Berlin IFA: Lost without trace among washing machines and garden mowers
It’s been a tiring but eventful weekend here in Berlin. First thing I discovered is that the IFA is huge. Wall-to-wall consumerism in a massive complex that I have visited only once before, for the InnoTrans railway show. After several hours of foot slogging and going around in circles on Friday I doubt that I saw more than a tenth of what is on offer. This is part consumer but largely trade, with hundreds of firms from all over the world showing their wares and hoping to attract distributors in Germany and Europe. There was no direct selling to the public going on, as far as I could see.
What I can say with certainty is that if you want a case for your iPhone or a strap for your Watch you have come to the right place. The amount of repetition in products was quite stunning and, frankly, bordering on the boring. But there is something for everyone, from robot window cleaners and computerised Edward Scissorhands lawn mowers to wooden Apple Watch bands.
Photography was something of a sideshow—we will have to wait for Photokina later this month to see all the new equipment—but some manufacturers, including Panasonic, had an impressive presence. Even there, though, photography had to play second fiddle to the likes of the unfeasibly huge televisions and, even, washing machines that sort out all your creases. I spent a whole ten minutes fiddling with a mini Safari studio scene.
The best solution, overall, was to home in on some of the smaller items that caught my eye. On the Satechi stand, for instance, I found a really neat number keypad that has identical styling to the Apple Magic Keyboard. I love Apple's new USB-charged keyboard, trackpad and mouse. But the keyboard lacks a number pad (unlike the more practical but cabled Apple Keyboard) and I do miss this aid to rapid number input. So the concept of a matching keypad is enticing and I shall be ordering as soon as the device is released.
Bags and leather goods have a constant appeal and you would be spoiled for choice when it comes to gadget bags for phones, tablets and computers. Some of the smaller items were quite ingenious, including a rather slim wallet that offers the usual cash and card slots plus a battery and neatly folded Lightning cable. I’m not sure I like the idea, I’m not a wallet man, but it would possibly appeal to those who are.
I found a particularly interesting roll-top backpack concept, the Cronwell, from the British company Knomo. This rolltop pack is claimed to be fully waterproof, with sealed zips and no vulnerable points for water ingress. Inside is one large compartment with a comprehensive organiser on one side and a laptop sleeve to take a 15in MacBook Pro on the other.
The bag reminds me of the Ohyo but doesn’t share this Conran-designed bag's transformer capabilities. There is plenty of space in the Cronwell for a camera insert such as the Billingham Hadley Small. It might even take the Hadley Pro but I would need to try. My colleague Bill Palmer, the bagman of Frimley, would have been mightily impressed and I wouldn’t be surprised to find him testing one soon. At £79 this is an impressive all-weather place to store your cameras, computers and stuff for the odd yomp in the great outdoors.
As a complete aside, this Cronwell bag is part of Knomo’s Thames collection and it is an extremely curious name. Surely, I thought, it should be Cromwell but…. If anyone can tell me the significance of Cronwell (with an N) and the River Thames, please comment (it could be a rather expensive typo after all). Oliver CroMwell, the old Lord Protector, does have a link of course—he even has his own little island opposite Strand-on-the-Green in Chiswick. Unlike the waterproof backpack, he was definitely an M man. As was his predecessor "lawmaker" Thomas. (Now don't get me started on the new term "lawmaker" to describe our increasingly incompetent representatives. They are as ineffective at lawmaking as they would be at rainmaking).
Back to the show. It was so large that even the press needed a tour guide, with obliging young ladies holding aloft “Presse” and “Rundgang” placards. I hate this concept (which I associate with tourists from cruise ships in the Greek islands, totally incapable of walking around a small town unaided) and I found nothing to commend it at IFA. Perish the thought.
Lest you think I have resorted to ranting, let me say that the IFA is on such a vast scale and covers so many diverse electronic and computerised goods that it is difficult to see everything. It is very frustrating because getting from one hall to the next is a major operation, despite buses being on tap if you know where you are going. The trick, for future visits, is to work out a list of must-see manufacturers and then plan a circular walk. I didn’t and, consequently, it was pick and miss.
I shall now put my feed up in anticipation of Photokina in Cologne (September 20-25). If you haven't booked up yet, don't worry. You could always stay in Berlin and take a shuttle bus.