This month I visited IFA, Europe’s largest consumer tech show, as a guest of Panasonic.
IFA is a lot of fun. Imagine 26 halls, each the size of a football pitch or several, filled with all the latest consumer electronics and gadgets, from laptops and cameras to washing machines, smart watches and the like. We were there to see the brand new 4K OLED televisions from Panasonic – more news on that very soon. But for today, I thought I’d share my highlights of IFA 2015.
Of course, the very best fun to be had at IFA comes not from the things you expect to see – but the things that completely take you by surprise. Here’s my round-up of my 20 favourite gadgets from IFA 2015, evenly split between the OMG-I-NEEED-IT and the OMG-WHY??
1. Panasonic Rug Speakers
It’s a struggle to get music just right when you’re relaxing in the lounge, isn’t it? I have speakers propped on the mantel, and a surround sound thing behind the sofa but it’s all so cumbersome, sometimes. So I definitely want some speakers built into my RUG, like these ones showcased in the Panasonic Home of the Future. These speakers are stowed away in a lovely rug (one assumes other colours are available) and provide 6.1 surround sound, that’s perfect for watching movies or streaming music. They’re not just sneaky speakers, though – you can direct the sound so that people sitting on one side of the room can hear perfectly, while someone sitting elsewhere reading can’t hear a peep. Genius.
2. Panasonic Nubo Wireless 4G security camera
This security camera can be mounted onto a wall or can simply sit on a shelf – it will wirelessly stream footage to a mobile phone using a 4G connection (or shift to WiFi if it’s available). The point, of course, is that you can now monitor places that you can’t connect to a permanent WiFi or wired network – like hotel rooms, or cars, or in a remote barn where you might be gathering hay. Or something. It’s very nifty and should cost around £100-£150 when it’s available in the UK next year.
3. Philips Hue Lightstrip Plus
As a female, apparently, I’m blessed with an understanding of the point of fairy lights that men of my acquaintance seem to lack. But even men agree that stringing fairy lights can be a royal pain in the behind. You have to put little hooks everywhere, they spoil the look of the light, and mean you end up putting little holes in all your picture rails.
But these clever lighting strips are bendy – you can cut them to length, shape them around the furniture and attach them using adhesive tape. You can even switch up the colours and brightness from time to time via a smartphone App – ramping them up and turning them green for Christmas, say, and reverting to soothing amber in the New Year. At IFA, Philips had rigged up TVs running the Chariot video game with Lightstrip Plus lights around the TV – the lights reflect what’s happening in the video game – when enemies attack, they flash red, when plants bloom, the lights turn green. Smart!
4. Samsung SleepSense
This little gadget sits underneath your mattress at night and reports back on the quality and extent of your sleep. Sounds a bit spooky, but it could help you understand your sleep better – and that’s something we could all use. With SleepSense, you can use your phone or tablet to access a personalised sleep quality report, along with recommendations on how to get a better night’s rest. It’ll even analyse your sleep to identify the best time to wake you up with the least pain and trauma.
You can also monitor someone else’s sleep (cue spooky stalker music!) and have reports emailed to you.
5. Revo Build
This genius little invention from Acer looks like a perfect gift for nerd friends this Christmas. It’s a modular PC building system that lets you assemble your own machines using pre-built components that fit together using magnetic pins. It’s all wireless and dead simple, perfect for those who want a custom build without the hassle.
It’ll be available in Europe from next month, starting at around 200 Euros.
6. Sony Action Cam
I’m pretty fond of my GoPro but I do love the look of the Sony Action Cam, which offers a GoPro-like experience with some pretty nifty added extras and accessories. Setting aside the (frankly) stupid dog mount, check out this steadycam for your ActionCam – having shot some fairly wobbly and unusable surf footage this summer, I LOVED the demo, which showed a camera on a bike, and the difference the steady feature makes.
It’s impressive and worth a look if you’re in the market for an action camera that needs to keep moving through the action.
