Five things we noticed at IFA 2012
September 6, 2012
With IFA 2012 having come to end it's possible to finally take stock of a week in which Berlin once again became the center of the universe (at least so far as consumer electronics were concerned). As you'll see, it wasn't all about product announcements and prototype demonstrations. Here are five miscellaneous trends, oddities, curiosities and trivialities that, for whatever reason, made an impression upon Gizmag at IFA this year.
Here they are, then, in no particular order...
1. A contagious outbreak of the "not Apples"
An outbreak of a hitherto unknown and highly contagious disease threatened the exhibitors at IFA this year. Science is yet to name it, but for now I'm calling it the "not Apples." It was first traced at Samsung Mobile Unpacked event, where, announcing (among other things) its Ativ Smart PC and Smart PC Pro laptop/tablet hybrids (laplets? tabtops? Nevermind…) Samsung emphasized the tablets' USB ports. "We think they're important," it said. Translation: "we're not Apple," a company with tablets that don't have USB ports (but seem to do fairly well all the same). Samsung, possibly smarting from recent court cases that have found in favor of Apple, seemed to have the first, very acute case of the not Apples.
Dell caught it next, though not quite as severely. In fact, unless you were concentrating hard it was easy to miss that Dell had come down with a mild case of the not Apples when unveiling the new touchscreen variant of its XPS One 27. "We disagree with the idea that you don't touch screens this good," Dell said. This good? Dell describes it as "Quad HD," which apparently means 2560 x 1440 resolution, exactly the same resolution and pixel density (109 ppi) as Apple's 27" iMac. For now, at least, iMacs don't come with touch displays. Translation: "we're not Apple, either."
Later the same day Toshiba caught it too. "We're not afraid to show the engineering," Toshiba's rep told us as he showed us the track system on the back of its (admittedly rather lovely) U920t hybrid. Unlike other hybrids on display at IFA, where the screen swivels or snaps away entirely, the U920t's screen folds back flat, parallel with the keyboard, before sliding over it. Perhaps this was a comparison to the other hybrid mechanisms out there. Apple doesn't have a hybrid computer, but even so, one couldn't help but feel this was more a general point about Apple's overall design ethos, which favors sleek, smooth, rather impenetrable finishes.
Cases of the not Apples became much harder to detect as IFA progressed, seemingly cancelled out by Apple's omnipresence at the event. Though Apple itself wasn't in attendance, accessory manufacturers were, and so were their products: iPhone and iPad accessories floor to ceiling. For a week or so, Berlin was the iPhone-case capital of the world.
2. How to clear a press conference in record time
At an event like IFA, time is in short supply. Press conferences, on the other hand, aren't. Tech reporters in attendance want the juicy info: product announcements, as well as hands-on time with said products. The manufacturers want to give reporters those things, but also brag about their performance, or their corporate ethos, their new buzzwords, and their favorite recipes. Shrewd presenters make sure this info goes upfront (think of Steve Jobs' Apple keynotes of yore) so that attendees have no choice but to listen, but not everyone's picked up on the technique.
One had to feel sorry, then, for the executive of a major electronics company left to talk about washing machines and vacuum cleaners after his colleagues had revealed that record-breaking televisions and intelligent home entertainment systems were on show in the next room. You could practically see him try to gobble up his words even as they tumbled out of his mouth. "Let's take a look at our corporate history." Cue a slide showing a timeline of the evolution of that particular company's range of white goods. Cue the inevitable stampede for the exit.
3. A tank
That is all.
4. Attack of the hybrids
As you'll no doubt have noticed, if there was one technology that dominated IFA 2012 it was the tablet-laptop hybrid Windows 8 computer. Samsung, HP, Sony, Toshiba, Asus, Dell—everyone's in on the act, and much of the gear is, physically at least, extremely impressive. When I next need a computer, a hybrid will be strongly considered. The big players in PC manufacturing clearly believe the hybrid is going to be a thing. The laptop market is changing rapidly, and for once, Apple appears not to be leading the charge. One hopes Windows 8 doesn't turn out to be awful, given all the time and effort these guys have put into delivering the hardware. That would be a tragedy.
5. A funny feeling: the future of TV more 4K than 3D
It's a subjective view, but based on IFA, the future of television feels ultra high-definition rather than 3D. Standing with your nose pressed to a display being unable to detect pixels with the naked eye is an impressive technical feat, though it's perhaps a sub-optimal way to watch The Dark Knight Rises. At some point, there'll be no point in increasing the definition of televisions, but we're not there yet, and 4K feels like a sensible step forward. I might just wait till they won't set me back five figures, though.
Comparatively, the 3D TVs on display fell short, especially the "no-glasses" technology we saw. Technologically, this is a tough nut to crack, and though the breakthroughs are impressive, the viewing experience remains sub par when measured against with-glasses 3D (and good quality 2D displays, for that matter). Sharpness, color rendering, and the 3D effect itself is behind the best with-glasses displays, and far behind a good old fashioned HDTV. As far as no-glasses 3D TVs goes, don't buy one without trying one whatever you do.
We were rather impressed by one 3D TV we saw, though. LG's "world's first" 84" UD 3D TV (pictured above) combines the best of both worlds being a 4K 3D display. The colors were vivid, and the pictures unusually clear (for 3D). If glasses are an annoyance (and LG's 84" monster does require them), they're much less of a hardship than a poor viewing experience. That is, after all, the point. Still, for US$22,105, it'd need to be good.
Aside: As you might expect, screens were everywhere at IFA. Pixels per inch has long been a measure of display definition, but it could equally apply to the density of pixels packed into each square inch of floor space of the manufacturers' various halls at IFA. The electronics giants compete to have the most technically impressive booths and halls, and it would be wrong to pick a winner. If anything, one quickly develops "screen fatigue," why may account for my own personal favorite booth at IFA:
6. Bonus noticings
There were numerous other spectacles and peculiarities at IFA 2012. Take to the gallery if you're curious as to a few of our favorites.