October 02, 2018

Fetching the Future at IFA 2018

With IFA 2018 now behind us, we have allowed ourselves some time to reflect on what we saw and the info we gathered. A few minutes to get clear on which key themes have been driving the vast amount of product categories. With our solid mix of disciplines – strategy, UX and product – we could look upon this IFA with a more holistic viewpoint.

Voice

Market trends show the year to year activities, the most notable being the surge in voice-activated assistants and systems. In particular, Amazon Alexa has become the most popular voice assistant, and has managed to leverage its early position and developer support platform. Thereby increasing its integration in consumer electronics from 4,000 – 20,000 devices over the last four years. In addition, it's good to note that the amount of Alexa skills has increased six-fold from 5,196 – 30,006 over the last two years. A somewhat similar growth pattern when it comes to smart apps.

Those who favour voice as a platform have a strong belief that voice skills are the new 'smart apps'. Yet, due to widespread adoption across the different product categories, this feels like a shotgun methodology. Which can often give little clarity to the actual end-consumer value. Despite this, we're in the beginning of the curve and exploration required to find the best use cases. Which begs the question: how far off are we from the wide-spread adoption of voice control? Perhaps Alexa or Google's integration will allow for faster adoption, as cross-brand compatibility is allowed within different products categories.

If you look at voice as an asset to your business, it has the ability to leverage the connected products as a family. Thus allowing you to drive ecommerce on brand presence, OTPs and subscription services. Of course, by doing this you give brands the go-ahead to curate more experience-orientated customer journeys. Think about who will own the voice ad-word for detergent, batteries or coffee?

The last take away on voice was the difference in the marketing approach from both Amazon and Google. Amazon stood its ground in Hall 26, having showcased what it had done thus far. Whilst Google was scattered throughout the various halls with assistants ready to help and exchange knowledge in their fixer outfits. We're intrigued to see who will become the biggest player in the next 5 years.

TV & Lighting


Philips/Signify didn't really wow us with its stuff this year, but a few things did catch our attention. The new OLED +903 looks great and comes with some killer sound, thanks to their new tie-in with the audio experts at Bowers & Wilkins. A great edition and approach to TV sound quality. As displays themselves have become much thinner, there is less space for quality loudspeakers. Something that is just as important (some would even argue, more important) as the visual itself. That said, the OLED +903 still offers amazing 4K visuals and decent upscaling to HDR of 'normal' content.

We also managed to see the Philips Hue Adore. Up close, the standalone mirror is only capable of white shades. So, no Technicolor madness in the bathroom, I'm afraid. This mirror can be connected directly to the Hue Hub. Of course, it wouldn't be complete without Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Apple Homekit smart home platforms.

Philips describes in an earlier blog post that the Hue mirror also comes with a dimmer switch to control the light. Using the app settings and pre-sets, the light can be adjusted to the ideal brightness. For example, set the light to low to relax in the bath, or to maximum to energise yourself first thing in the morning and for putting make up on in front of the mirror or having a shave.

However, the kicker is that you need to wire it up, rather than simply hanging it up in the bathroom. This will probably require some professional installation. That in combination with a price tag of €249,88 definitely makes you weigh up the cost-to–value ratio.

Whilst taking in the Adore, the Hue Play and Signe Lamps caught our attention as the most interesting parts of the showcased lighting system. These lighting systems can sync to your entertainment, giving you another layer of immersiveness. Whether you're gaming or watching a film, it's the environment around you that should also stimulate a variety of your five senses. The “paint your walls with light" tagline describes exactly the new Signe Lamps. The indirect luminating effect in combination with the lamp's slim design is perfect for living room application. After all, the focus should be on the visual entertainment. The smaller but by no means inferior Hue Play is perfect for those who have less space but still want that extra accent of colour with the same immersive effect.

The focus, however, isn't only indoors. After the popularity around the Philips Hue Lightstrip Plus back in 2017, the follow up of the outdoor variant is sure to be a popular one. Of course, this is down the product's flexible nature, which allows the Lightstrip to be positioned where traditional lighting cannot reach. This gives the possibility of more creative lighting outside.

Refill


Miele was heavy on the promotion of their Powerdisk all-in-one refill model; a very intelligent, multi-dosing system. However, after running through the functionality of it all, we realised there were a few flaws within the consumer journey.

The first thing we noticed was that the refills can only be sourced from Miele direct, both instore and online. On top of that it's a closed system which limits you in choice in terms of function, price and brand. Miele also took the liberty of showcasing the superior cleaning power of their detergent against that of their competitors. Yet, despite the favourable testing, it still came down to the cost of your cycle. On average, it's significantly more than a normal dishwashing detergent for little to no extra gain.

