At the IFA technology trade show in Berlin, Matt Warman rounds up the best of the announcements
In the shadow of an impending iPhone launch, the world’s technology giants announce their latest products each September in Berlin. The IFA show is, according to Samsung’s Sunny Lee, “the heartbeat of consumer technology, and it gives us the pulse of the industry.”
This year, it saw a host of new products from Samsung itself but also genuine innovations from Nokia and Motorola (see below). Although the suggestion that Apple will launch an iWatch next week meant that it also saw a raft of new ‘wearable’ technologies, it was not a show that was dominated by the peculiar or the gimmicky. Instead, there was a sense that the industry wants its gadgets to fit into the lives of increasingly design-conscious consumers. Samsung’s launched a stylus for its new tablet in association with Mont Blanc, for instance, while the Moto 360 smartwatch, much anticipated, turned out to be a lovely object rather than a gimmick. Motorola, with a straight face, could claim “we haven’t built a smartwatch; we’ve built a timepiece.”
Nonetheless, there were more surprising pieces: the VR headset from Samsung claims to turn the new Note 4 into a virtual reality, 360-degree experience that will one day be ubiquitous in education, workplace training or entertainment. For now it may cause only a rise in sales of seasickness remedies as users struggle with a slightly imperfect digital world. Motorola offered a Bluetooth headset that is more of a pebble it expects users to insert into their ears.
Elsewhere at IFA, opinion remains divided over the future of the curved TV, with Samsung demonstrating a bendable version that can be both flat and curved. The company will launch new models in a range of sizes, while Sony sees the idea as a choice for consumers that is not a crucial plank of its strategy. Panasonic merely keeps a watching brief.
And there was one new sense in Berlin: even with Apple’s announcements imminent, more launches than in recent years took place. That may be a sign that the iPhone-maker’s influence is waning, or simply that the rising tide of technology, where everything is connected to the web, is lifting all boats. There’s even a renewed focus on robot vacuum cleaners – while Apple may be dominant in phones, it is becoming clear that the industry is moving on from simply being about new glass screens and into every aspect of the home.
Nokia Lumia 830
Nokia claims its Lumia 830is the affordable flagship smartphone, and on a contract it is likely to come in at prices not far off half of some new iPhone tariffs. But the real difference is that the 830 uses new camera technology to produce images that are taken both with and without fash. An on-screen slider then allows users to merge the two, effectively making sure both background and foreground is always perfectly lit.
Elsewhere, the 830 sees the latest evolution of the Windows Phone operating system, which while it offers fewer apps, is intuitive and integrates well with existing Microsoft products.
Galaxy Note Edge
The star of the IFA show was in many ways the new Samsung Galaxy Note Edge – it’s a limited edition variant of the new Galaxy Note 4, which is Samsung’s latest attempt to digitise the pen and paper, using a stylus and handwriting recognition.
But the appeal of the Edge model is the way it combines Samsung’s new metal designs and improved glass with glass that curves over the side of the device. That may sound like a gimmick, but this is a device with real wow factor, and the side allows easy access to a new way to interact with a phone. At night, too, it’s an ideal bedside clock.
Motorola Moto X and Moto 360
It may no longer be owned by Google, but Motorola is now among the best exponents of the Android operating system. So the new Moto X, accompanied by the 360 smartwatch, offers features that are unavailable elsewhere: voice recognition can be tailored to your needs – wake your phone up simply by saying “OK, my phone”, or adjust its settings in the same way. With gestures, too, just waving your hand over the screen can let you silence a call.
And Motorola also claims users want more personalisation than ever, so you can specify the Moto X, which starts at £419, with a leather or plastic back – or even a bamboo one