September 10, 2017

Fetching the future at IFA 2017

With IFA now behind us, we allowed ourselves to fully reflect on what we saw and which direction the market is heading towards. With 1,805 exhibitors and 159,000 square meters of sold-out show floor to cover within two days it was certainly a big task. However, the outstanding level of most brands’ clarity of communication made our job a little easier. After all, IFA presents more digital lifestyle products in one place than any other show worldwide. However, here is our breakdown.

AI

Most notably Huawei presented a 'key' conversation topic: their new Kirin 970 processor. The Chinese company's new system on a-chip (SoC) is the first mobile computer platform for artificial intelligence with a dedicated Neural Processing unit. Yu confirmed that the chip will make an appearance in their new Huawei Mate 10 series of smartphones. The NPU crunches images 20 times as fast as a CPU, and emphasizes how combining cloud-based AI and on-device AI can help to balance power efficiency and latency. With no news on Huawei bringing out their own Siri or Alexa, it will be interesting to see what they will do with it. After all, their vision is “Mobile AI = ON device AI + Cloud AI".

And whilst we're on the topic of Siri, Sony's SF wireless speaker has a remarkable resemblance to that of Apple's upcoming HomePod smart speaker; perhaps a little too much…… However, it features a single full range driver that produces an uncanny and wonderful 360-degree sound. Bart and I were really impressed upon demonstration from Sony's representative. And fortunately, I managed to get my hands on a what appeared to be a 'first out of tool' prototype. The attention to detail in combination with the execution of a flush fabric to plastic butting was really good to see. The attention to detail however went past the materials and fitting. The gesture control felt natural and intuitive with very initial downside. Perhaps the representative practiced a little too much as it worked a little too smoothly! The speaker, unfortunately however is only rated at IPX3 rating. Which means it is only protected against spraying but not splashing water, big difference! So, you better keep it away from your sink, despite the demo ;) And unfortunately, it's also not protected against dust. I guess only time will tell if it stands up to the day-to-day usage.

On the other end of the spectrum you have Samsung working with Bixby, which has introduced voice capabilities to the family hub. They are also actively working to evolve Family Hub into a IoT control center, to the point where users will be able to control all their connected home appliances. The possibilities are endless from controlling your robot vacuum to talking to your fridge or starting laundry cycle. Samsung is also helping to deliver a smart home with the Samsung Connect app, which is compatible with all devices and operating systems, and allows users to control Samsung products through the cloud. Of course, with Bixby in Samsung smartphones, it is possible to control the Samsung Connect app by voice recognition.

Drones

All eyes were on DJI, as there's been some speculation for a while now. However, the wait was over as DJI made three major and exciting announcements about their fleet of drones. Most notably they've introduced the new Mavic Pro Platinum, the new Phantom 4 Pro Obsidian and lastly an update to their relatively new Spark. However, let's not ignore the fact that the centerpiece of their announcement was the Platinum variant of the Mavic. With an eleven percent longer flight time as well as a sixty percent reduction in propeller noise. This in collaboration with updated CMF; It's a flying force to be reckoned with; looks like my order will be in soon. Perhaps this now enables other use cases. As limitations in flight time have hampered some markets, we already see progression in service industries. DJI has also announced a new panorama function on the DJI Spark called “Sphere Mode." This will allow the Spark to take panorama photos with a fisheye effect and push them directly to social media a platform which has really driven the brand to success from their knack at influencer marketing this surely will only be amplified as the price point of the spark is really not one to think about. Lastly, we did want to get hands on at DJI'S outdoor flying area, however, with so much to see we had to move on!

VR

Overall, we managed to see the likes of the Dell Visor, Lenvovo Explorer (yes having a lightsaber makes it look daft but feel cool!) and the Asus Windows mixed reality headset. While these headsets a presented more as mixed reality devices than the conventional VR headsets they manage to handle VR games pretty well. For the most part, they come in a lower cost price that the Vive and Oculus Rift and are easier to set up. This is good to note as price and convenience are two consumer walls to hurdle. So, it's interesting how the new comers are matching up to the big players or will they even push them out?

Another interesting headset shown off at IFA 2017 was the Zeiss VR One Connect, which uses your smartphone and a headset to broadcast SteamVR PC games into your eyes. It's an interesting bridge between mobile and PC VR, and, if it works as promised, this could further lower the price barrier for PC virtual reality. So where does this leave the already established big players? They're going to have to adapt or die, swept away by this new tide of headsets. Dropping their prices is a good start, but I'd like to see them come out with new, improved and innovative products.