7. Zeiss VR-1
You know what I often find myself wondering, when looking at my smartphone? Why is it that I can’t pop on a virtual reality headset, slide my phone into it, and look at my phone in all its augmented reality glory…? Well, now I can.
And I bet you’re as excited by that news as I am. The Zeiss VR-1 represents state-of-the-art in virtual reality goggles, and it brings a whole new perspective to the idea of watching movies on the move. Wearing these means you can’t see anything, so you won’t be able to see fellow commuters looking at you with awe and envy. Probably.
8. Livall Bike Helmet
Frankly, by 2016, if you don’t have a smart bike helmet like the Livall, I don’t think we can be friends. Actually, despite looking like a regular bike helmet with a strip of LED lights along the top, the Livall is genuinely pretty smart. It features a Bluetooth microphone so you can chat to other riders (meaning I spend less time yelling myself hoarse shouting, “CAR BEHIND YOU!” to Flea when we’re out on a bike ride).
Livall also lets you make and receive calls via your mobile phone, and can even tell when you fall over – and send an emergency text message with your location to a designated contact. Oh, and you can listen to music, too. There’s an Indigogo campaign if you want to help crowd-fund this one.
9. Avent uGrow Smart Monitor
Baby monitors are getting smarter by the day, and this new model, which will be available early next year in the UK, is super smart. Yeah, sure, you can play custom lullabies to your baby, change the lighting according to what’s most soothing, and stream video footage to your phone. You can monitor temperature and humidity, certainly.
But what’s extra cool is the ability to share the footage outside your home WiFi network. Working away from home? You can invite yourself to view the stream from your baby’s monitor over an iPhone app. Or why not invite grandparents to watch over their little grandchild? Invites can be sent to any contacts, for any time duration, making it perfect for travel.
10. QRIO Smart Lock
We’re quite a small family but still, house keys are a constant challenge – I have a set, my parents have a set, my brother has a set. I have a set for the dog walker, but then when we hired a new dog walker, it was too awkward to let the old dog walker know we’d replaced him. My ex had a set while we were on holiday, but then I had to ask for them back – also awkward. And let’s not even get into how often I lose keys.
One of the things I love about rental properties we’ve used in the US is they often have a lockbox – a combination-secured box outside the house that contains the keys. The QRIO Smart Lock from Sony is like an even smarter version of this idea. Rather than opening your lock with a key, you open it with your smartphone.
You can then ‘share’ a key to your lock (essentially an encrypted bit of code) with anyone you choose – for as long as you choose. So you could let the plumber in at 1pm, but cancel his key at 2pm. Want to fire your cleaner? Cancel her key. Lost keys are pretty much a thing of the past – providing you don’t lose your phone, of course. Early prototypes of the lock cost around $100, although they’re not available in the UK quite yet.
11. MESH Tags
Like the QRIO this is a prototype being created by Sony, and they’re inviting people to crowdfund MESH development as a way of gauging interest. Basically, MESH tags are tiny hardware ‘tags’ that do a small, specific job. You can use an app to drag and drop your tags into different configurations to do different stuff, test it, and then create a real device with your physical tags.
You don’t need to know any code, and potentially you can create nifty applications – create a light that turns on when you open your front door, or an alarm that plays a sound when you turn on a specific device. It’s a great idea for youngsters who can experiment with cause and effect without needing to know complex technical skills.
12. LG Sound Pop
Speakers are pretty much my major technical disappointment. While most of the tech kit in my house is unobtrusive or downright pretty, speakers are – well, speakers. They black and square and bigger than I think they should be, frankly. So I was a bit giddy at the idea of these LG Sound Pop speakers, which are tactile and under-stated and could almost pass for a vase – press on the top of the speaker to access the controls, and turn it on for 360 degree sound. Love.
13. Candy Crush Scented iPhone Cases
As we arrived at IFA, I was chatting with a colleague about how the mobile phone industry panicked in the early 2000’s about what would happen when everyone owned a phone – people thought the industry would collapse until someone had the bright idea of making phones fashionable, thereby ensuring people would continually buy new phones. We wondered how this applied to phone cases – surely if you’ve got a phone case, you’re all set. Why buy a new one?
