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Travelling on a series of planes across multiple time zones and for more hours than there are in the average day isn’t easy.
So I was impressed by the number of Kiwis who braved the long journey to Berlin this year – more than usual, in fact, and certainly more than last year.
Be that as it may, IFA 2016 drew key Kiwi personnel from Breville, BSH, DéLonghi, Electrolux (both Home Products and Small Appliances), Fisher & Paykel (both sales and design personnel) and JFB/Applico, to name a few.
More important, to this writer at least, key Kiwi retailers were also spotted around Germany’s new capital city and by most accounts were there in far more force than last year with representatives from Appliance Connexion, Farmers, Harvey Norman, Narta, Noel Leeming and Smiths City.
That’s a pretty good if not complete cross section of large scale national and local retailing, both corporate and owner-operated, you’d have to agree.
Thinking outside the square?
Reading between the lines and running an informed filter over liberal doses of hearsay, I picked up a vibe that, among the retailers present, “business as usual” just won’t cut the mustard in our local market this year.
Indeed I understand that several of the Kiwi retailers were actively considering new categories and non-traditional products, as well as finishes and product form factors they may have previously poo-pooed as not relevant to the New Zealand market.
Here I am thinking about not just cute robots and “different” subtle and not-so-subtle anodised and coloured finishes, but also electric pushbikes and two-drum washer-driers. That’s just by way of example, but it isn’t too farfetched to expect to see other meaningful novelties like these in our showrooms in the coming months.
And why not? Beyond joining in with a best price outlook and leveraging exclusive products out of suppliers, how else can you present a meaningful, memorable difference in a crowded marketplace?
Get there first is how and I think we will see the first fruits of this new outlook making a difference this Christmas…
Are we there yet?
Sticking to whiteware for this issue, what were the standout new product releases? Well, it’s clear that any number of whiteware brands have been and are still trying to get consumers to consider interacting with their products in new ways.
LG again had its InstaView display set into a new model fridge – knocking on the panel makes the tinted outer window of the refrigerator transparent so you can view what’s inside and a separate display shows you the temperatures within.
This year however, the InstaView window in the new Door-in-Door model measured a massive 29 inches and, because it was also packing Windows 10 (complete with Cortana no less!), in effect you’re also buying a fully functional mega-sized tablet into the bargain.
In comparison, making its European debut, Samsung’s Tizen-powered Family Hub was rocking a “mere” 21.5-inch display. But that didn’t detract from its impact or the serious interest being shown around the firm’s IFA home in the CityCube.
Family Hub may “only” have a 21.5-incher, but size isn’t everything – you can still leave messages, order food online and get help from some of the best chefs in the world while you prepare food.
Staying with displays, crowds gathered around Panasonic’s kitchen display and in particular its Sake & Wine Cellar. Why? Well it does a bit more than just store the contents optimally with carefully controlled temperature and humidity.
It also features a transparent display in the door, which not only shows information on the contents but also suggests recipes to match the particular tipple chosen. Like I said, it attracted viewers in droves.
From storage to cooking to washing
At IFA Candy had its WTC (Watching, Touching, Cooking) oven with a door that doubles as a touchscreen display with which to control the oven. It can also show videos of recipes and, thanks to an integrated camera, you can view live images remotely on a smartphone or tablet to monitor progress.
Candy Group also had a Hoover branded smart washing machine with something called TED. Not just a very very smart washer (joke!), in this context TED stands for Textile Expert Detector and is a standalone scanner (for now at least) which recognises the type of fabric to be washed and advises which programme to use.
Also taking care of laundry within its new Mastery range launched at IFA, just rebranded AEG was showing off Care Advisor, which is new to the My AEG app. Like TED, the new function offers advice on the best washing programmes, options and detergents to choose for different kinds of clothes and stains and then sends that choice to your connected washing machine.
Miele has a long record of connected appliances but it was interesting this year to hear about its new initiative to offer WLAN modules which can be retrofitted to the rear of existing built-in appliances, enabling them to connect to the internet using the existing Miele WiFiConn@ct gateway.
Beyond buttons and screens…
Another 2016 standout serves to segue me neatly into my key outtake from IFA this year – using AI, voice and others means to take the control of products, and whiteware in particular, away from buttons and dials towards creating new, intelligent and responsive processes.
OK, that may be a slight overstatement, but a couple of items on one particular stand were interesting enough that visiting Fisher & Paykel design boss Mark Elmore felt the need to point me towards Hall 20 and Stand 101 in particular.
That was where Sony was drawing crowds with its projected displays. Using walls and other surfaces, the key point is that they worked like a touchscreen but could be projected on to whatever surface was at hand.
You could see how that might tickle the fancy of one of our top designers.
Sony was also making a quiet statement with the second showing of its Xperia Agent, a cute, connected voice-activated robotic personal assistant that would tell the nearby espresso machine to which it was connected to make you a coffee, if you asked.
The friendly looking Agent is about 30cm tall and, with its camera, can recognise you and your preferred style of coffee but can also perform a host of other tasks in conjunction with other connected products, provide spoken information on demand etc.
I wanna be like Mykie
Bosch had an equally friendly looking chap called Mykie, whose remit was similar to Agent’s. Mykie too presents a flat face to the world but, with minimal eyes and mouth, can be made to seem more expressive than you’d think.
This connected countertop character Mykie (“MY KItchen Elf”) was introduced by BSH’s CEO, Dr Karsten Ottenberg himself no less, during his opening keynote. Despite this “elf” not being destined for commercialisation any time soon, product introductions don’t often get more high profile than that.
Mykie is actually the sum of several research and development streams across both Bosch and Siemens and, although its task alongside a real chef at IFA was to suggest recipes (it speaks and listens) and programme the oven, it is described as sitting “on top” of BSH’s Home Connect system.
So, like Sony’s Xperia Agent, Google Home and Amazon’s Echo, Mykie is not actually just a cute robot you can talk to about food and receive advice from.
Instead it – I cannot quite bring myself to say “he” – is just one waypost in the journey towards more major changes in the way people interact with whiteware and other stuff.
And that’s worth knowing.
Next year IFA takes place over 2-7 September 2017. Find out more about IFA here: http://b2b.ifa-berlin.com/
I travelled to the 2016 IFA trade fair in Berlin with the help of the New Zealand German Business Association (www.germantrade.co.nz) and Messe Berlin (www.messe-berlin.de/en/), for whose aid I am again grateful.