I've been playing around with the HTC Vive and while I have enjoyed using it – and can definitely see the potential in VR for the future – I don't think it's quite worth the money, even with the price cut.

Virtual reality is still in its infancy, so what we don't need is a few competitors getting stale and complacent. We want a good old-fashioned battle for innovation, and as IFA 2017 has shown, there's plenty of companies willing to take up arms.

Wearables

As mentioned we had already looked forward to see what Samsung had on offer, most notably the gear sport. And luckily enough we managed to get some brief hands on time with the new range of devices.

The Gear sport is the most interesting of the trio, because it's a smaller, more design focused Gear S3. It packs the same 1.2-inch circular display, but has a much smaller frame. Which begged the question, how? As our experience has found adjustments within smart watches and bands are increasing difficult, as you can mimic a smaller body, however not physically decrease size. However, they managed it through removing their magnetic secure transmission technology. Less secure payments for a smaller watch…. is that a trade off you would make? Of course, the Gearsport is far more comfortable to wear than its counterpart; the decision is yours to make! The S3 of course is known for it's unique rotating bezel, and the gear sport has the same functional bezel which allows to see your apps and notifications. We also noticed that tactility and sound of the bezel had been improved upon its counterparts. It's defiantly a feature we enjoy as it's both fun and satisfying.

If you don't need a full-on smartwatch, but want to enjoy the Gear Sport's more fitness-minded features, the Gear Fit2 Pro might be more of your speed. This tracker matches the Gear Sport's 5 ATM water resistance (50 meters) rating, and offers the same swim monitoring functionality via the Speedo On app. They have also partnered with Under Armour to offer a more tailored experience for apps like Endomondo, MyFitnessPal, and MapMyRun.You'll find the same continuous heart-rate tracking as on the Gear Sport, as well as the ability to add your calorie intake, and automatic activity detection. The Fit2 Pro has 4GB of internal storage too, and also supports the offline Spotify playlists feature. Unlike last year's Gear Fit 2, the Fit2 Pro now has a buckle, making it a little easier to put on and it won't fall off your wrist as easily. The silicone strap felt comfortable, and the device is lightweight. The body felt a little cheap, but the 1.5-inch AMOLED screen looks vivid and bright.

Apart from Samsung the only other noteworthy wearable we saw was the pre-released Fitbit Iconic. Even though we can't say we're the fans of the build-up or design, we do think that giant has been extremely strategic on the incorporating it's SPO2 sensor. As previously mentioned, it allows the tracking of oxygen in the blood stream over time. And from what was said, they hope this innovation will allow to detect health conditions in relation to sleep, particularly sleep apnea. As we all know, sleeping category is currently exploding with many startups and established companies focussing on different methodologies to enhance sleep. It will be interesting to see how this medical grade data can be applied into a physicality of changing behavior, habit and lifestyle.

Philips

It was great to catch up with the Philips guys to discuss the four pinnacle innovations that were on display. Whilst they were, of course, all of interest. The Philips Avent uGrow digital parenting platform captured our attention the most. Not only from an execution stand point, but from the approach of 'new moms', something we have derived a large knowledge base in over the last couple of quarters. As uGrow is the first medical-grade baby app of its kind, it defiantly one that sticks out amongst the crowd. The uGrow interactive app features articles and insights created with a panel of healthcare professionals. Think of it as a more knowledgeable digital grandmother. It connects wirelessly to the Philips Avent smart baby monitor and smart ear thermometer. In 2018, uGrow will work with new Philips devices, including a connected bottle tracker that works together with the Philips Avent Natural bottle to monitor the time, volume and duration of a baby's feeds; and the Philips Connected Air Purifier, as well the Philips Hue lighting system. The uGrow user experience will be further enhanced by the addition of Amazon Echo voice activation later this year.

Lastly, the Philips Sonicare DiamondClean Smart is a complete oral care solution for a healthier mouth. Bart and I both enjoyed the fact that we could test out the product there and then. Feels a little strange brushing your teeth in the middle of 100+ people, however, we like to get stuck in! We really like the live coaching and systematic approach to cleaning your teeth with timings and pressure and being instructed when to move onto the new section as most consumers don't know how long or how hard they can brush for. And in combination with their goal system it feels like the principles of gamification have been intertwined! Very cool.

To conclude, IFA was definetly one to attend this year. Now, with our digital shopping carts filled with all the newest gadgets, we can't wait to get hands dirty over the next quarter!

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