Best of IFA 2018: lots of wi-fi, appliances get personal – and even more practical

More than 150,000 trade visitors – a record number – flew into Berlin at the beginning of the month to be dazzled by the latest innovations and gadgets at Europe’s biggest consumer electronics and home appliances show.

According to the organisers, business was buoyant, with deal volume up on last year at €4.7 billion (£4.2bn) as manufacturers delighted the crowd with upgrades that ranged from the interesting to the wild.

There were fridges that turned into freezers (Haier), wine cellars that will hand you your selection (LG), washing machines made out of plastic bottles (Grundig) and much more excitement besides.

Analyst view from Berlin

Filipe Oliveira, an analyst at Futuresource, picks out the
five most interesting trends from IFA 2018


1. Smart home takes more space

2018 was another year where the smart home had its own dedicated hall at IFA, with technology and products spilling way beyond this hall as more vendors seek to build share. TCL used IFA to announce its presence in the category, as did Lenovo, announcing the Lenovo Essentials pack, which includes three smart-home devices (socket, bulb and camera). In addition, the smart home continued to pop up at the booths of several major consumer electronics vendors, including Bosch, Samsung, Hisense and LG.

2. Personalised experiences

Voice is fast becoming a standard feature across smart-home products. From market leaders to newcomers, virtually all smart-home devices showcased at IFA work with Alexa or Google Assistant and in some cases also with Apple’s HomeKit/Siri. Now that voice control has become a given, manufacturers are using AI and machine learning to offer personalised experiences, from washing machines that adapt washing programs to fitness trackers, to a number of devices that work with the IFTTT platform (“if this than that”), allowing them to take action even if not prompted by the user – such as lights that turn off automatically when no one is at home. LG and Samsung used IFA to showcase their end-to-end user experience, using smart technology to improve and support their complete product ranges, from ovens to smartphones.

3. The hubless smart home

Bridges and gateways were not absent from IFA, but there were cases where exhibitors explicitly promoted the fact that their devices make do without a central control hub. This was most noticeable in smart lighting, where hubless lighting systems were front and centre. Brands such as Lifx or WiZ use wi-fi and can be controlled via app or voice without the need for a Zigbee/wi-fi bridge. Adding a wi-fi chip to bulbs does not increase energy use, as the extra use of that chip is compensated by the energy that is saved by not using a bridge.

4. Addressing privacy concerns

Futuresource’s consumer research consistently shows privacy among the main concerns raised by consumers who hesitate to adopt smart-home devices. Manufacturers seem to be addressing this by offering more solutions where data can be stored locally instead of in the cloud. One interesting case was that of Hisense, which showcased a smart speaker that doubles as an indoor camera. The top of the cylinder-shaped device rotates to allow users to cover the camera if and when they wish to.

5. Innovation

Not every interesting launch at IFA was wi-fi-connected and voice-controlled. Manufacturers keep investing in simple innovation. Hisense’s Triple Washer comes with two additional compartments at the top of the machine for the quick wash of single items or delicates. This feature is reminiscent of Samsung’s AdWash, a machine that allows users to items mid-cycle and which has had commercial success.

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