The Internet of Things is coming, connecting devices will be powering it, and it will make your home and your car smart – that’s the next big technology trend, at least if the companies are to be believed that exhibit at IFA 2015 in Berlin, one of the world’s largest consumer electronics shows.
The public will stream into the halls of the sprawling tradeshow from Friday, but on Wednesday and Thursday the floors were flooded by journalists and hundreds of workers putting the finishing touches to companies’ stands. “I’ve been coming here for five years in a row and every year the show is getting bigger and messier,” a Spanish tech blogger told me, as we hitched a ride on one of the numerous shuttles that take people from one end of IFA to the next.
IFA is indeed getting bigger, with a record 1,600 companies attending the show. Although it’s all about consumer appliances and cool gadgets - with smart washing machines, clever fridges, smartwatches and smart TVs everywhere - it’s clear that the Internet of Things is the biggest trend dominating this year’s show, with technology companies hoping that it will soon arrive in your home.
“Two aspects are critical to the success of smart appliances: interoperability, regardless of the manufacturer, and the value-added services enabled by digitisation,” says Reinhard Zinkann, co-founder of Miele, a German-based manufacturer of high-end domestic appliances. “The value of smart is not about hardware, but about services that allow you to go smart.”
Calling IFA a "trend-setter", Zinkann says that the smart home would at first become most visible in the kitchen: “It’s all about cooking, or more precisely, the equipment used in the kitchen – which is the centre of domestic life. It’s about the functionality, energy efficiency, design, low noise, and healthy cooking. Because today, the process of preparation of food has become also about fun, recreation and impressing friends invited for dinner.”
That’s what Miele is going to showcase on Friday, along with domestic appliances for other parts of the house, which are also gradually becoming smarter.
Korean electronics giant Samsung, for its part, made the Internet of Things the centrepiece of its press conference. The company showed off its first real-life IoT devices, such as its Home Watch Monitor system that not only alerts you in case of a leaking pipe, a fire or a home intrusion, but also allows you to control your air conditioning, heating, door locks, washing machine and more.
Smart healthcare is another big topic at IFA, with Samsung unveiling its SleepSense device, a flat, circular pan-sized device that monitors your heartrate, breathing and quality of your sleep without touching your body. It then not only gives you advice on how to improve your sleep, but also promises to control the ambient conditions of your room, such as the heating, to ensure your slumber is undisturbed.
More significantly, Samsung hinted that it is working with a range of construction companies, retailers and healthcare organisations to develop a “Smart Zone platform” that would make it possible to integrate private IoT devices with local smart city services.
Samsung’s chief marketing officer Dr WP Hong said that the IoT was now “central to all of Samsung’s innovation” and predicted that smart homes would mesh to create “smart cities, smart nations and – ultimately – a smarter world”.
Over at Panasonic, smart home also took centrestage. The Japanese company announced a 4K webcam, to monitor the home in ultra-high definition quality, and also promised a partnership with German insurance giant Allianz, where Panasonic devices automatically alert your insurer in case of damage to your property.
Even when companies aren’t specifically talking about the Internet of Things, the goal of creating a web of interconnected devices is omnipresent. Microprocessor giant Intel unveiled its sixth-generation chips at IFA, the new Skylake processors that could pave the way for tiny but ultra-fast, powerful computers.
While trying to impress with new chips, the company is constantly working towards the IoT, said Intel's Hans-Jürgen Werner. He argues that the IoT is not about gadgets but providing better or even totally new hardware-enabled services.
“In the field of IoT, we have a pretty holistic view,” Werner says. “There are devices or sensors that come through an IP protocol - wired or wireless - and then data comes in and you need to have a gateway. That's what we provide. On the services side, we have the capability to build processors and systems that make it possible to process data, even unstructured data, every time.”
The American chipmaker estimates that 50 billion devices will be part of the IoT by 2020, according to Kirk Skaugen, the general manager of Intel's Client Computing Group. One of them is a square smartwatch also unveiled by Intel at IFA that can monitor your health and connect to your favourite fitness apps - just one of a number of smartwatches likely to be presented to the public tomorrow.