Observations from Berlin
As predicted in our Preview of IFA 2014 there have been a flurry of devices announced at this year’s show.
Initial highlights centre on Samsung, which not only unveiled the Galaxy Note 4 but also revealed the Galaxy Note Edge with a screen that curves around the right side of the device. This is based on a prototype first seen at CES in 2013 and our hands-on evaluation concludes it is an interesting and differentiated design. The Note Edge exploits Samsung’s in-house component strength in displays and already has a number of applications developed by Samsung. However, it faces some challenges. It will be an extremely expensive device and this may discourage some buyers. Samsung also needs to get developers to embrace the curved display and its initially small number of users means it might struggle. Nevertheless, in a sea of homogeneous smartphone designs, Samsung now has a differentiated flagship device ahead of the expected launch of the iPhone 6.
Other major manufacturers also announced new devices, including Sony, which updated its entire Xperia portfolio. These products will be assessed full in our event report.
CCS Insight correctly predicted that IFA would see an avalanche of announcements about wearable devices. New smartwatches have been announced by Alcatel OneTouch, Asus, LG, Samsung, Sony and others. Furthermore, many devices we have been watching with interest in recent months are also on display, including products from Motorola, Meta, Withings and several other less-known Chinese brands.
A variety of other wearable products are also on show, including glasses, jewellery, tokens, clothing and cameras. Unsurprisingly, there is a plethora of fitness bands, most prominently a launch by fitness and navigation company Garmin.
One product that we particularly like is the Jabra Sport Pulse Wireless. Although heart-rate headphones are not a new phenomenon we consider Jabra’s implementation to be among the best we have seen. We expect more-intelligent headphones to be a new area of intensive competition, potentially opening a new subsegment in wearables that we are calling “hearables”.
The wearables market remains a chaotic and immature space characterized by significant levels of hype. The shadow of the much-rumoured Apple wearable device also loomed large at IFA as companies rushed out products before Apple dominates the headlines.
Internet of Things
With IFA covering the entire product spectrum of consumer electronics it is no surprise there were further developments in the connected home space. So far we have identified two key announcements in this area.
Arguably the biggest news came from Electrolux, the second-largest maker of appliances after Whirlpool. It announced it was joining the AllSeen Alliance, a group using the AllJoyn open-source framework to connect devices with each other over Wi-Fi. There are now 63 companies actively participating in this initiative, including Bosch, Cisco, LG, Microsoft, Panasonic, Qualcomm, Sharp and Sony.
The AllSeen Alliance is an initiative to watch closely, though rival initiatives also exist, such as the Open Interconnect Consortium, which includes Dell, Intel and Samsung among its membership. Furthermore, there is the ever-present challenge from large players such as Apple and Google, which have their own solutions in this area.
The other notable highlight is LG’s HomeChat service, which allows users to interact with domestic appliances remotely. A demonstration that featured sending a text message to a refrigerator and receiving a picture of the contents seemed to grab the attention of attendees. This was underlined by the huge interest in our tweet on the concept, which was retweeted over 350 times.
We believe IFA signals a new level of maturity for the Internet of things, with products and services shifting from concepts to technology demonstrations that offer more-tangible examples of what can be delivered. That said, we expect it will be many years before mass adoption among consumers.
Wireless audio is also a prominent feature, with many companies demonstrating solutions and several partnerships being announced. CSR is building on its strong position in Bluetooth speakers and launching its SyncLock multiroom system for audio over Wi-Fi. Qualcomm has announced expansion of its better-established AllPlay, with new hardware and content providers including Monster, Spotify, TuneIn and others. These will be discussed more comprehensively in our event report.
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