Tech Innovation

IFA 2017 round-up: 8th-Gen Core, smart speakers and mixed reality

Dean Evans Technology Writer Twitter

Every time the IFA tech show rolls around, certain themes emerge. There are those that you expect — new laptops and desktops, smartwatches and smartphones. And there are those that you don’t, such as last year’s smart fridges (with built in screens), pet cameras and ‘in-ear’ digital assistants.

Where IFA 2016’s PC launches were shaped by the arrival of 7th Generation Intel Core processors, the newest laptops and desktops at IFA 2017 came rocking new 8th Generation silicon. You can read all about the key launches, including the ASUS Zenbook Flip 14 and the 18-core Acer Predator Orion 9000 here.

While PCs have been reinvigorated and continue to wow, the appeal of the smartwatch seems to have faded. Nevertheless, Samsung unveiled its Gear Sport and Gear Fit 2 Pro at IFA 2017, while Garmin launched the Vivoactive 3. All eyes, however, were on Fitbit and its new Ionic model.

The new Fitbit Ionic is a smartwatch with heart rate monitoring and built-in GPS.

Having dipped its toes into smartwatch territory with the Blaze, the Ionic crams all that’s good about Fitbit’s wearable tech — personalised coaching, built-in GPS, heart rate monitoring and swim-tracking — into a device that looks as slick as an Apple Watch. With onboard storage, built-in NFC (for e-payments) and a multi-day battery life, the Ionic could be the smartwatch you’ve been waiting for.

At the Consumer Electronics Show back in January, we began to see the ‘smart speaker’ category gain traction. The Amazon Echo with its voice-controlled Alexa AI led the way, followed by Google Home, incorporating the chatty Google Assistant. Microsoft jumped on the bandwagon, when Harmon Kardon released its Invoke speaker with Cortana in May. While Apple is prepping a Siri-powered HomePod for December.

Sony LF-S50G smart speaker
Sony’s LF-S50G smart speaker features Google Assistant and gesture-control.

We’re nowhere near done yet. Sony unveiled its own smart speaker — the LF-S50G — at IFA 2017, featuring Google Assistant, gesture-control and a built-in clock. Google’s AI is also baked into Panasonic’s angular SC-GA10 speaker, three JBL Link speakers and the Onkyo G3. Onkyo has hedged its bets in the digital assistant war by launching an Alexa-powered version, the P3. Harmon Kardon’s newest speaker, Allure, also relies on Amazon smarts.

There was, of course, the usual collection of weird tech. Panasonic debuted its ‘Educational Partner’, a smiley-faced social robot for children to encourage growth through interactive play. While Bosch demonstrated the X-Spect ‘stain scanner’, a device that can analyse your dirty clothes and suggest how best to wash them.

Not strange enough for you? Panasonic showed off a fridge on wheels that comes when you call it; the Kineti La Table is part coffee table, part 10-inch Windows 10 tablet; while the 55- or 65-inch B&O Beovision Eclipse TV has a motorised stand that allows you to adjust its position in your home using a remote control.

But if IFA 2017 had a final, dominant theme, it was arguably mixed reality. In advance of the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update in October, which introduces Windows Mixed Reality support, ASUS, Dell, HP and Lenovo all unveiled new headsets.

Lenovo Mixed Reality headset
Lenovo’s Mixed Reality headset is designed to work with Windows 10.

The ASUS Windows Mixed Reality Headset (HC102) has an eye-catching, angular design and comes with two LED-equipped controllers that can be tracked by two cameras mounted in the front of the device. HP’s headgear seems to borrow its look and feel from the 1987 movie RoboCop, while Dell’s Visor eschews populist matt black for a clean white finish.

These aren’t full VR helmets and, as far as the specs are concerned, they will offer 1440 x 1440 resolution per eye and up to a 90Hz refresh rate. But the appeal of mixed reality is that it blends together the digital worlds of AR and VR with full six degrees of freedom and no wall-mounted sensors. Think HoloLens, but ‘lite’ with a price tag to match.

Again, IFA 2017 had some impressive technology on display, pointing towards a future where we’ll be playing in alternate realities, running 8th Gen laptops and telling our new fridges to bring us a beer.

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