Designs for the present and future seen at Europe’s major tech fair

IFA is back: once the must-attend event for tech giants, it is now a reflection of a world that the pandemic has changed in ways we didn’t expect.

After a year’s hiatus and a version with a reduced format due to the pandemic, IFA, the largest consumer electronics trade show, which for years now has been symbolically closing the summer and ushering in the new season of technology not only on the Old Continent, returns. We are not yet back to pre-covid size, but to a capacity of 80 percent, still higher than the average for German trade fairs, which is around 60 percent, explains a Messe Berlin representative.

Undeniably, however, IFA is no longer that inescapable epicenter where all the big tech brands, except Apple, used to show off new flagship products, starting with smartphones. Pandemic has disrupted rhythms, thrown off dates, and today the timing of tech is as fluid as fashion could be if there were no more fashion weeks. Thus, Samsung shows up without any striking novelties and showcasing, for example, the new foldables already presented in August; Oppo preferred the square of Paris, in a move that cannot but seem symbolic, for the launch of the new Reno8. And so on.

Are you coming to Berlin?

Many brands don’t even set foot at the show: audio icons such as B&O and Sennheiser-both presenting new soundbars in Mitte, with the German brand showing off some of this year’s highlights such as zirconium-bodied earbuds; Lenovo invites everyone to a high-end hotel near the Sony Center; Sony itself, which has always been a key presence at Berlin Messe, doesn’t show up; Harman and Philips rely on online presentations; and so on.

This, of course, leaves more room for others-the small, the medium-sized, the up-and-coming brands. With an ever-strong Chinese component, as evidenced by the countless number of companies listed in the list of exhibitors under the S-letter whose name begins with the word Shenzhen, Asia’s design and manufacturing technology capital. If the Chinese representatives could not travel, they hired Western agencies to explain and showcase their products.

And there are the big comebacks-Samsung, Huawei, Honor, Asus, and LG, with a booth chock-full of novelties-including very curious shoe cases and a flat screen that curves on command - and with the best set-up of the event among the big players, where you could also find again the elegant collaboration for the LG objet line with the Dutch of Moooi seen at this year’s Milan Design Week.

LG Styler Showcase
LG Styler Showcase

A new kind of IFA?

It is not a pyrotechnic IFA, the kind with lots of new products and a thousand new ideas, of which perhaps very few would see fruition. It is a more concrete fair, in which the devices of our contemporaneity-the earphones, smartphones, TVs, scooters-are declined in almost infinite guises, in which the word “sustainability” or “eco-friendly” is read everywhere, and the concept of the ecosystem is increasingly important – but how do you show connectivity at a fair that remains about consumer objects? Still, the space for invention remains, the forward-looking enlightment, the oddity quota that meanders through the booths but appears reduced to the glories of the great tech optimism in the past decade. In the background remains post-covid turbulence and war, the Taiwan booth that who knows if it will be there next year, solar panels hinting at the consumer crisis, an overlook of water-related technologies that we are sure will multiply in the coming years.

Honor 70 Pro
Honor 70 Pro

We are still waiting for the home of the future

The underground level of IFA, which runs beneath the exhibition, is almost entirely devoted to home appliances and technology for the home which is getting smarter and more connected, but still doesn’t seem to have hit the tipping point. A few years ago we were surprised by the launch of the first smart locks or a talking washing machine. Today appliances do things better and easier than ever before, taking over a big chunk of choices – just think of how autonomous washing machines have become. But humans still do so much, we still haven’t delegated real home management to Alexa or its siblings, voice assistants are just very useful timers, they start the music, at best we use them to turn on the light if our hands are full. And the most talked-about appliance at this IFA is Haier’s rental washing machine, which you pay for with a monthly subscription and includes detergent refills, which is an up-to-date and very concrete idea, but not the science fiction-like idea that the big brands had accustomed us to. At home, the big revolution of the future is still to come. And who knows if technology will do it.

Opening image: IFA 2022. Courtesy © Messe Berlin

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