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IFA 2013: Highlights from the German technology show

Column Chasing the biggest announcements in consumer technology
Fri Sep 06 2013, 16:20
Lee Bell column portrait

HUNDREDS of information technology journalists from around the world descended on the German capital of Berlin this week for three days of running, shouting and almost crying as they chased the biggest news in consumer technology announcements from firms like Sony, Samsung and Lenovo, which launched their respective flagship devices at Europe's largest electronics tradeshow, IFA.

The INQUIRER joined in the fun and I was chosen as the reporter running around the press conferences and hundreds of vendors' display booths to bring you the news as it happened from the show floor. Dodging drills, saws and pieces of wood and diving out of the way of forklift trucks while builders prepared the Messe conference centre for the arrival of the general public, the two press days - as I'm sure you've found it hard not to notice - included lots of announcements.

First off, my hat is off to Lenovo for its Thinkpad Yoga. I think there's a reason Lenovo is one of the only PC makers increasing its market share lately, and that's because of devices like this. The Lenovo Thinkpad Yoga sees the firm designing its business focused laptops with the same nifty functionality as its consumer models, with the device boasting a feature called "lift and lock" that locks the keys on the keyboard when the hybrid device is flipped into tablet mode.

The 12.6in business laptop boasts specifications to match its transformer abilities, with the Thinkpad Yoga powered by an Intel Haswell processor running Microsoft's Windows Phone 8.1 operating system and having a bundled digital stylus for scribbling on the HD display.

Lenovo also outed the Yoga 2 Pro at this year's IFA, the "world's highest resolution netbook" that's capable of transforming into four different modes - tent, stand, tablet and laptop.

Another highlight was the Sony Tap 11 tablet-laptop hybrid, which essentially is a tablet running Windows 8 with an attachable keyboard.

This could make it highly appealing to users who want the lightweight benefits of a tablet coupled with a much easier input method than using a stylus or just jabbing at the screen.

The device will come running Windows 8, which could be an issue for some, but with its Xperia Z1 smartphone also catching the eye, it is clear that Sony is working hard to rebuild its reputation and challenge the top players in the consumer technology market.

At huge tradeshows like IFA there are always nonstandard devices unveiled that boast brand new technology of some kind. My favourite in this category at IFA was Ricoh's 360 degree camera device.

While I'm not quite sure what the real use of this product is, it's definitely cool. The Theta from Ricoh allows you to take full 360 degree images using a small, portable device. It weighs just 95g and can be linked to a smartphone so images you take can be uploaded easily.

At the moment it will work with only Apple iOS 6 devices and above, but Android compatibility is expected before year end. It won't be cheap, costing £329, but for camera technology lovers it could prove to be a gadget worth splashing out to get.

For an example of the kind of shots it can take, check out our story on it. As I say, I'm not sure why you'd want this, but you can't deny that it's pretty cool.

One of the biggest trends at IFA this year was smartwatches, as wearable technology continues to grow, though I'm not sure it will dominate the market anytime soon.

Qualcomm's limited edition smartwatch called the Toq was my favourite smartwatch at IFA. It's the chip designer's first foray into hardware that might excite consumers, and it's a surprising move for a firm that usually prefers to stay behind the scenes.

Qualcomm's claim of multiple days' battery life combined with a high-quality, always-on screen and wireless charging make it one of the most interesting Android smartwatches I've seen.

However, this device is going to be somewhat less than affordable. A product specialist from the firm told me that it will probably reach the market for around $300. Samsung's Galaxy Gear watch, which has less flashy technology, will be a little cheaper and cost around £190. The use of the words "limited edition" also points to Qualcomm's estimate of how many it expects to sell.

However, the watch is smartphone vendor agnostic, so it will work with any Android smartphone running Android 4.0.3 or above, whereas the Samsung Galaxy Gear only connects to selected Galaxy smartphones. I can't wait to get one on my wrist.

One thing that really impressed me at IFA was "the world's thinnest keyboard", a new technology from CSR that made a big impression.

CSR's wireless touch surface demonstration wasn't so much a product in its own right as a showcase of what might be possible with its CSR1010 Bluetooth Smart controller chip and touch input technology from partner vendors.

The demo I saw at IFA involved a paper-thin touch surface that can wirelessly link to a host device using an ultra-low power Bluetooth Smart connection. Less than 0.5 mm thick, it turns any area into a touch surface, according to CSR.

While CSR used the technology to create a paper-thin keyboard complete with touchpad, it could be used by vendors to put a touch surface almost anywhere - on a protective cover accessory for a tablet or on a desk surface, for example. Very exciting stuff. µ


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