra Wide Band sound quality. It has a new system with a frequency range from 8 to 46,500 Hz. Expect the IE800 to go on sale in summer (599 Euros).

A second product from Sennheiser is a headphone amplifier, the HDVD 800, which is Sennheiser's first. The anodized aluminum amp supports up to 24-bit 192kHz sources and is made specifically for Sennheiser’s own range of earphones, namely the HD 800, HD 700, HD 650 and HD 600. It will be on sale in summer as well for 1499 Euros.

All right, so yes, the formula sort of works.

Samsung was at the IFA GPC to showcase its latest ES8000 Smart TV (here you see Miss IFA with Michael Zoeller from Samsung Europe demonstrating the fitness feature of the TV). The TV allows users to interact with the TV via voice, gestures and facial recognition, and comes with Smart Evolution, which allows a user to upgrade the hardware of the TV over a period of 5 years via a card slot at the back.

Besides power briefings by brands, and analysis by research firms, there were two panel discussions by the press, talking about the future of TVs and tablets. HardwareZone.com (yes, I'm seated on the far right) was invited to sit on the panel discussing about TVs and whether the future and planned Apple TV will change the standards of the Connected TV.

Some key points I've managed to capture from the conference, which I'll summarize here.

1) Disconnected Standards in Connected TVs?

According to DisplaySearch, and based on the discussion the TV press panel conducted, the Connected TV will have functionalities which will differ based on whether it's more consumer-controlled, setmaker-controlled or broadcaster-controlled, or a combination of the three. While we're starting to see Connected TVs charting in these three directions, they will differ from brand to brand as each brand will try to offer services that give more value from the other. In Europe at least, there's a basic standard called HbbTV or Hybrid Broadcast Broadband TV. 

The Connected TV (or Smart TV, or Internet TV) will become fragmented if a standard isn't found soon. Basically a combination of the three content provider types will form the future of Connected TV functionality for now but they will differ from brand to brand.


2) The Race for Human Interaction UI Picks Up

DisplaySearch continues to postulate that among TV manufacturers at least, the race for integrated human interaction in the way a user navigates the TV will be a central focus of manufacturers this year. Not only that, the advent of the 'companion screen' such as a 5-inch Wi-Fi or DLNA-compatible screen device or the tablet (eg. iPad with companion app to remote control the TV), will drive the ecosystem of this 'interactivity'.

The trend isn't startling to say the least, but one thing the panelists did bring up is whether the companion screen will somehow function as a 'companion' or someday, take over as a primary screen of focus with the TV playing the background. For example, you may be watching a movie on your TV and use the companion screen to access additional information about a celebrity or related info. It's definitely a trend we should think about. Speaking of interactivity, one of our Senior Writers, Andy Sim, wrote a blog on what the different manufacturers are doing in the fields of UI and remote navigation for HDTVs.

Minority Report revisited? According to DisplaySearch, these three human interaction types will form the focus of TV manufacturers this year but they're not completely perfect...yet.

3) Asia Pacific Markets Growth Continues Upwards, due to a Surge in Demand after Last Year's Natural Disasters

Beyond displays, GfK shared with us some consumer electronics trends related to South-east Asia. The research firm projects continued growth of about 20% in all areas (including small and major domestic appliances) within the South-east Asian region. This is probably due to the strong surge in demand from consumers and retailers, after some of the worst natural disasters experienced in the region from mid- to late last year.

According to GfK research, markets in South-East Asia continue to see strong growth in all sectors. This is a result of a strong surge in demand after some of the natural disasters that have taken place within the region from mid- to late last year.

4) LED TVs, and to a smaller extent, 3D TV, will spur growth of HDTVs in the APAC region (slight exception in Japan)

GfK also predicts that 3D and Internet TVs will drive the growth of HDTVs (particularly LCD/LED TVs) in the APAC region. While growth is expected to be single digit, LED TVs will form close to 80% of the market by the end of this year.

The situation in Japan is slightly different compared to the rest of Asia. In Japan, the main driver of growth has been 3D TVs, while Smart TVs have remained relatively stable throughout last year.

 5) Smartphones will dominate the 8-megapixel and below imaging market

With regards to the smartphones, GfK shared that they're basically cornering the 8-megapixel and below imaging market, forcing camera vendors to look into higher megapixel ranges or instilling value-added features within their digital cameras. GfK did warn that many camera vendors are cautious when Nokia announced the 41-megapixel 808 PureView but it's a wait-and-see for now.

GfK research shared that about 99% of imaging devices with 8-megapixel cameras and below belong to smartphones, while digital cameras take up the rest of the ranges above that.

6) While notebooks will continue to see double-digit growth in APAC, tablets will see triple digit growth by the end of this year

Finally, GfK presented a slide telling us that notebooks are growing at about 12% year-on-year while tablets (they call it Web Books) will see a staggering 600% or thereabouts growth spurt.

Expect more tablet purchases this Christmas season, far beyond anything you could possibly imagine -- if GfK's predictions are to be believed. Most of us at the conference probably believe they could be right.

So in a nutshell, are we on track to seeing innovative stuff at IFA that we first saw unveiled or announced at CES? In summary, the organizers of IFA believe we'll be seeing innovations like 4K screens (which might be a boon for potential buyers of 3D screens using passive technology), OLED TVs (although DisplaySearch did say that OLED TV manufacturing still has its technical challenges at larger screen sizes, we're being told that the first 55-inch OLED TV will probably go on sale later this year), 3D TVs with and without glasses, new cloud-based storage for Connected TVs as well as of course, newer smart interactions for TV users. Finally, will this be the year where companion screens (and accompanying remote control apps) make a big impact within the TV ecosystem? We're not sure yet, but it seems to be the general inclination based on the trends we're seeing.

According to the panel and organizers of IFA 2012, the show this year is oversold (despite the current news on the European crisis). In fact, unlike previous years, there will be a new international airport (Brandenburg Airport) in Berlin with direct flights from 173 destinations and 50 countries. So expect this year's show to be internationally big.

The IFA consumer electronics trade fair will take place in Berlin, Germany between 31 August to 5 September, 2012.

Terence Ang

Terence Ang / Former Supervising Editor for HWM, HardwareZone.com & GameAxis

Terence Ang used to be the Supervising Editor for the New Media division in Singapore, where he worked with the editorial teams behind HardwareZone.com and HWM the magazine. In that role, he looked at ways the teams in Singapore can collaborate with the Editors in Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand. Terence is currently the Product Manager but contributes to the blog section whenever he can (or finds something interesting to talk about).