7 Oct 2016
Smart Homes Soar while Chinese Brands Struggle to Woo Europeans
This year's Berlin-based, IFA, one of the world's largest consumer electronics trade events, saw connectivity almost something of a given, while a number of mainland businesses ramped up their efforts to win over European consumers.
Smarter, more connected home appliances were the talk of the show at this year's IFA, a sure sign of the growing buzz around the Internet of Things (IoT) – at least on the part of manufacturers. Overall German powerhouse brands once again dominated the show, while a number of Chinese brands conceded that gaining acceptance among European consumers was proving heavy-going.
Meanwhile, Messe Berlin, the event's organisers, were quick to hail this year as record-breaking, with an increase in space leased, as well as a rise in the number of exhibitors and the number of visitors. According a representative, for the first time, this year's IFA extended across an additional area of leased space, which saw 1,823 exhibitors presenting their latest products over an exhibition area a record 158,000 square metres in size.
Orders generated at the show were predicted to top €4.5 billion (US$5 billion), with an estimated 240,000 visitors expected to attend the six-day show. Of these, the number of international trade visitors was expected to be around 64,000.
On the show floor, the number of innovations launched in the domestic appliances sector seemed to outnumber those in the consumer electronics market. Although the terms 'smart home' and 'connected appliances' have been bandied around for years, this year they seemed to have a fresh relevance. Judging by the range of new IoT-related products, manufacturers clearly believe the time is right to launch their app-controlled appliances, irrespective of the level of current consumer interest.
Siemens Home Appliances, for one, now believes it has closed the final gap in its digital home appliance range with the launch of its new connected extractor hoods and cooktops. According to the company, these new developments will now take much of the hard work out of home cooking.
Among the highlights on the company's stand was a side-by-side version of the connected refrigerator with camera, connected dishwashers and digital laundry care appliance. All of these now also feature energy management functions.
Looking more at the bigger picture, the main focus of the Bosch stand was the smart home – the connected house of the future – with the company keen to showcase the technology that is already available. The company is clearly staking its future on new smart home solutions, believing they will make life safer, more comfortable and more efficient.
Reinhard Zinkann, Joint Managing Partner of Miele, the German white goods maker, and Chairman of the home appliances division of ZVEI, the manufacturers' association, said: "The major home appliances global market has been characterised by steady growth over recent years.
"In 2015, the growth was 1%, a rise to 486 million units sold worldwide. In small appliances, the total global market estimation is the sale of some 1.3bn products."
According to Zinkann the IFA launch of the WT1, the company's latest washer-dryer, was a clear statement of intent. He said: "The WT1 can wash and dry 4kg of laundry in less than three hours". This year, Miele also unveiled the Blizzard CX1, its first bagless vacuum cleaner.
Although dominated by major German brands, a number of international exhibitors also made an impression at the event. The clear focus for Haier, a leading Chinese brand, was to raise brand awareness across Europe. Acknowledging this, Yannick Fierling, the company's Chief Executive for Europe, said: "The biggest challenge we have today is brand awareness – getting our products known by the end consumer.
"Since 2009, we have increased brand awareness across Europe by 170%. It now reaches 30%, which we still don't believe is anywhere near enough."
This year, Haier launched into the built-in appliances market with a range of ovens and hobs, all specifically developed to integrate with the rest of the kitchen.
Another mainland company, Changhong – the second largest producer of smart TVs in China – chose the IFA to announce its plans to expand into Germany. With this in mind, it was showing both its 98-inch 8K UHD TVs, as well as its new 4K product line. The 8K UHD TV features a resolution of 7680 x 4320 pixels, said to be the world's largest of its kind, with a resolution 16 times that of full-HD.
Sweden's Electrolux, meanwhile, revealed a new look for its AEG brand, with the launch of two new product ranges at the IFA – Mastery and a new AEG laundry range. Explaining its thinking, Dan Arler, Head of Electrolux Major Appliances across Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said: "The Mastery range has been designed to highlight the practical advantages of using kitchen appliances with responsive technology and design, making life easier for consumers."
In the case of the new AEG laundry range, this is said to offer combinations of washing machines and dryers that work in tandem, all designed to preserve the colours and textures of garments, while protecting their fibres.
From slightly further afield, a spokesman for Korea's Samsung said the company now offers the largest range of SUHD TVs in Europe, with the sizes available ranging from 43-inch up to 88-inch. The company has also introduced a new 10-year warranty for its Quantum dot display SUHD TVs.
In terms of home appliances, Samsung is claiming a business growth rate around five times faster than many of its European counterparts. It is ascribing at least part of this growth to its introduction of three new built-in line-ups, while it has also benefitted from the European launch of its Family Hub, featuring a 21.5-inch Full HD touchscreen.
In the case of the ever high-tech Japanese contingent, Kazuo Hirai, Sony's President and Chief Executive, was in Berlin to introduce the company's newest audio line-up, while also looking to promote its PlayStation virtual reality (VR) system.
Outlining the company's philosophy, he said: "We want our products to be the closest things to you. Our relevance lies in continuing to offer emotional value through a wide range of products, all of which are intimately involved in enhancing what you see, hear, experience and enjoy."
A case in point here is the company's Z Series, its flagship range of Bravia 4K HDR TVs, currently available in 65, 75 and 100-inch sizes. It also announced that the Portable Ultra Short Throw Projector and Glass Sound Speaker – already on sale in Japan and the US – are now to be available in the UK and Ireland. The 10cm cubic projector, despite its compact size, is said to be capable of projecting an 80-inch image onto a table, wall, or any other surface.
As part of its 'A Better Life, A Better World' theme, Osaka-headquartered Panasonic bought a wide range of products to this year's event. These ranged from audio-visual equipment to home appliances and beauty products. In the areas of TV and home AV, it debuted a premium 4K home theatre solution, combining an ultra-HD premium TV and a Blu-ray player. It also had on offer its DX900 series of HDR-compatible 4K TVs, while – over in the technology zone – it was showcasing a range of OLED – Organic Light Emitting Diode, products, said to be next word in picture quality.
In terms of appliances, the company was keen to promote its 10kg capacity washing machine, which comes complete with an autocare function, This can detect laundry weight, material and any heavy soiling, then automatically default to the optimal setting.
Over on the LG stand, the company was welcoming visitors to this year's event via an amazing OLED tunnel. Some five metres tall, seven metres wide and 15 metres in length, the tunnel featured 216 separate 55-inch curved OLED signage displays, a total of 447,897,600 pixels.
In a more down to earth move, its white goods display highlighted the way its kitchen appliances can work together in a truly smart fashion. Of particular note was the company's improved dual door-in-door refrigerator, featuring two separate compartments for easy access to preferred food items.
The IFA 2016 took place at Messe Berlin from 2-7 September.
Simon King, Special Correspondent, Berlin