If somebody makes an Internet-connected toaster or vacuum cleaner, I'm sure that a) it's on display at the IFA trade show here, and b) I may never find it in the Berlin Messe's maze of exhibit halls. IFA (originally "Internationale Funkausstellung," or "international radio show") falls about halfway between one CES and the next, convenient scheduling for gadget-minded types. And its roughly 1.5 million square feet of exhibit space allow a useful look at the world of electronics beyond the U.S. Here are 10 highlights from its first three days. (Disclosures: The show's organizers are covering most of my travel costs and those of a few dozen other U.S.-based journalists. I also blog for the Consumer Electronics Association, the trade group that runs CES.)
4K TVs Electronics manufacturers must not share my skepticism about "4K" sets that quadruple the resolution of HDTVs. Sony used IFA to introduce its first 4K model, an 84-inch monster that upconverts HD footage to 4K, and LG touted an equally large set. They looked fantastic but will be pricey (neither company mentioned prices) and suffer from a lack of 4K content and ways to deliver it. And how do you sell HDTV owners on 4K when the math suggests they won't discern the extra resolution from their couches?
Connected Appliances The next nodes on our home networks will apparently be our washers, dryers, refrigerators, air conditioners and other appliances. Systems such as Miele's Miele@Home allow you to control and monitor the progress of laundry or dinner with a smartphone app; a competing Samsung setup also permitted you to use your TV to order around other appliances. Next up: agreeing on a standard (maybe the Qivicon effort backed by those two companies and others?) so different brands can work together.
Samsung Galaxy Note II I guess Samsung didn't find my negative reviews of the first Galaxy Note persuasive: Its upcoming Galaxy Note II, debuted here Wednesday, has an even larger screen, at 5.5 inches, and makes more use of its S-Pen stylus. The Note II will also feature a proprietary Android interface like this summer's Galaxy S III, with the same potential for confusion from a non-standard array of menu buttons. Aside from its extra-large 3100 mAh battery, I don't expect to like this thing.
Sony Wonderbook I was initially fascinated by "augmented reality" software but hadn't thought much about the concept until seeing this combination of book and game, due later this year at an undisclosed price. It relies on the PlayStation 3's Move controller (another thing I haven't touched in years) and Eye camera to put you and a simple printed book on TV. Instead of a page open to bar-code-esque graphics, you see a spellbook; the background is replaced by one vista or another from the Harry Potter universe, and the Move controller becomes a wand.
Cable-Compatible Blu-ray Recorders Ever wonder why you can't just plug your TV into cable instead of renting a cable box? You may be in the wrong country. The Blu-ray recorders with cable and satellite-TV tuners tucked away in LG and Panasonic's exhibits reminded me that other parts of the globe have settled on standards for digital cable and satellite reception, "DVB-C" and "DVB-S." In the United States, we did not, so video recording to DVD never went anywhere, Blu-ray recording never started, and the situation shows no signs of progress.
An Android laptop? More or Less Lenovo introduced yet another Android tablet, the $399, 1.3-lb. IdeaTab S2110, but this one offers an intriguing option: a dockable physical keyboard that contains an extra battery extending this device's run time to 20 hours. The 10.1-inch screen, however, is small compared to other laptops, and it will face a continuing shortage of tablet-optimized Android apps. (Shouldn't Google's Nexus 7 be turning that around?)
Leading LED Bulbs Less than a decade after compact fluorescent bulbs' march to the mainstream, light-emitting diodes are starting to push CFLs aside. These Panasonic LED bulbs look uncannily like old-school incandescents, but they only use about 5 watts each and stay cool to the touch. They cost more than CFLs upfront, (though not if you factor in operating expenses), but as prices drop they should be an attractive replacement for today's CFLs.
Surface Competitors Surface Microsoft's upcoming Surface Windows 8 tablets will have company. Dell's XPS 10, at left, will ship with Win 8's "RT" version (which only runs new apps optimized for touch screens and the window-less Win 8 interface known until recently as "Metro") and last 20 hours on a charge. Lenovo's ThinkPad Tablet 2, meanwhile, will run Windows 8's standard edition and offer 10 hours of battery life. (Microsoft has yet to cite a figure for its two Surface models.) You'll have to wait to learn prices and ship dates.
Efficiency One-Upmanship The European Union's steady ratcheting upward of its energy-efficiency standards has led to what looks like a form of grade inflation, as the "A" hardware of two years ago has been supplanted by newer models with A+, A++ or even A+++ labels. I appreciated how much more context this provided than a simple Energy Star sticker but don't know how much work it is for manufacturers to collect the required data.
Samsung Galaxy Camera Maybe the best way to help cameras stay relevant next to smartphones is to make cameras that are more like phones. A week ago, Nikon announced its $349.95 Coolpix S800C, which uses Android software for easier photo editing and sharing. Here, Samsung announced the Galaxy Camera (price and ship date unsaid), a 16-megapixel model with a 21x zoom lens that adds WiFi, 3G and 4G mobile broadband and the Jelly Bean Android version introduced in June. Yes, this camera runs a more recent Android release than many new phones.