Friends, I found my answer in Berlin, in the shape of these Candy Crush themed, scented mobile phone cases. Yes, you too can buy a Mango scented case. Or orange. And when you’re bored with that, why not buy some headphone charms to “decorate” your headphones?
You might think this is the nadir of human innovation, but you’re not Flea, who literally danced on the spot with excitement when she saw this photo and declared, “I so NEED this, Mum.”
14. Philips Lumify Ultrasound
What do you give the neurotic who has everything? Why, a portable ultrasound that plugs into an Android or iOS tablet, of course. Sadly, not yet licensed for use in Europe, this tablet offers cost-effective, any time access to ultrasound images of the inside of your body.
To be fair, it’s designed to be helpful to healthcare professionals, but I sense a big future for these babies in the baby-spotting sector – this is surely the next logical step after you bought that home doppler machine, right?
OK, maybe I’m a bit obsessed with speakers and why they have to be so incredibly unattractive, but these little speakers can be used for all sorts – they’re a smartbox combining a Bluetooth speaker with a lamp, alarm clock, thermometer, digital art box and on top of ALL that, it pulses in time to the music, meaning you can basically turn out the lights and pretend you’re in a nightclub. Wait. Would that be sad? Don’t answer. I’m already dancing.
I’ve reviewed a couple of coffee machines on this blog over the years and by far my least favourite are those ones that use pods – expensive, wasteful and I don’t care how much they say you can recycle the pods, it’s not as easy as it should be, and I suspect it mostly doesn’t happen because people suck, and they’re lazy (including me).
So I love, love, love the new Beanarella range of coffee pods and machines – which feature the first ever fully compostable coffee pods. How cool is that? Finally, someone invented something that will actually, properly make the world better. Although it’s currently available in Germany, so…
17. Silk’N H-PAP
I was married to a snorer for many years (well, strictly it was one year, but it felt like longer, probably in part due to lack of sleep) and during allergy season, I myself do a pretty mean chainsaw impression. So I’m fascinated to see there’s now a portable, quiet, electricity-free version of the C-PAP machines that doctors prescribe to people with sleep apnoea that can be used to reduce snoring. The fact that the Silk’N Silent H-PAP looks like a diving mask is just a bonus, surely?
Wearable tech is a huge trend for 2015, and we’re now starting to see wearable tech for pets. Of course. By far my favourite example at IFA was Tractive, a GPS tracker that can be worn by dogs and pets. But I know you don’t just want to know where your dog is, right? You want to know how active he is being. So the Tractive also monitors your pet’s activity levels along with its location. It’s like being Fitbit buddies, or something.
Telepresence robots. So, so cool. Or impossibly nerdy. I can’t decide. But either way, I want one. Mostly so I can virtually go and ask Flea to make my breakfast without going to the bother of walking to the top of the stairs to call down to her.
These beam robots from French company Awabot can roam from WiFi network to network, using 4G when WiFi isn’t available. They run for 8 hours between charges, and can clear a bump on the road of up to 1.5cm which, admittedly, means they’ll likely fall over quite a lot outside of a showroom or office environment. Ah well, I can dream.
20. Radiation VEST
Did you know that just 30 minutes of exposure to cell phone signals affects activity in both sides of the brain? And that 62% of people who took a survey in America said they considered wireless radiation from WiFi and cell phone networks to be a considerable health risk. Well, worry no more. Those folks at Vest have got you covered – literally. At IFA, the company was showcasing a range of mobile phone and laptop cases that block radiation but my favourite product was this – a radiation blocking belly mask for pregnant women. I can laugh now, but as a pregnant woman with all those hormones zipping around my system? I’d have been ALL OVER this. There’s basically nothing you couldn’t have sold me when I was pregnant.
Disclosure: I attended IFA as a paid guest of Panasonic. All opinions and wishes strictly my own.