IFA Puts "Consumer" Back into Consumer Electronics
Observing consumer reaction to products, however, is an added benefit to the IFA event. As I sat in Sony’s exhibit to check email, I found myself surrounded by 9 teenagers who were fascinated by the Rolly – an MP3 playing, dancing, light-flashing mini-entertainment robot, if I have properly captured the category name. I had walked past the Rolly casually dismissing it as the latest under-appreciated Sony engineering desperately seeking a market. Moments later, some of the teens were up on my bench, dancing with the Rolly – seeking to either teach it their moves, or imitate its own – which one, I could not determine.
Also in the Sony booth, OLED is in production. OLED’s incredibly thin (and expensive) display technology creates new form factor possibilities for TVs. Sony has developed an elegant mini TV set, about 8 inches diagonal, which would fit beautifully under a kitchen counter, in a desk or in a dorm room. This beautiful creation is not much larger than a digital photo frame but costs a whopping two thousand Euros and won’t be offered in this size to the U.S. market.
Other highlights of IFA include wireless HD. Wireless HD is being touted by Panasonic and several other large TV manufacturers – with wireless HDMI solutions becoming mainstream this year. Also spotted at IFA is 3D for the TV. The Fraunhofer Institute, inventor of MP3, showed compelling 3D technology and demonstrated early methods of converting 2D content to 3D, requiring no stereoscopic glasses. Following several other sightings of 3D TVs around the industry throughout the year, this is a trend to watch (pardon the pun).
Digital photo frames continue to abound, not only as new product offerings, but as compelling digital signage for displays. One new innovation offered from a company called PRINICS is a digital photo frame with integrated printer – now grandmother can simply tap on the picture she likes and out pops a glossy print – assuming she knows how to load paper, ink and, if she is really good, figure out which supplies to pick up at Office Depot.
In the Really Cool department is a pocket sized projector from Epson. The projector is about the size of the average clam shell mobile phone, but much better looking. While its range and duty (30 inches to the display wall) are merely for personal show-and-tell at this point, the possibility of carrying a board room quality projector in one’s pocket in a not too future date is music to the road warrior’s ears.
Surprisingly not many Intel Atom based mini-PCs were seen. One that I did notice was from Korea’s Wibrain. The device is pleasantly easy to use and, of course, familiar given that it runs Windows XP. Wibrain’s marketing message “Sorry Blackberry” can only bring a chuckle to the road warrior as this device is literally the size of brick. Perhaps the message should be “Sorry Symbol” as I can envision this device in the hands of the UPS delivery man, assuming he needs Word, Excel and Solitaire behind the wheel of his brown truck. Nice product but I am unsure of the application.
Of considerable note is the continuing drumbeat of “green.” Toshiba went so far as to dedicate a very large section of its multi-thousand Euro hall to being green. In this space was featured Toshiba’s Corporate Social Responsibility Report 2008, describing the company’s steps in keeping up its responsibility to the environment. Sony’s entire exhibit space was an eerie white “forest”, complete with giant white plaster tree trunks, projected sunsets, cricket chirps and bird noises. While entertaining, I never saw any synergy with the products and technology being displayed with the forest that housed them. As a matter of fact the stark white trees were in such contrast to the sexy glowing products on display that it reminded me that energy-sucking, flashing plastic products just don’t seem environmentally friendly. The question remains, will consumers prefer green companies, or is green becoming a “check box” item which is a requirement of corporate political correctness? Better do some research here.