Another major downfall, which we were quick to spot, is that most refill models tend be difficult to recycle due to the intricacy of the 'cartridge' itself. Of course, this cartridge serves to protect the closed system from competitors, yet there are other ways around this. We'll wait and see what the next developments could entail. Surprising, as sustainability is a key point on everyone's agenda within FMCG and it wasn't addressed here.

On the opposite end of the spectrum brands such as Beko and AEG provide open systems with reservoirs positioned at the base of the machine. Thereby allowing the 'power' back into the hands of the consumer, and making these systems more logical business cases. This conclusion has also been shown in the parallel laundry sector from brands such as Asko.

Speaking of difficult to recycle, the coffee-on-demand sector is growing rapidly. With more and more brands taking the Nespresso-like pod system forward due to the patent expiry. However, very few, Nespresso included, have truly come up with a responsible way to dispose of the pods. As Nespresso has partnered with UPS, Nespresso offers the chance for you to return your used pods to the delivery driver upon receiving your new pods. Great in theory, however, in reality there aren't too many truck drivers who are pleased about the thought of taking away your mouldy bag of pods. Thus you break a link in the chain. On that note, to build on this public opinion about the use of aluminium for capsules is not favourable due to a perceived lack of sustainability. However, public opinion and fact can be two very different things. Most notably as reclaimed aluminium is one of the most interesting to recycle. Although you have to offset the initial refinement cost. Even so, there are many other options out there such as refillable pods and compostable solutions.

Customisation


With customisation booming across many categories – mostly driven from consumer desire to differentiate, which can be seen in sub-cultures within fashion, etc. – where the focus is to create hype. It was great to see Urban Ears take that train of thought and marketing and apply it to their brand. Creating an influx of intrigued potential customers to their stall. So much so that they had to start turning people away. Supply and demand at its finest. Apart from the marketing stunt, the backend was most intriguing as both customisation and personalisation were intertwined. They took your finger print and matched it to one of four hundred profiles which had 'pre-prescribed' designs. The info was then input into the theatrical robotic arms, the centre point of the stand.

Smart Kitchens

It's safe to say the connected home continues to dominate the IFA with all major appliance manufacturers showing their latest and greatest. IFA pinned it as a "milestone in home automation". Most of which show an all-in-one seamless connected eco system. However, this is fundamentally flawed and we have yet to be convinced on the viability of this. A fully connected home with appliances dedicated to one manufacturer is just not realistic. This is based upon many factors such as consumer purchase patterns, budget and brand loyalty. To really drive change and to convert consumers faster and thus allow wide spread adoption, the focus on compatibility across all systems is critical. Alexa and Google will play a big role in this collaboration.

A key take away was the huge influx of smart fridges with internal cameras and sensors, offering convenient reordering models and a way in which to tackle and minimise food waste. A major problem with very few solutions out there thus far. Changes to the design of packaging and labelling will undoubtedly help to improve the reliability and uptake of these systems. Highly executed and market tested/ready solutions can already be found from London start up Mimica, which includes a bio-reactive food label. Although it will need to go further than this, an identification matrix and/or system also needs to be put in place. The gap is between tech and brands/supermarkets. Companies are already partnering with supermarkets to be able to identify certain produce. Such as Smarter, a UK based company who has partnered with Tesco. But at the end of the day, the Tech brands need the product data for identification and the supermarkets need customer data to build profiles for delivery logistics. It's a benefit for both partners in the end and to an extent the consumer.

Besides storage, smart kitchens are all about the cooking experience. A glimpse in to what could be comes from Grundig's revamped 2015 projected kitchen and from Bosch who showcased their PAI system, short for 'project and interaction'. These concepts use a projector to beam a version of the Android operating system onto your kitchen counter, where it is used as an interface that allows you to tap and swipe at the projected image. It's easy to imagine how such a system could be used for showing a recipe on a work surface, right where it needs to be, but without running the risk of getting ingredients all over your iPad or recipe book. But with such a move towards voice activated technologies, do you really need the visual cue to match the audio one? Why do I need to read how many onions to chop? Why wouldn't I ask a voice skill “hey chef linguini, was it one or two onions?" It's like having your own personal sous chef. This doesn't imply that there isn't benefit of a projection-based system, as other programs such as WhatsApp, Pinterest, etc. were also added. Still, this tech is about solving pain points of consumers and perhaps this isn't the best way in which to do it.

Robot Vacuums

A measurable surge in robotic vacuums from brands such as Princess and Kärcher were represented, many of which turned out to be OEM from initial scan. Diving into the exposed specs, we could see that many are way behind brands such as Ecovacs. Which is intriguing as these brands are stepping into the market to claim 'space' so they can appear to be established and following the crowd. Could also be that they are merely driving it out of a consumer input. We favour the former. The latter would require you to design and manufacture your own device to truly bring the value where the consumer needs/wants it.

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