A fridge twittering its current power use, a watch controlling burners in the kitchen - digitalization in our everyday lives seems a given. At least the IFA consumer electronics show in Berlin makes us believe so.
Judging by the figures, Berlin's IFA is the world's most important trade fair for entertainment and communications electronics. This year's event boasts 1,500 exhibitors, extended floor space and expects 240,000 visitors, among them 45,000 industry professionals. And there are some 6,000 journalists accredited to report on the six-day event.
The managing director of the Berlin fair, Christian Göke, can't wait to see the gates open. "We've no doubt become to number-one trade hub for the sector," he said, mentioning a record number of novelties being presented at the show. "Traders certainly come here to find what promises to be the best-selling products in the shops.
TV sets as shelf warmers
Fair managers predict contracts to be signed at IFA worth 3.8 billion euros ($5 billion) in preparation of the pre-Christmas sales rush, which is expected to secure retailers in the sector some 28 billion euros in revenues this year. But that's still a long way off, and the first half of the year was disappointed expectations with the market for entertainment and communications devices having contracted by three percent.
Smartphones, tablets and electrical household appliances sold fairly well, but classical entertainment hardware logged an almost 20-percent dip in revenues. The supervisory board chief of the Society for Communications Electronics (gfu), Hans-Joachim Kamp, says the drop was steeper than expected, adding that TV sets in particular didn't sell well as many Germans bought new sets in the run-up to the 2012 European Soccer Championship with analog television being phased out at the time.
"This time around, there was no such event, and that has seen TV sales going down by 25 percent," Kamp remarked.
Even three-dimensional television hasn't been able to change a lot. Once hyped as a potential hot-selling technology, expectations have not been met at all. Kamp says there just aren't many people who would sit in front of a television wearing 3D glasses for up to four hours.
The sector is now pinning high hopes on the convergence of television and Internet, otherwise known as Smart TV. There are already five million of such TV sets in German households, with retailers hoping the figure will go up to seven million by the end of the year. IFA will have a special info campaign to show users how to make the best of both worlds.
And there seems to be a need for it as the German umbrella organization for the communications industry, Bitkom, claims. Its polls have indicated that many Germans know little if anything at all about the advantages of Smart TV.
"More than a quarter are fairly ignorant in this respect, and that's bad for business," Kamp said. "It's one thing to own a Smart TV set, and it's another thing to really hook it up to the Internet," he commented. "Only 58 percent do this."
Be that as it may, the interaction and networking of different devices and appliances is a central theme at IFA. That also applies to classical appliances. For a couple of years now, the IFA show has also included washing machines, refrigerators, coffee machines and other appliances which have become part and parcel of a digital lifestyle.
The automotive sector is no exception. Ford CEO and President Allan Mulally will also pick IFA to present his company's novelties, instead of going to the International Auto Show in Frankfurt (IAA). Berlin Fair chief Christian Göke knows the reason behind it.
"He does that because he's convinced that the interaction of automotive components and their smartness will in future be the most important selling points."
Problems shrugged off?
But all of that presupposes that consumers will be able to keep abreast of the dramatic technological changes and are willing to accept them. Reports of data theft and spying attacks in a digital world like ours have been increasing in number. But that downside of our smart new world is unlikely to feature prominently at the IFA show.