At the Messe Berlin showgrounds there is a great hammering of preparation as the final construction is completed for tomorrow’s opening of IFA 2018, “the Global Innovations Show” as it’s currently tagged, the leading showcase for the global technology industry, promising this year both more product launches than any previous event, and more digital lifestyle products in one place than any other show worldwide.

Ms IFA, who regenerates
every few years like Dr Who,
though it's considered impolite
to mention this.

The opening conference took place in the theatre of the dramatic ‘IFA Next’ hall, opened last year (and this year expanded) to highlight start-up companies and innovation.

The three key presenters were Hans-Joachim Kamp, Chairman of gfu; Dr Reinhard Zinkann, appearing in his role with ZVEI and CECED but also Miele’s Joint Managing Partner; and Dr Christian Göke, the energetic CEO of Messe Berlin. The latest regeneration of Ms IFA (right) was also, of course, in attendance.

Mr Kamp was heavy on GfK statistics, with some interesting insights into the global TV market, which grew 1% in the first half of 2018 to a total value of E45 billion, with an expected total of 238 million units globally for the year.

Two interesting trends — firstly that the market is being driven by high-end TVs, smart and connected, with larger screen sizes showing strongest growth, with half of total sales in the first half of 2018 coming from screen sizes of 50 inches and up.

OLED was “the winning display technology in the premium price tier”, though as yet OLED has just 1% of the total TV market (“the cream of the cream”, as IHS Markit’s Paul Gray describes it). The FIFA World Cup soccer was considered to have played its part in spurring additional sales.

And just look at the slide above, showing how the TV market value splits around the world. Europe buys 22%, the United States 21%, but China now equals those markets at 22%. In unit terms China’s share rose to a staggering 36%, indicating the lower prices there prevalent. (Mr Gray, whispering in our ear, told us that in China TVs are pretty much ‘break-even’ commodities in sizes up to 55-inches, with the profits coming only from 65-inch TVs and up.)

We should note from our Australian perspective that GfK’s Australian data is limited and/or estimated, since it does not receive returns from the major retail chains here.

The audio devices market grew 5% in the first half of 2018, though only to a tenth of total TV sales at E4.5 billion, with strong upward trends in headphones and headsets, and of course in smart speakers and multiroom-connected units. Multiroom devices now account for a remarkable 23% of total turnover in audio home systems worldwide, according to GfK figures.

In headphones Bluetooth wireless models now represent 60% of all sales, up from 42% the previous year, a growth of 80% for this sector.

Voice control is already accounting for 6% of audio device sales, rising with triple digit growth from the low base of last year.

Digital radio sales were up 3%, though this was assisted by ‘analogue switch-off’ approaching or actually occurring in various markets. Norway switched off FM this year, and the UK is still promising to do so.

Dr Christian Göke, CFO of Messe Berlin, the organisers of IFA, delivered the message of IFA itself, not only the commercial message of more floor space and exhibitors than ever before, but also speaking out about the dangers of international trade wars and tariffs as a disruptor to growth in all electronic industries.

Innovation as a disruptor was rather more welcome, he said, reinventing old products or replacing them with new experiences. He highlighted four key innovation disruptors currently transforming electronics — 5G mobile platforms, the Internet of Things, voice control, and smart speakers.

Regarding voice control, Sound+Image asked a question of the subsequent Q&A panel as to how the current format war between Google Voice Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa was playing out internationally, and whether consumers having to choose between ecosystems might provide a brake on development, as in previous format wars.

Mr Kamp responded that he considers this less a format war than a consumer choice, while Messe Berlin’s clever Jens Heithecker responded with a smile that IFA provides the perfect opportunity for consumers to investigate both options, since the exhibition is brimming with examples of products using both systems!

Mr Kamp played down the potential issue of privacy concerns over always-listening voice assistants. Seeing teenagers today simply clicking through every privacy warning, he predicts that as these young consumers grow to be the dominant consumers of the future, privacy concerns may be a thing of the past. (Sound+Image is alarmed by this prospect, and hopes that as with teenagers through the ages, their maturity will bring a great sense of responsibility.) 

Another interesting response was that the two systems have different priorities, Alexa having developed as a driver for Amazon’s retail platform, while Google’s came from IT with more of an operating system basis behind it. It was also noted that although Google and Alexa products currently represent half the voice assistant market currently, a full 50% were using alternative voice platforms.

Our on-the-spot coverage of IFA will continue from Berlin this week, with a round-up of the brightest and best in the next issue of Sound+Image.