A few random thoughts about Friday at IFA.
Friday is the day that the IFA tech trade show officially opens. Normally, that's when I particularly love a trade show, getting to wander the show floor and find the little treasures, as opposed to sitting through pre-show press conferences. However, at IFA all that is different.
According to German law, so I've been told, if you use public facilities -- which in this case is the Messe Berlin Fairgrounds, your event must be open to the public. So, IFA opens its doors not only to the exhibitors, vendors, press and business people who've come, but also to the general public -- which turns the trade show into a department store on Black Friday after Thanksgiving. It's not that people can necessarily buy anything (some products won't be available until next year), but they're there just the same. As a result of this madhouse, companies generally send their press reps home, so that's even more reason to make it a mess. Moreover, the way I like to work is, as I wander, look at all the signage to see if any product is of interest, and then sidle over to listen to conversation in order to get a better idea of things before diving into full-court press question. But at IFA, because it's over-run by the local general shoppers, all the conversation one can hear is in German, and much of the signage is, as well. (Though less-so for the latter compared to the past.) The result is that most of the rest of the world there to work is pretty much cut out, unless you keep stopping the ask questions everywhere. Given the size of IFA in terms of ground, footage of the buildings and exhibitors, this isn't just impractical, but near-impossible. So, a great deal is, I'm sure, missed. And what is intended by IFA to be a tech trade show to the world comes across more as a German tech show where the world trade can come if it would like.
A few things did pop out, happily.
My favorite was the Duo Dry from Haier. You've likely seen small washers and dryers that you can stack when space is limited, like in condos. This adds a unique wrinkle. It's an all-in-one unit, with a small drum on the top that can hold 4 kg (about 9 pounds) and a larger bottom drum with twice the capacity. The top drum is a washer only -- but this bottom section is a washer-dryer combo. Meaning, yes, you can put in your dirty clothes, get them washed, and without having to do anything else, no switching the clothes to a separate dryer, will then become a dryer itself and dry everything. With the LCD screen and all the keypads, you have a wide range of options to configure things, including delaying the drying to a later time. The screen also can run Help videos that will teach you how to use the unit. And like so much home appliance technology today, you can control things remotely by Wi-Fi. It will retail for about $1,800 Euros, which right now is about $1,900-2,000. Two "howevers" -- the first is that it won't be on sale for a year, until 2017. And the second is that alas there are no plans to sell this in the U.S. Actually, there is a third "however." Only a few months ago in June, Haier bought GE, so with such a heavy presence and distribution availability in the U.S. now, it's possible that more Haier products, including the Duo Dry will make their way across the ocean.
I also admired a refrigerator from Miele. It's definitely not for everyone, but I like that they decided to do something very different, and try to be clever for a segment of the market that might find some value with this. Mostly, that's families with little kids, though it's not limited to that.
What was unique is not that this refrigerator wasn't the traditional white, but that the entire front of the refrigerator was...a blackboard! Instead of having a little pad to mark notes about what you might need, you can just write it directly on the front. (Of course, that also means that when you go to the store, you'll have to rewrite the list to take along.) But also, it provides a blank canvas for children to play around with the fridge and not be concerned having their parents telling them to quit messing it up. Or it lets anyone bring out their artistic side.
I'm always amused -- or amazed -- by the great love and innovation there is here for certain products we almost consider basic commodities. In particular vacuum cleaners, irons and coffee makers.
One company, LauraSTAR, was marketing their iron as the "world's first connected iron." Now, I suspect most people didn't think there was a great need for a connected iron. It's clearly not something you'd use remotely by Wi-Fi. But there are certain semi-uses for it. Mainly, you connect your Smartphone, download an app, and get help videos on how to best iron, and if you're doing it inefficiently, sensors in the iron will inform the app, and the screen will correct you. You can set steam adjustments and get cleaning maintenance updates. I quipped that they could also display how many calories you were using and make it sort of a game, and the rep not only laughed but liked the suggestion and said she'd pass it along.
The biggest deal though is how many coffee machines there are -- I don't mean in total, I mean from each individual company. And especially with cappuccino makers, how wildly tech and innovative they can get. This from Bosch is perfectly typical for all the bells-and-whistles it has.
For all of the whimsy on the floor, the winner of the Odd Award might be one of the simplest products there. And from a good, well-known and perfectly rational company, Logitech. They were promoting their "Silent Mouse." Now, mind you, I've never considered a mouse a particularly noisy item. I can't even tell you if the one I use for my Desktop computer at home makes the slightest sound, and if it doesn't if it's more than a nearly-imperceptible click. I also can't tell you how silent this Silent Mouse is, since the show floor was so noisy, I couldn't hear much of anything. Of course, it might be perfectly silent. And their might well be an area of computer where people do need total silence from their mouse. But it just doesn't strike me as an area of technology that has a major need and is crying out for a resolution.
There was more, but I'll write it all up and more from the earlier days of the show, in the weeks ahead. So, for now, I'll silently head off. I think this might be a day off from the fairgrounds, so perhaps there will be some other adventures to write about
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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