Antalya, Turkey

Good news guys! IFA is on again!

Of course, that news was never in doubt: the 2014 Internationale Funkausstellung had already been announced for 5-10 September 2014 in Berlin. It will be the premier European technology show’s 91st year — though not its 91st edition — and it will include presentations, product announcements and innovations from the world’s biggest technology companies. Except Apple.

At the 2014 IFA Global Press Conference in Antalya, Turkey, conference organisers Messe Berlin have been hosting the leading technology journalists and bloggers for the official launch of the conference. IFA has grown from a biannual Euro-centric consumer electronics fair to a globally significant event to rival the great beast, the International CES, staged each January in Las Vegas.

Two key turning points have pushed IFA to the forefront: in 2005 the organisers decide to revert IFA back to its pre-War annual schedule, rather than being every two years, as it had been from 1950 to 2004. The second propulsion was in 2009, when IFA began inviting home appliance companies to exhibit. Walk around the cavernous, labyrinthine fairgrounds, through the enormous Miele, Bosch, Electrolux and Dyson stands and it is hard to believe these great brands are new additions to the fold.

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This annual, macro-technology focus has catapulted IFA in a conference death match with the CES. There is only so much marketing cash to go around and both exhibitions fear that major brands will choose to do one rather than the other. The CES’s traditional advantage was being held at the start of the year, so brands could use it to lay markers for the upcoming 12 months; a state of the nation for the industry. IFA’s advantage, which is growing in importance in a just-in-time logistics marketplace, is its proximity to Christmas, the biggest buying event of the year. Retail buyers know that orders placed at IFA will be on shelves in time for the Christmas rush: that’s a major selling point when you consider how trifling product life-cycles are these days.

For the Global Press Conference, Messe Berlin hopes to get the ball rolling on media coverage, having stories placed in the most credible news sites, predominantly in Europe, but also North America, South East Asia and, self-evidently, Australia. Suppliers have played their part: Miele unveiled its first robot vacuum, BSH launched its Home Connect Internet of Things service, Philips debuted new audio and TV gear and Grundig confirmed that it still exists. Sources close to the negotiating process said these brands would have received their places at this Press Conference as part of a wider agreement to exhibit at the show proper in September. We’ll also see Sennheiser, Dyson, TCL, Loewe, Karcher and Panasonic at the show, among hundreds more.

Dr Christian Göke, CEO of Messe Berlin, said 10 years ago, “IFA was freefalling”. All KPIs were down and, as ‘a Germany show’, IFA was in “deep crisis”. He said to correct this Messe Berlin started actively courting internationalism, branching out from a primarily German expo to an global festival. An example of this is encouraging exhibitors to present in English instead of German. This strategy has worked, with IFA more than doubling the number of foreign media attending, from around 1,000 in 2001 to 2,36o in 2013.

Before 2008, which Göke calls the tipping point, IFA served as a bundling of already released products, collected in one place for perusal. This doesn’t attract broad media coverage in the same way that a product unveiling will. To rectify this, Messe Berlin worked closely with exhibitors’ PR departments to encourage them to actually launch products at IFA. The success of this work leads Göke to now call IFA the “hub of innovation for the consumer electronics industry”.

Proof of this primacy is in the strength of its exhibitors. Göke today confirmed that it has finally secured the custom of Whirlpool, meaning that pretty much every major brand will have a presence at IFA, except Apple. Why not Apple?

“Because, for the time being, Apple is not dependent on retail,” Göke replied. “Every other company that is dependent on retail is at IFA. Let’s see how long Apple is not dependent on retail.”

The opposite of this news was the announcement that Samsung president and CEO Boo-Keun Yoon will be delivering the conference’s keynote address at the new Berlin CityCube. Samsung’s booth is also being moved to a new pavilion, Göke confirmed, giving the impression that the Koran company’s presence will dwarf all others at the fair.

Apple’s non-attendance has not deterred visitor attendance. Now considered IFA’s chief KPI, the percentage of international trade visitors has grown from 25 per cent in 2010 to 47 per cent in 2014, according to Messe Berlin’s figures.

“We wanted to go global and first we needed to internationalise. And our first goal was to focus on international trade visitors. Our customers are the exhibitors and what is most important to them? Getting as many international trade visitors as possible to our show.”

Speaking today to confirm its attendance, Electrolux Germany and Austria MD Klaus Wührl said “For three days, this event is the centre of gravity for the consumer electronics and appliance industries. IFA is the place for it.” (Wührl says three days because he is only counting the trade-only days. Unlike the CES, IFA concludes by opening to the general public.)

Another exhibitor, research firm GfK, reported that digital growth is expected to accelerate again through 2015. This makes attending a trade show more important, lest a distributor or retailer miss an emerging trend. “In 2013, there was reduced growth in emerging markets,” said GfK global director Juergen Boyny. “2014 and 2015 will see increases in PC and TV sales through product upgrade cycles.”

Boyny said the major growth will be focused on the Middle East and Africa, South America and Emerging Asia. Broken down by category, GfK predicts that in 2015, 42 per cent of all digital sales by value will be smartphones. LCD TVs are second on 12 per cent while tablets will make up 10 per cent.

This growth is being driven by internet connectivity: Boyny said that in 2014, 2 billion internet connected devices will be sold; 1.2 billion of those will be smartphones.

In small appliances, GfK reports that, overall, there will be good growth in the short to medium term, as this category, “remains a highly attractive market with plenty of opportunities in both mature as well as emerging markets”.

Much of the value growth, and with it opportunity for distributors and retailers visiting a trade show, is in new small appliance product categories. Around 9 per cent of all small appliance sales — US $3.2 billion from a total of $37 billion — according to GfK’s Udo Jansen, is in these emerging product divisions. He identified electronic cooking pots, handstick and robot vacuums and low-oil deep fryers as the biggest new innovations in small appliances. Other growth areas include window cleaners, food preparation appliances with cooking functions, massage mats, slow juicers and hot water dispensers. These are the sort of products that will be well-populated on stands at IFA as manufacturers look to partner with local wholesalers to expand their reach.

This, essentially, is Messe Berlin’s pitch to potential exhibitors and trade visitors, whether they are from the store down the road or a retail chain in faraway Australia. IFA will be the centre of the industry’s universe for this week. New products will be launched, new prototypes unveiled and new designs revealed. The order book will come out and sales will be transacted. Products will be in shops for Christmas or opportunities will be lost.

The 2014 IFA Consumer Electronics Show takes place in Berlin, Germany; 5-10 September 2014.