It’s been three years since I attended a major trade show, but with IFA less than two weeks away, I’m starting to think about what to pack (no shorts!), as well as setting my expectations for the show. There’s also a fair share of nervousness about the trip to Berlin, and that has nothing to do with COVID issues. Rather, it is related to one simple concern: what if nothing has changed?
After a three-year trade show sabbatical, I’m desperately hoping to be wowed by innovation; I want to see the next leap forward that, somehow, I missed due to pandemic-induced apathy. But I suspect – and fear – that what I will see is simply small, incremental evolutions of existing consumer devices. I should probably adjust my expectations; after all, many manufacturers are finding it hard enough to simply deliver the products they have thanks to ongoing chipset supply issues and the like. But still, I’m starting to think that the “wow factor” of tech has faded.
To be clear, I don’t necessarily mean that there’s no innovation swirling around in the tech sector. AI-generated images are, for example, a remarkable enhancement. Then too, there are the foldable-screened smartphones which teeter on the cusp of consumer acceptance. Rather, my fear is that the innovation is losing sight of the audience and their needs, desires, and propensity to spend, appealing to an incrementally smaller customer base with each advance.
What was the last great leap forward? The 2000s had several key innovations, the most notable of which were the smartphone (2006) and (unrelated) streaming video through smart TVs and streaming media devices (circa 2007- 2008). The last decade saw the launch of tablets (iPad in 2010) and smart speakers (2014). But since then, the industry feels as though it has been cautiously stumbling forward, feeling its way towards a new “moment” but never quite getting there.
Certainly, there have been a few products with future potential, such as virtual reality, but none have taken off with the velocity of previous innovations. The one exception, perhaps, are item trackers ( AirTag in 2021) which hit the sweet spot thanks to travel chaos (where is my lost luggage) combined with our collective forgetfulness (where did I leave those keys). But is this what the tech industry has come to? Perhaps, I’m thinking too small. The car is fast becoming one giant consumer technology product, with entertainment and smart features such as “almost” self-driving innovations and it is hard to deny that it is a sector that is innovating in leaps and bounds.
But the car comes with quite a price tag, so perhaps that needs to be left out of the equation for now. Focusing on the more usual definition of consumer tech, I’m hopeful (but a little premature) about smart glasses. No, not the current array of “smarts” that are essentially speakers and the odd camera. Rather, I’m looking forward to augmented reality glasses with 5G built in; a way to stay in contact and enhance my surroundings without carrying a smartphone with me at all times. But beyond smart glasses, it’s not clear what else is poised to set the world alight.
And so, we come back to IFA and the trepidation I feel. Please wow me; prove to me that my somewhat self-imposed exile has been worth the wait. And that the reality is not just an array of minor tweaks or oddities such as AI generated images.
If you would like to show your IFA innovations to Eddie, please reach out to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.